INTERVIEW WITH LILI RAPHANEL
Calligraphy - the art of fine writing (kalos -beautiful, graphein-to write, gr.), is currently experiencing its renaissance. Looking in the past, we find that the use of calligraphy is as old as humanity itself. When the early Muslim scholars searched for a method to document and distribute the Holy Quran, calligraphy was born. It was a practical instrument to record words− literature and religious scripts. Khatt, an Arabic term given to the artistic discipline of Islamic handwriting and calligraphy, left oral traditions behind. Calligraphy became a way to express thoughts, beliefs and philosophical ideas. Today, this archaic skill has a decorative purpose and has found its place within the fashion world.
I talked about calligraphic art and its fashionable flourishing with Lili Raphanel, the most sought-after calligrapher in the fashion world. An artist who epitomizes that French je ne sais quoi, Raphanel is the eyes and the hands behind hundreds of invitations that famed fashion houses send to their clients, friends and faithful devotees. She told me why she perceives calligraphy as her calling, and not just a job.
With designs that are clean, elegant and alluring, in chic and sharp penmanship, Lili Raphanel has fostered a reputation for one of the most desired calligraphers in the business of fashion. An absolute whiz at calligraphy− working for clients including Dior and Miu Miu among others− Lili has a passion for lettering, a keen eye for detail and a unique aesthetic. She mastered the art and ethos of letter writing at the Scriptorium of Toulouse, where she had the opportunity to study both calligraphy and typography for the course of three years. From ancient manuscripts to modern calligraphy, her aesthetically pleasing design combines the best of both worlds. Following years of dedicated work and practice− and a pinch of talent− Lili developed a personal style that is equally intuitive and recognizable.
It takes great care and time to create a new design. However, Lili is all about the beauty of words. Additionally, she is all about the beauty in fashion, a world that has been swift to embrace her contemporary take on an ancient art form. Today, she inscribes names, dates, addresses and bons mots on invitations, envelopes, cards and, peculiarly, even canvases. These personalized keepsakes set a distinctive tone, showing that each detail has been carefully thought through. “As the projects differ− from haute couture defiles and social events to logo conceptualization and canvas painting− so do the creative aspects of my work”, says Raphanel. With ease and spontaneity, she adapts to the request of clients, making sure that each new design is made with rigor and passion. “I am utterly devoted to my craft, and I spend majority of my days working. When it comes to fashion shows, it takes up to fifteen hours per day and a full week to handwrite thousands of invitations. But, it’s all more than worth it since I genuinely love my art.”
As a long-term collaborator of Dior, Raphanel stands behind every hand-written envelope and invitation that Dior prepares for its invitees. Always at least one step ahead, and in an eternal search for innovative solutions, Raphanel has prepared a unique Moroccan souvenir for visitors of El-Badi palace, a magnificent building where Dior presented its Cruise 2020 collection. Namely, each of the guests received a clay tile inscribed with their name and seat number upon arrival at the show. "Marrakech is magical. There was no dilemma for our team− our visitors deserve the night whose magic will be reflected in the tiniest details! Being a part of the Dior team is a great honor for me. It's hard for me to find words to describe how much time, love, patience, and work are involved in the preparation of each collection. The perfection of fashion design is somewhat expected, but what makes Dior Maison so thrilling is the amount of effort the team puts in organizing different events. There’s really a different dimension to it. I feel like a tiny piece of the puzzle, but at any moment I am aware that what I do must perfectly fit into a bigger picture, a bigger idea ... This cruise collection, at its core, was inspired by the work of African artisans. When I say artisans, I speak of people whose skills in crafting handmade fabrics, carpets, or ceramics are equal to that fostered at Dior. Deeply fascinated by their work, I proposed to create an homage to Moroccan traditional clay molding skills. That's how these clay tiles came out, which, I'm sure, will remain a valuable memory of a Dior evening at Morocco", says Raphanel.
In a digital age, where almost everything seems impersonal, it takes a true artist such as Lili Raphanel to evoke an emotion. Contemporary flair and a soft charm are her hallmarks, and her design is nothing if not a reflection of her own playful take on art. Taken from the past and applied to the present, Lili’s rhythmical lines are underlined with true talent. By the charm of handmade, she has established herself as a name that is synonymous with exclusivity. In Paris, where she lives and works in an atmosphere where symbols and gestures continually meet, Lili focuses on new challenges and potentials. “I develop new ideas and projects in my Parisian atelier, always seeking to exceed client requirements and putting customer satisfaction as a top priority.” Somewhere between Eastern and Western calligraphy, Lili is living her childhood dream. As the ultimate synthesis of what she loves− imperfect perfections and fluidity of movement− calligraphy is her true calling. Timeless and unique in more than one dimension, her finesse is in high demand. Lili remains a calligrapher of choice in the haute world since fashion as we know it will never get fatigued of artistry that allures its most faithful crowd.
(Interview was originally published in Gracija magazine, May 2019.)