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La Dolce Vita according to Sofiane Ben Chaabane

6 April 2021
Par ZO

Hello Sofiane, can you introduce yourself in a few words?

My name is Sofiane Ben Chaabane, I am Franco-Tunisian. I grew up in Tunis and went to France after my baccalaureate where I studied business at ESCP Europe in Paris, where I met my wife, Claire. I worked in different advertising agencies for about ten years in Paris, when Claire made her career in marketing. Our travels in Tunisia and more widely in the Mediterranean region made us want to start our own business and do it together. Since then we have created
LYOUM, a brand of ready-to-wear clothing made in the Mediterranean and we live in La Marsa.
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How was Lyoum born?

 From a distanced point of view with regard to Tunisia, which allowed us to see certain things. We realised that there was a Mediterranean story to tell about Tunisia: its geographical location, its culture, its history, its proximity to Italy, Malta and Corsica. This evidence was found elsewhere around the Mediterranean, the blue and white, the white light, certain dishes, the character of the people, the family spirit, the art of living, the "little old men" playing cards in the shade of the trees. There was something missing that united the shores, Southern Europe and North Africa, in a natural, mixed way. At the time, in the early 2010s, the Mediterranean casual style was hard to find in ready-to-wear, so we created it. 

What was the trigger that led you to start?

 We were in the middle of thinking about the brand when the Tunisian revolution of 2011 broke out. We were immediately attracted by the energy and the change that was coming, it made us want to be in Tunis, to see with our own eyes a page being turned and a new one being written. We wanted to be there, so at the end of 2011 we launched the brand, we changed jobs to get into an industry we didn't know at all. We moved to Tunisia with our children in 2012, in a rather rock n' roll way but we believed in it. In 2012, we launched our first collection and opened our first shop in Tunis. Today we have 2 shops, the brand's style has been refined and affirmed collection after collection. Our clothes are entirely made in Tunisia, in short circuits, in workshops that we have carefully selected, which are only a few kilometres away from where we work. Because we are geographically close to our suppliers, we are able to see who produces our clothes and under what conditions. 

Today how could you describe Lyoum in two words? Is it Mediterranean coolness?

For us, the key word is interbreeding. I am a great believer in the beauty of mixtures, and our latest collection, for example, is called Sud-Nord-Beauté (Janoub-Chamal-Jamal in Arabic) and it comes as a reminder of the grace of mixtures. For us, LYOUM is a brand that claims a kind of dolce vita without bling. Our clothes can be worn every day and for any occasion, from the beach to the city, with that effortless Parisian feel that we love. Our southern Mediterranean influence is found in the fabrics, calligraphy, certain details etc. At the same time, LYOUM is neither an "ethnic" nor an "expat" brand. We don't claim anything, everything is there. Today, half of our customers in the shop are Tunisian, the other half come from all over, from Chicago to Paris via Dubai. The nationalities are different, but they all have the same view of fashion. Our brand is meaningful, open-minded and that's what counts.

You moved back to Tunis after a life in Paris, can you tell us about your relationship with this city?

Tunis has changed a lot in 30 years. When I was a kid, we lived in El Menzah, a residential suburb of Tunis, I would go downtown a few times with my mother to go shopping at the central market. We only went to La Marsa in the summer, to my grandfather's holiday home. The 20 km that separated us from it were on a rough road and La Marsa was above all a seaside resort... In the meantime, Tunis has developed a lot and a lot of people have moved to La Marsa, Carthage, by the sea.

When I left Paris, I really wanted to be closer to the sea and today we have the luxury of living, working and sending our children to school within a 3 kilometre radius, in a village town. We can avoid the car as much as possible and now, when I go to Paris, I almost like to take the metro (laughs).

 To what extent do you consider yourself Mediterranean?

I feel Mediterranean in this way of handling humour in everyday life, nothing is serious, there is always a little word, an expression, a proverb to put things into perspective. For me, the Mediterranean means speaking loudly, with your hands, switching from French to Arabic, Italian and Spanish without any problem. It is also this warm, tactile side, the ease I have when I go to Sicily, Marseille or Andalusia. Of course, there's also the cooking, the love of olive oil. A little bread, a little oil, a little tuna and that's enough, a view of the sea under an olive tree. The simple pleasures of life in the Mediterranean, the ability to share and appreciate them.

The Mediterranean is also in the words, words in the Tunisian darija that are Italian, French. In the end, for me, the Mediterranean is a nation that has no borders, it is the same bazaar, it is an inner pool. There is a kind of irony in all this, that we are all linked to each other like this.