Ted Baker KSA

Naïm – A Brush with History – A story by Carole Corm

By Aisha Aslam

Carole Corm ( @ccorm ), a young Lebanese journalist approached us with the genius that is Naïm. A wonderful flame in Middle Eastern history and we flocked to her beckoning. A Harvard graduate and founder of her own publishing house Darya Press ( @DaryaPress ), Carole loves to mesmerize readers and has done so with her two earlier books. Here she is yet again with a third. This time modeled after the creative pundit of haute coiffure, Naïm. Having read the draft copy, the words flow eloquently with a tinge nostalgia, making us yearn for the fabulous-ness of the fifties. Her book is more than just a brush with history, be sure to check it out.

Tell us about yourself and how your career as a journalist paved the way to establishing Darya Press?

I grew up in Paris, in a house filled with books and magazines. Early on, I was also aware of the news, as the war in Lebanon unravelled.  After studying in the US, I was immensely lucky to learn about journalism first hand, working at the Paris Bureau of The New York Times. I stayed there 3 years and then moved to Lebanon to become ELLE Middle East’s cultural editor. I also became British magazine Monocle’s Lebanon correspondent. I was lucky to be in Lebanon when these two publications were created.

There is however a fleeting aspect to journalism.  This is perhaps why, I decided in 2012 to start my own publishing house Darya Press, specializing in travel, design and history. It feels to me that publishing is a natural step forward in which I hope to fill a gap.

Ambition of this size is often propelled by a vision. Tell us who has been your inspiration?

Truth be told my grand-father, who was a famous poet, had founded Lebanon’s first francophone publishing house in 1920, so this did not come out of nowhere. His publishing house had a wide editorial program and a stunning graphic identity that inspired me a great deal. I had also co written two guides, one on Lebanon and one on Damascus. This propelled me to do more books, this time, with firm control over the graphic identity (you cannot underestimate a book’s appearance and feel, especially in the days of the e-book!) as well as over the editorial content.

What is the focus of your latest book?


My new book is a coffee table book, part memoir, and part art album on Naïm, one of the Middle East’s most iconic hairdressers. The theme might appear surprising, but Naïm offers an incredible window into the hair and fashion trends of the last 50 years in the Middle East, many of which have been forgotten. As he witnessed firsthand many of the events that rocked the region, his life story also offers a fresh and original perspective on Middle Eastern history.

What can you tell us about Naïm and his panache?

I had heard many stories about Naïm, as both my grand-mother and I later discovered my great grandmother (who was quite the lady in her day) used to go to him. When I met him, and he shared his life stories, I became convinced the man deserved a book.  He has worked on some of the most extravagant balls of the 20th century. Not to mention countless weddings of princesses and socialites (among them, many Saudi princess, French duchesses and even Tamara Mellon, the founder of Jimmy Choo).

He met Brigitte Bardot, Alexandre de Paris, Faten Hamam, Sabah (with whom he toured the Middle East) and so many more fabulous people. In the late 1960s, House & Country listed his salon in Beirut as one of the top salons in the world, along with Alexandre in Paris and Vidal Sassoon in London… Despite his fame and the people he knew, Naïm has never bragged – he remains a true gentleman.

Here are some of the hairstyles drawn by Naïm for the Saudi princesses’ weddings.

Who were amongst his most frequented customers?

Over the decades, he has styled  the hair of royalty (Queen Narriman of Egypt, HRH Princess Michael of Kent who is a regular at his London salon , members of the Saudi and UAE royal families who also regulars when they visit London), actresses (Faten Hamama, the late Souad Hosni, Nabila, but also Claudia Cardinale, Anita Ekberg, Jean Seberg, Linda Christian (the first James Bond girl), Joan Collins…), singers (Sabah, Fairuz, Dame Shirley Bassey), politician wives (the wives and daughters of Saudi’s ruling family, same for Kuwait, as well as the Mitterands of France, many Lebanese politicians’ wives – and sometimes their  husbands!)

His hair creations are magnificent. Based on the information you have, who do you think he was most influenced by and which were the styles he most recreated?

Naïm’s hair creations were incredible.  The kind of hair styles women used to go into the trouble of doing is almost unheard of today – and I wanted to show that, as well as the fashion trends of the period. Over the time, Naïm became particularly famous for his sculpturesque chignons. This was in line with the Carita sisters and Alexandre de Paris, who were the generation just before him and which he met personally. When he was starting off, a client of his, who had his career at heart, sent him to Paris, to learn from the great hairdressers of the period. Another French hairdresser, who he later became business partners with, opening a salon in Paris, Avenue George V, was the bubbly Claude Maxime.

What were the obstacles you faced in procuring these images?

When we started working on this project, Naïm revealed to me two big Louis Vuitton suitcases filled with photographs. Despite war and exile, Naïm had kept hundreds of photographs, drawings, press articles and pictures. It was touching. These were an incredible resource to build the book. We also asked some of his clients to send us pictures. Everyone was extremely forthcoming. Pictures arrived from Sao Paolo, Abu Dhabi, Amman, Paris and Beirut.

We also used press images, particularly from old issues of L’Officiel magazine, as well as old postcards and archival material from the period when Naïm started off his career. Whether it’s the cover of an old record from the 1950s, a Parisian hotel tag, a postcard from Kuwait…all this material helped the story come alive.

Securing the rights for all these pictures was a lot of work. Some of the magazines no longer exist. Some of his early clients have passed away. We had to make sure we did not infringe on anyone’s privacy.

Why do you think hair/beauty is important to document?

I think hair and fashion trends are important to document as they reveal a great deal on the period in which they emerged. For me, talking about the hair and fashion trends was a way to tackle the social history of the Middle East at a time when it was at its most liberal and glamorous.

Could you tell us about any upcoming projects?

I’m not sure yet. I’ve been jumping from one book to the next and I want to focus on promoting these properly before setting off on a new adventure. With that said, I have quite a few ideas. Perhaps something for children, beautifully illustrated will come next.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers who may have similar stories to tell?

I think there are many figures like Naïm in the Middle East who deserve that their story be told. Not just for memory’s sake but because it conjures up a way of thinking, of doing things that no longer exists…

So my advice would be, record these stories before it is too late. We have a short memory span in the Middle East and I believe this is part of the reason why we run into so many difficulties. You need to have perspective on the past to have a vision for the future. Besides, future generations will be interested in these stories!

In fact, I start off the book with a quote by the Turkish writer and Nobel Prize laureate Orhan Pamuk that says something similar:

“We don t need more museums that construct the historical narratives of a society, community, team, nation, state, tribe, company, or species. We all know that the ordinary, everyday stories of individuals are richer, more humane, and much more joyful.”

Ms. Carole Corm of Darya Press