Farid El Kanz is a storyteller. His childhood memories, the anecdotes from the bar of the Normandy Hotel, in Paris 1st arrondissement, the birth of his first Haute Couture collection: Farid chose to tell those stories not with words, but with drawings.
He’s waiting at the bar of the Mandarin Oriental. Rue Saint Honoré. 1st arrondissement. Luxurious decor, a tad bling, very modern. His friend, the chef Thierry Marx, works there. Wearing a tuxedo, sitting straight in one of the black leather chairs, Farid El Kanz is ready to talk. To tell his story. It’s the first time for the 36 year-old man. A bit shy, but always at ease, he has already lived several lives. Yesterday, he was still welcoming with a bright smile the customers at Mûre, a restaurant situated 2 blocks from his place, in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris. Today, Farid El Kanz wears another suit, one that fits him since he was a kid: creator from the street.
Paris, with a suitcase and 500 euros
Born in the region of Bordeaux, Farid El Kanz refers to his childhood as an extroardinary time of his life. “We were 5 boys - now there’s only 3 of us - and two sisters”, he says with modesty. He adds that he’d rather not talk about it. It still hurts too much. “It’s only been a year since he’s gone”.
As a child, when kids from the neighborhoods are playing football, Farid is already drawing. Not an unusal passion, he says, that he taught himself by looking at women. In primary school, his teacher asks if he’s “playing Picasso”. He laughs. At the time, Farid “wasn’t the brightest kid in school”. “I was a duffer!”.
At 20, his father kicks him out. He needs to grow up! Farid arrives in Paris, with only a suitcase and 500 euros in his pocket. “I wanted to work and to prove to my parents that I could be independant”, he says. With the help of a friend, he finds a place to stay in the city. Two months later, he starts working in a bakery and moves into his first apartment in Montparnasse. Then he moves to the 94 department and finds a first job in the fashion industry. He’s a salesman first, then an image consultant in Paris’ big stores. This job, a mix between stylist and psychologist, requires an ability to connect with people : “if you don’t like people and if you don’t listen to them, it’s not for you”.
The struggle, the first fashion show
After 9 years in the fashion industry, Farid goes on to work in the hotel and food business. Three places allow him to fulfill his destiny today. First, Aux Deux Vaches, a restaurant launched by Danone on the Grands Boulevards. “That’s where the organic adventure started in Paris”, he explains. There, he meets people who will become precious friends. Those who, since then, follow him, encourage him, support him in developping his art : drawing and sculpting dresses.
Farid started to think that this passion could turn into an employment opportunity just 3 and a half years ago. “I was struggling. I didn’t have a job or money… I’m not ashamed to say it, I needed the Restos du Coeur, Emmaüs and the Secours Populaire… It was a hell of a time, which finally helped me: I figured I needed to do something with my drawings!”.
He decides to stop listening to those who tell him he doesn’t have the education, the contacts, or the money, to succeed in that field. He finds a job as a bartender at the Normandy Hotel, in the 1st arrondissement. “The tips paid for my first even”, he says. But Farid doesn’t have enough money to have his dresses made. He decides to set up, with new friends - regulars from the bar -, an ephemeral fashion show: “people were carrying my paintings and walking with them. The show ended with an exhibition”. There is one dress in the middle of it all - a gorgeous, real dress, named The Normandy. Farid shows a picture on his phone. “She made out of pins, nails, a cloth of silk and lace”. The dress, inspired by Marie-Antoinette, is named after the hotel, a symbolic place for its creator. “The hotel offered me the room and half of the drinks”, he says. The rabbi of the 1st neighborhood, Tony Codet, a californian billionaire, buys one of Farid’s painting for a hundred euros. “It’s one of my greatest encounters”, Farid says, before citing others, such as Cabu, the director Bertrand Tavergnier, Michel Gaillard (Le Canard Enchaîné) or the heiress Pascaline de France. People who believe in his talent. ”It was amazing. They didn’t knew me and they treated me like family”.
After a year as a bartender in this legendary hotel - “it’s been here since 1877, the greatest men have been here!” - Farid needs a break. One of his brothers has passed away. He need some time for himself.
Haute Couture collection
Change of scenery. The bartender leaves the Normandy and goes to work in the restaurant of his friend Arnaud Dalibot: Mûre. When he comes back home at night, he comes up with new ideas for dresses. He takes his time, saves up money, and puts together his first collection. One which will be worn by models during a show.
On the sketches he brought, the dresses are named after his friends. Arnaud, Lovisa, Ibrahim, Khalilou or Bakary are honored. “Mûre was one of my best experience”, says Farid. There, the manager worked with a team of young people coming from all over the world. This restaurant is his Tower of Babel. “I didn’t only do my job, I loved the people there”, he says.
After 10 months working there, Farid leaves the restaurant to focus on his collection, called “Haute Couture”. A symbolic name for this artist who came a long way. The show is planned for November 2016, and will feature “silk, crystal, tulle, and gold embroideries”. A shiny collection, “inspired by his moroccan origins”.
His dreams are coming true, and yet Farid, who taught himself so many things, finds himself wishing very few: to keep his independance as an artist, and to finally settle into a studio. He’d like to move to the Strait of Gibraltar, “a paradise” where his parents are from. In Paris, he’d love to live in the 1st neighborhood, his favorite, the one he knows by heart. Between the Mandarin Oriental and the Normandy, where he chose to be photographed, Farid stops and salutes every shop-owner. About 15 years ago, Farid El Kanz only knew one person in the City of Lights. Today, he’s the one shining. Thanks to his talent, his kindness, and his genuineness.
Happy Bonus : a happy Parisian, by Farif El Kanz for Happy Project