Lebanese-Australian designer Katrine Hanna’s work symbolizes the escapism we have all been craving in a post-pandemic world. If this year has shown us anything, it’s the power of unexpected change. Global turmoil has sparked newfound inspiration and community activism, forcing the fashion industry to reset, and for designers to rediscover the creative process. The industry has always represented a space for dreamers, and for Katrine Hanna, shoes are the medium for expressing her fascination with fantasy. “The best way to learn is just by jumping in, you really don’t know how it’s going to go until you just do it,” says Katrine. The emerging designer launched her label in 2017 and is already exclusively available at leading UAE retailer Level Shoes at The Dubai Mall. Katrine started designing footwear in London after finishing her foundation year at Central Saint Martins. “I loved the idea of creating a sculpture that you can wear, I didn’t see it as shoe-making at the time.” After graduating in 2016, Katrine Hanna moved back to Dubai to launch her brand.
The designer has exhibited distinguishing inspiration and craft through the creation of unique textures and experimental material combinations since her debut collection. Her signature block heel is inspired by the exotic Banksia nut, native to Australia. The flower dries into a pinecone shape and then is carved into a heel. “That really carried through as my main inspiration for the brand. It’s never been used before as a heel, let alone a fashion item.” She introduced the “Bad Banksia,” where each heel reveals a unique pattern, updating seasonally with different shades and patterns in the grain.
Katrine’s love of nature and fantasy originated in her grandmother’s garden, where she was introduced to fantastical myths and exotic plants at a young age. “My grandma in Australia had a garden that was full of fairies,” she recalls. “I used to write letters to the garden fairy, and the next day there would be a reply.” Lover of her surroundings, Katrine’s latest collection Desert Rose is inspired by her home garden in Dubai. The collection was created during lockdown, inspired by freshly opened hibiscuses and desert roses with humid dew droplets, garden mesh, and vibrant colored blossoms. “When designing I am always thinking of how I can bring the customer closer to my love of nature, so that when the customer wears my shoe their appreciation for the flora surrounding them deepens.”
The collection has finally landed in stores, after facing production delays due to COVID-19. Handcrafted in Italy by local artisans, the brand faced a 3-month delay when factories closed down. Managing the business and the role of creative director remains a challenge, but Katrine Hanna believes this turbulent period had its lessons, and adapting is key. “I was prepared to slow down, I wanted some time to reflect on what I was doing, what my brand meant to me. But I’m still going to push through this period.” The designer defines success by measuring her impact, striving to have authentic brand communication as strong as her product. “I believe in the idea of someone wearing my shoes because they chose to.”
Within the last few months alone, a new fashion landscape has emerged. From slowing down an outdated fashion system and calendar to starting a call-out culture against racial injustice and discrimination, all have given hope that change is here to stay. The fashion industry has proven to be a vital part of civil society, from converting ateliers to supplying PPE, sanitizers, and masks throughout the global health crisis. Following the tragic explosion that erupted in the port of Beirut on August 4th, Katrine released limited editions of ‘Carmen’ for her city, donating a percentage of sales to the Emirates Red Crescent for the Lebanese Red Cross to help those in need after the blast. Carmen was inspired to be the perfect shoe to slip on for a drink in Beirut after a long day at the beach. “Long days by the beach, long nights out in the city, the memories are so strong and powerful, no matter how small the experience is.” Katrine recalls the nostalgic sensitivity of being in Beirut, “The minute I land in Lebanon, I feel a wave come over my body. It’s hard to explain this feeling, I’ve tried to for so long.”
The country is not only facing the aftermath of a devastating explosion that decimated the capital but had been suffering an economic downturn for months, along with the burden of COVID-19. “I’ve lost a lot of stockists that are based in Lebanon. It’s a troubling feeling being Lebanese abroad and knowing I can’t contribute to the economy for now.” Designers carry a heavy responsibility to the planet and their communities, now more than ever. This phase brings hope that demands transparency and designing for change will outlive any trend. “We all need to take this time to be grateful for what we have left, pick up the pieces, and grow into something better and greater.”