Passion Points: Style
Carole Marshi and Alison Levasseur dreamed up CALM, a new line of handmade kaftans, in their New York City apartments but the concept stretches much further. Marshi was born and raised in Beirut, while Levasseur, a former interior designer, grew up in New York City. Using Marshi’s connections to her home country, the pair joined forces with a network of Lebanese women skilled in the artisanal skills like crocheting and sewing. Together, they craft a line of sleek kaftans, which come in eye-popping colors and are beautifully finished by hand. Best of all, the work helps support Lebanese women, many of them widows, by giving them a job they can do from home while taking care of their children. “We think of CALM as a global project,” says Levasseur. “It’s based on a deep belief in women helping each other across the globe.” Made from the finest Egyptian cotton (the duo’s supplier also works with Hermès), the modern kaftans are top quality, too. The label’s name is an anagram of the founders’ initials and represents the joining of their two cultures through fashion. Indagare spoke to the duo about their debut collection.
What was the inspiration behind Calm?
Alison: As women and mothers, we sought a project to fulfill us, which we could incorporate into our lives. Our backgrounds naturally lead us in this direction. The fact that we were able to collaborate with women in need and empower them through work has been the extremely rewarding. One of our original motivations, which remains a constant, is to promote and expose the beautiful artisan handwork done by the women in Lebanon in the western world.
How did you go about finding the women you work with in Beirut?
Carole: I found the women we work with by word of mouth and through the streets and markets during my travels.
Carole: Can you tell me a little about your experience of growing up in Beirut and do you still feel a strong bond to Lebanon?
I experienced war and conflict first-hand as a child growing up in Beirut, and the days I felt most emotionally secure were the ones when I was surrounded by the love of family and friends. But being Lebanese is always in my heart. I love to prepare Lebanese food for my family and friends, and I truly feel deeply connected to Lebanon. I return frequently.
Alison: did your background as an interior designer play into the Calm label?
My experience as an interior designer lends itself to the aesthetic. I have a deep appreciation and love of beautiful textiles and quality workmanship. The style of embroidery that these women create has not been exposed in the American market. Both Carole and I hope to continue to promote and expose the work of this area of the world. We’ve considered all creative aspects of CALM. For instance, we package our product in a beautiful jute bag, made in Lebanon, which has our label.
What is the next step for CALM?
It’s exciting to think about what our next step might be. We will continue to develop more products and are open to exploring opportunities to grow and have greater exposure.
In terms of your own travels, what are some of your favorite destinations and hotels abroad?
Carole: My favorite hotel is the San Pietro in Positano. I also love spending time at LazyB beach in Southern Lebanon.
Alison: I savor summers with my family in Le Canadel in the South of France. Not long ago, I enjoyed a relaxing break with my husband at Maroma in Mexico, and a great quick getaway to Twin Farms in Vermont.
What are some of your favorites stores for unique finds worldwide?
Alison: I love finding treasures in flea markets in Paris, a skill I learned from the many years I worked with Sills Huniford and traveled with them. I have been scouring the markets of London since the time I lived there doing the Sotheby’s Works of Arts course. I’m also always inspired by Robert Goossens artistic jewelry in Paris, especially his rock crystal pieces.
What is your most treasured possession from abroad?
Carole: My most treasured possession from abroad are my antique Sarma textile cushions from Syria.
When did you last find a bargain?
Carole: I found beautiful hand-blown colored glasses in Syria for about $6 a dozen.
What was your latest splurge?
Alison: Neither of us has splurged on anything lately! Hopefully, our next splurge will include traveling to discover more textiles for our caftans.
If you are interested in learning more about Calm and purchasing one of the caftans, which come in child and adult sizes, contact Alison Levasseur via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org or Carole Marshi at email@example.com.
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