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Lebanese-born designer Racil Chalhoub, founder of the eponymous RACIL label, lets us in on the infinite style possibilities offered by the humble tuxedo (and where to order the best steak frites in Paris).
Ever since Le Smoking was sent down YSL runways circa 1996, the tuxedo-style suit has become an essential in every discerning woman’s wardrobe, draped on a hanger in between our favourite white t-shirt and go-to LBD. Finding the perfect one (sans sky-high shoulderpads), however, is no mean feat – even for the most experienced of vintage trawlers. That’s why Racil Chalhoub took the matter into her own hands. The tuxedo is the tour de force of this London-based designer’s eponymous label, paying homage to its masculine tailoring while simultaneously reinventing it for the 21st-century woman in fresh colourways, unexpected materials and feminine silhouettes.
It’s perennially chic, so if anything constitutes an investment piece, it’s a tuxedo. RACIL liberates the age-old evening wear from its stuffy gentlemen’s club confines and into the world’s classiest restaurants, trendiest clubs and most fashionable cities (swathed on the shoulders of the coolest it-girls, of course). Whether it’s a classic double-breasted, satin-trimmed pinstripe or a fully-sequined silver disco-style number, this is power-dressing at its most powerful – and considering RACIL is only four-years old yet already stocked in 15 luxury outlets around the world, it’s safe to say the world agrees.
Here, the Lebanese-born designer talks growing up surrounded by French style, where to get the best steak frites in Paris, and the infinite styling possibilities offered by the humble tuxedo (cue vintage tees, silk slip dresses and cigarette trousers).
Net-a-Porter, Matches, The Modist, Harrods, Montaigne Market, Bergdorf Goodman, Boutique 1 (to mention but a few)
Why were you drawn to centering your brand around tailoring and the tuxedo?
I have always loved a good blazer; I wear one over everything. When I was due a new one, I felt like upgrading to a tuxedo and when I couldn’t really find what I was looking for, I decided to create it myself. I love how versatile a tuxedo is, and yet somewhat unexpected. I feel protected when I’m wearing one.
How has your Lebanese background, growing up in Paris and living in London informed your designs?
I think my multicultural background has shaped my attitude and taste more than my designs. I have gained something unique from each city that I’ve lived in.
Why did you choose London as RACIL’s base?
I studied in London because my parents wouldn’t let me go to New York City! When it was time to set up my brand, it felt very natural to go back. London is such a creative hub; it’s open to new talents and allows you to be and design whatever you want.
Who is the RACIL woman?
The RACIL woman is confident and unapologetic. She is feminine and strong; she is fun and she is playful. She likes to look good and stands out when she steps into a room. Above all, she is elegant.
Talk us through your creative process.
It’s a long process. I start by putting all my ideas on paper or a moodboard, and from there I sketch. I think of my colour palette, look at fabrics and start developing garments with my team. Then it’s a continuous process of editing. We develop shapes, do endless fit sessions and discuss details altogether. When things come together, that’s the most exciting part.
Your favourite spots in Beirut for good Lebanese food.
My parents’ house!
Your secret London hotspots no-one knows about.
Where do you find inspiration for your designs?
I can find inspiration anywhere, but I usually need to be away from home.
Where is your favourite place in the world and why?
I can be happy in many places, but if I had to pick just one, it would be on the beach in Mykonos – it’s where I like to recharge and reboot.
Let us in on some of your favourite places to stay and play in Paris.
I stay in hotels in the 1st arrondissement as it’s convenient for work. That being said, St Germain is my favourite neighbourhood; it’s always buzzing. For a late-night bite in the city, I go to the terrace at Hôtel Costes, and for steak frites I go to Le Gourmet des Ternes.
Go-to date spot in the City of Light?
Good question. A typical French bistrot with a rude waiter, followed by a stroll in the city sounds good to me.
Where has been your favourite home? Where do you see yourself living forever?
I loved Paris – I moved there when I was only one year old… I’m not sure I would go back to live there now, but at the time it felt pretty magical. I find the idea of living in one place for the rest of my life a little depressing, but for now London is home and that feels perfect.
Other than RACIL, what brands are in your closet?
My closet is pretty eclectic as I love to mix and match. You’ll find lots of denim and pieces by Dries Van Noten, Miu Miu, Prada, Paco Rabanne, Alaïa, Rebecca De Ravenel, vintage Chanel jackets that my mother gave me, multi-coloured cashmere sweaters by The Elder Statesman, shows by Aquazzura, clutches by Sarah’s Bag and Olympia Le-Tan.
Who’s your personal style icon and why?
Bianca Jagger inspires me; I love how fresh and feminine her style is – plus she can wear a suit like no other.
What does femininity mean to you today?
Femininity is above all an attitude. It’s not about what you wear, but how you carry yourself.
After a tuxedo, what’s the next must-have piece in a woman’s wardrobe?
The perfect white t-shirt and a good slip dress (my favourite is the new Midnight dress by RACIL, of course).
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
When you make a decision, stick to it and look forward. Don’t turn back and wonder what if…
When you’re putting together an outfit, what piece of clothing do you begin with first?
That depends on my mood and where I’m going. On a normal day I’ll start with a white t-shirt and jeans as a base and build it up from there. When I’m going out in the evening, I think whether I want to be in heels, or if I want to wear a particular jacket or suit, then I’ll create the look to work with it.
You first interned at YSL, the fashion house credited with first sending le smoking down the runway. Did the experience leave a lasting impression on you and the vision for your own brand?
Interning at YSL was a dream come true. My aesthetic was already defined when I joined, but it surely helped me refine it.
Your top tips for pulling off a tuxedo…
Think of a tuxedo like a best friend. It works for every occasion, follows your mood and is so versatile depending on how you style it. It won’t let you down. You can dress it up by simply buttoning it up and adding red lips and large earrings, or dress it down with a vintage t-shirt and trainers. I tend to go for the latter more often.
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