What you don’t see on screens and catwalks: An Interview with Zoya Ward Issa El Khoury | Forward Mag | News | Tony Ward Couture

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What you don’t see on screens and catwalks: An Interview with Zoya Ward Issa El Khoury

What you don’t see on screens, or on catwalks, or even in the backstage, or ateliers are deep and full of emotions with bumpy rides and challenges.We don’t see that. But we are about to reveal them, Reveal these raw insights rare to be shared.

We sat with Zoya Ward Issa El Khoury, our in-house producer who is the sister of Tony; She had done all of our shoots and fashion shows for the past couple of years. Zoya is someone very passionate, yet you see her running firmly through the sets to make things done. Behind the shoots, the fashion films, the legacy documentary, the latest Tony Ward Couture shows… There is a whole other story that you don’t know about.

What challenged you the most in the latest Couture Fashion show?

The last Couture show took place in the same venue ‘Salle Orbe in Palais de Tokyo’ as the last couple of shows, so one of the challenges was to re-create the space and make it different than the other times we showcased there.We had to work around the theme ‘Golden Ratio’, which is a theme that is organic and related to our raw surroundings; along with the creative director Carlo Kassabian, we had started a deep research since September and we had a vision to imagine a background that goes along with the theme. 

After many sketches, back and forth trials and errors, we came up with a white installation in carton boards floating from the ceiling and contrasted by a black box, with pleats replicating the fabrics. The challenge was how to install this not-so-simple installation on a 7m height, and to adapt the light around it to have a game of shadows and lights.We started the day before the show at 8pm and it was 4am and the installation didn’t come to life yet, I had to think of a plan B just in case as we faced many technical problems while installing it.Fast forward to 11am, few hours before the show, this artistic shape was perfectly installed and our vision from sketch became a reality. The lighting effect on it was beyond our expectations! 

What was your favorite production for the past couple years for Tony Ward? And why? 

It’s hard to choose a favorite production as I pour my heart and soul in each and every single one of them. But there is one in particular that marked a special place in my heart: It’s the first film I produced to Tony Ward and it was for the La Mariée Spring 2022 collection, shot in Ammiq wetland in the Bekaa Valley. It was a shoot prepared with so much storytelling and I had pictured each scene before filming it. It was also an insanely challenging one, as I had to transport the showroom in a beautiful spacious greenery, and re-created the atelier set-up in the middle of a forest. It’s the story of every girl’s dream in finding her dream dress, and so I had to put myself in her shoes in order to be able to portray this picture-perfect scenery. It was a poetic shoot, artistic, and most of all cinematographic, and every time I go back to watching the film, I realize how beautiful it was. 

Tell us about the 25/70 documentary that you had to film and portray your family’s Legacy.

This documentary about Atelier Ward’s heritage was one of hardest yet most beautiful thing I had to produce: How will I be able to put my feelings aside? Will I be fair in portraying this to my family? The Tony Ward family? Will Tony like it? How will the former loyal employees of my father react?

It has always been a dream for me to document this, and after several years of back and forth, many emotions, tears…we finally did it in July 2022, just when we were celebrating the 70 years of Atelier Ward, and 25 years of Tony Ward. It’s about the journey’s legacy that started from my father, Elie Ward up to Tony Ward Fashion House. It took a lot of time to produce it and the process was a long one, with much more digging than I expected, deep research, insights that I didn’t know about from employees of my father’s era, flipping through old pictures and albums, detailed questions to my mother who was there to witness it all… even if I grew up between them, there were lots of behind the scenes that I knew nothing of. Same for Tony, even if he is my brother, I had never realized the long way he crossed to get where he is now until I did this. The most difficult thing of all is that my father was there, despite the fact that many advised me not to get him to the shooting space as he was physically tired, I was stubborn enough to make him come in the wheelchair… and I’m happy I did. I couldn’t picture the documentary without him. I have done so many documentaries in my life, this by far was the most touching one and closest to my heart. 

How was organizing the 25/70 event in Tony Ward’s Beirut headquarters?

It was nice but challenging on many levels, it was a project that I’ve never done, but like any other production project: I have to build it from somewhere. The event was to launch the legacy exhibition of Atelier Ward and showcase the documentary. Along with the Tony Ward marketing department, and the architect Lara Assaker, we were able to create this heritage through a fashion history museum; from a corner dedicated to my father Elie Ward… to Tony’s iconic pieces displayed in three floors, a room full of fabrics, the important milestones of the fashion houses… I had to jump on a plane to Paris and go to the major Fashion museums to get inspired: from Dior, Valentino, Galliano, musée de l’histoire de la mode… We had to reshuffle the whole showroom in all three floors, remove the furniture, work around the clock for 7 days straight to make it happen. But the most powerful moment for me was when we projected the documentary during the event… it was 25 minutes of full silence with nothing but glow in the eyes of the audience; this warmed my heart and made me proud, proud of my father, but also proud of my brother, Tony, who continued to build the Ateliers Ward in his own way and push it forward.

How is it working with Tony, your brother?

It’s an enriched experience on many levels. Tony is someone who always has energy to throw innovative ideas, and waits for his team and the people around him to adapt to his rhythm and follow his pace. We already have a tight relationship as brother & sister with so much love and respect between us, and even though I’ve grew up with him, I discover him with every project.
I am constantly amazed by his capacity, wittiness, his creativity, his sense of humor, and the ability to push more and climb that ladder even higher. We try as much as we can to respect our professional space and keep the family bond apart, as sometimes we disagree, then agree to disagree, then come up with a middle way solution and continue full force on the project; It’s surely a rollercoaster of emotions! 

We are always on the roll to exchanging ideas, I listen to his but also he is very attentive to mine. He is confident with the outcome I will deliver but pushes me to work beyond my limits and that is one of the main reasons why I love and enjoy working with him.  

Share with us your favorite moment during these last couple of years.

Every time a fashion show or a shoot is done and I see the pride look in Tony, makes me super happy. But there is one moment in specific that marks me forever: The last scene in the legacy documentary is Tony looking at the film, in a big theatre, on a huge screen. It was actually Tony’s first time watching the film’s draft when I shot this scene… He sat after it finished, starring at a black screen for 3 minutes with complete silence, my heart was going to explode waiting for his reaction… He stood up, hugged me real tight, and whispered ‘Thank you’. It was such an intense and moving moment for me as I know how much he appreciated the work I did; this simple reaction was everything.


What’s next?

I am currently in the process of preparing for the upcoming Tony Ward Ready-to-Wear Fall Winter 2024/25 shoot; this collection is different this time and so we had to go above and beyond to create a specific mood in the studio. A studio shoot is always more challenging as we have to build a set-up from scratch that has to be real yet creative and related to the theme; And as always, preparations on papers and site visits are different once the execution has to concretely be done, we always have to prepare for these surprise encounters once on site. It will be a two-days shoot, 110 pieces collection, a big team with a strict schedule to make it happen. But we are excited to rock it. 

We are also working on the upcoming Couture Fall 2024 Fashion show, where it will take place on the 24th of June in Paris, in a new venue this time; which means new specs to take into consideration and new challenges that we are ready to face to make it happen!

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