MOWALOLA'S BETTINA KHIROUN FOR AIR MAX DAY 202322 March 2023
Ahead of Bettina Khiroun's bag making masterclass at END.'s London flagship store in Soho, Ellie Muir sat down with Betty to discuss her journey from university to Head of Accessories at Mowalola.
Paris-born and raised designer Bettina Khiroun had never made a bag before she began her role as head of accessories at cult designer label Mowalola. But armed with a university degree in design and a master’s in art direction, the 24-year-old applied her existing knowledge, and determination to learn on the job, into making patterns for bags, shoes and jewellery.
For the brand’s latest collection called the “Dark Web”, which premiered at the Autumn-Winter 23’ London Fashion Week show last month, Betty made almost all of the bags that went down the runway. “Even though I had never made bags before… it was like go with the flow,” she tells me, sitting in a light-filled studio in east London. Betty’s adaptability is testament to how working in the fashion industry is a learn-as-you-go profession, teaching herself new skills along the way. Luckily, though, she’s a complete natural.
Betty’s journey into fashion has come with many lessons. For the first garment she ever made, back in her foundation year, she taught herself how to sew. “I had no clue how to sew but I somehow made a two-piece. There were a lot of different arms and legs coming out of the design, I padded them out and filled them and it looked like you had lots of arms,” she explains. “If I saw this now…” she trails off, “I would cringe,” she laughs. But the point stands: Betty has experimented with a lot of trial-and-error to get to where she is now.
"I’ve always been surrounded by fashion, and I’ve always been eccentric and colourful."
“I’ve always been surrounded by fashion, and I’ve always been eccentric and colourful. My mum used to work in fashion, so I’ve always had a view of the fashion world,” she tells me, citing Jean Paul Gaultier, Chanel and Virgil Abloh as influences on her designs. She learned and refined her skills in pattern making, draping, sewing and illustration at university, but after she graduated, during COVID, Betty struggled to land an internship.
“I was looking…but of course, I couldn’t find one,” she sighs. “So, I applied for a master’s in Italy and learned about creative direction related to brands. Then I was back looking for an internship.” Betty couldn’t find anything in Paris or in London until an opportunity at the new, edgy, punk-inspired label Mowalola came her way.
“In Italy I met a friend who told me there was an internship at Mowalola. It was a whole journey,” she laughs. Betty spent a year as an intern before a promotion opportunity landed at her feet. While she was better acquainted with making a pattern for a dress or pair of trousers, Betty had to learn quickly how to make accessories at the epoch of the brand’s notoriety in the fashion industry.
Betty’s favourite piece to date? The License Bag – an oversized leather holdall with a psychedelic license plate printed on the material. Also, for the “Dark Web” collection, Betty spearheaded a collaborative project with Timberland. “We did a pair of boots with them, and they are one of my favourite pieces,” she says, describing the denim-clad Timberlands debuted at Mowalola’s fashion week show.
Fashion design experts might argue that clothing and accessories are two very different worlds. But with Betty’s knowledge of art, subcultures, and design, she’s naturally found herself excelling in the role.
Behind the scenes at fashion week, though, Betty is responsible for much more than the accessories on display. She assisted in coordinating the show, managing the dressers, putting each look in order of the line-up and making last-minute touches to final looks before they hit the runway. When I ask her what the behind-the-scenes world is like, she laughs, letting out a breathy, prolonged sigh, before telling me: “You don’t want to be there…it’s a huge rush. You don’t walk around, you just run!”
As Betty builds on her skills and inevitably keeps climbing the ranks of the fashion industry, her eyes are set firmly on sustainability. “I think [sustainability] is the main concept that we really have to focus on,” she says, as we discuss her Air Max Day upcycling workshop at END. this weekend. “But it takes time. Like a few years ago, we had no clue [about] sustainability,” she tells me. “But I think in the next few years, it's going to be one of the major points of a fashion brand.”
Betty collects archives from the vintage work of designers like Gaultier, Chanel and also newer designers. She describes her style as “edgy” but also “glam” and very Y2K. “I also look at furniture magazines and architecture magazines because it’s not overused. I do collages and look at the shape of objects and take inspiration and ideas from there.” The work and philosophy of the late Off-White designer, Abloh, also had a sizeable impact on Betty’s outlook as a designer and artist. “I was really into Virgil’s vision, in terms of mixing architecture, music and art. I was so inspired by the work he did for Louis Vuitton,” she says.
"I feel we maybe go a bit too far and we forget what the show is about. I’m not saying that if I did my own show, I wouldn’t do something spectacular, but I also would try my best to focus on design first."
At the time we speak, fashion week has drawn to a close and Instagram is filled with videos of people wearing futuristic, stunt pieces. One viral video showed a person sitting on a front row of a runway show wearing a bed. Yes, an actual bed. Duvet and all. But Betty doesn’t seem convinced about stunt fashion. “I feel we maybe go a bit too far and we forget what the show is about. I’m not saying that if I did my own show, I wouldn’t do something spectacular, but I also would try my best to focus on design first,” she says.
This hypothetical fashion show might happen sooner than we think. Betty has her sights locked on opening her own fashion label in the future. “I'm already working on it, like some projects for myself – a brand or something. I’m already thinking in a sustainable way because it’s so important,” she says, explaining that she wants her future label to be a mixture of ready-to-wear and high fashion. “It will also be menswear and womenswear because I’m inspired by both. I usually wear men’s clothes so I can’t ignore that. At the moment, I’m still thinking, I’m still designing. Maybe in a couple of years, I will drop my next venture.”
In celebration of Nike’s Air Max Day this weekend (Sunday 26 March), Betty will lead a masterclass in bag making at END.’s flagship store in Soho, London, in collaboration with Nike. “I will ask people to bring old clothing items, I will teach them to sew and then will show them how to make a patchwork bag.” Then, Betty will teach them about fabric manipulation using different pieces of preloved materials and turn everything into a stylish, upcycled bag. “Then we will customise the bag with rhinestones and gems because that’s what I’m into – my style is shiny and colourful”.
Ellie Muir is a culture & lifestyle reporter at The Independent and the editor of GAUCHOWORLD.
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