From Lebanon to the World: Lebanese fashion designers have changed Hollywood… forever!
From the ateliers of Beirut to the catwalks of Paris and New York and on to the red carpets of Hollywood, whether it’s the Oscars or the Cannes Film Festival, Lebanese fashion designers have been taking the haute couture industry by storm, bringing glamour, elegance, sophistication and style to world celebrities.
The Lebanese have a long and rich tradition in embroidery, fashion design and clothes-making. Even today, the old neighborhoods of Beirut are still abundant with textile shops that cater to the numerous tailors and ready-to-wear clothing stores of local designers.
Along with Paris, London and New York, Beirut can be considered a haute couture capital, where many young talents launch their careers. For decades, Lebanon has been considered the fashion capital of the Middle East and home to prominent and talented fashion designers such as Elie Saab, Georges Chakra, Zuhair Murad, Basil Soda, Georges Hobeika, Tony Ward, Reem Acra, and others.
Over the last decade, these Lebanese designers have gained much acclaim for their sexy, glamorous, feminine and luxurious designs that have graced the silhouettes of numerous international celebrities.
For over 20 years, Lebanese designer Elie Saab has been at the forefront of haute couture in the Middle East. His romantic gowns and gorgeous creations, meticulously encrusted with crystals, diamonds and precious stones, have attracted Arab royals to his Beirut atelier. For years, Arab princesses have relied on Saab to design their evening dresses and wedding gowns. Queen Rania of Jordan even went a step further, asking Saab to design a unique gown for her coronation as queen in 1999. It was then no surprise that after conquering the Middle East, Saab would eventually turn his sight to Hollywood.
Saab’s undisputable talent was shown at an early age, when he used to make dresses for his sisters out of whatever material was found around the house. Though much of his adulthood was spent in the war-torn Beirut, his enthusiasm and drive did not take a back-seat, nor did they get affected by these circumstances. Thus, in 1982, at the age of 18, Saab inaugurated his first atelier during the peak of Lebanon’s civil war.
In 1997, Saab was the only non-Italian designer to participate in the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana (National Chamber of Italian Fashion) and began showing his couture at the Rome Fashion Week. In 1998, he launched his ready-to-wear line in Milan, gaining much admiration and acclaim for his designs that combined Middle Eastern details and European sensibility.
The 2002 Oscars was a historic event for Saab as Halle Berry, dressed in a stunning Elie Saab creation, was the first African-American actress to win the Oscar for best actress. Berry made headlines all over the world, and since then, Saab’s elegant gowns have become a mainstay on the red carpet. Today, his Hollywood clientele includes prominent celebrities like Angelina Jolie, Marion Cotillard, Beyoncé, Christina Aguilera, Whitney Houston, Heidi Klum, and Catherine Zeta-Jones, to name a few.
Despite his international fame, Saab remains deeply rooted in Beirut, the city that inspires him the most. “I always say I breathe differently in Lebanon. I’m very attached to this country,” Saab once said.
Zuhair Murad is another much-admired Lebanese designer. In 1995, after pursuing his studies in art and design, Murad opened his first atelier in Beirut, where he displayed his unique creations.
Murad’s rise to international fame was fast, thanks to his signature style that is romantic and flamboyant at the same time, and is a charming and innovative mix of Eastern flair and European finesse.
In 1999, the designer began showcasing his collections at the Alta Roma Alta Moda in Rome, and in 2001, his couture took center-stage at the Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week, thus gaining a wider exposure among the international jet-setting elites and fashion media. In 2002, Murad launched his ready-to-wear collection, which received great reviews from the press. But that’s not all! Over the last years the designer has worked with some of the biggest international fashion groups such as Mango, for which he designs the elegant “Mango by Zuhair Murad” collection.
Murad’s list of celebrity clients is extensive, and includes, among others, Kristen Chenoweth, Jennifer Carpenter, Fergie, Kerry Washington, Shakira, Eva Longoria-Parker, Carrie Underwood, and Miley Cyrus.
Fashion designer Georges Chakra has signed the public appearances of many of the current entertainment industry stars. He caught international attention when his designs appeared in the 2006 motion picture The Devil Wears Prada starring Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway. Chakra, who is based in Beirut, believes that the growing number of Lebanese celebrity designers is a great pride for Beirut, and offers a wonderful image for the Middle East’s hottest capital. “Ten years ago, we thought that this trend of Lebanese designers would die. Well, it hasn’t yet, and it doesn’t look like it will anytime soon,” he said.
Every year, Chakra showcases his haute couture collection during Paris Fashion Week, and his ready-to-wear collection ‘Edition by Georges Chakra’ during New York Fashion Week.
Chakra’s designs are characterized by a sense of uniqueness and a distinctive touch, often introducing innovative fabrics and a palette of exquisite colors while remaining faithful to his sophisticated and glamorous signature look in both his couture and ready-to-wear labels.
"Creating new artistic expressions is my aspiration for every collection,” Chakra said at his 'Edition by Georges Chakra' Fall 2010 ready-to-wear collection during New York Fashion Week. “This season the curved abstraction and strong lines articulated my fall-winter 2010 collection."
Chakra’s designs have graced the silhouettes of many prominent celebrities including Tyra Banks, Carrie Underwood, Katy Perry, Paris Hilton, Mariah Carey, Marcia Cross, Beyoncé, and Queen Latifah.
Lebanese born, New York-based designer, Reem Acra, is a leading name in luxury bridal and evening wear. Acra believes her childhood upbringing in Beirut formed her sense of style at a young age. “Since I was five, my mother used to take me to the souks to show me how to buy fabrics,” she once revealed in an interview. “At very young age, I understood luxury and knew how to negotiate.” Acra is the designer behind the exquisite strapless inaugural red ball gown of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s wife, Jill. Acra’s recent memorable moments are numerous: Christina Applegate as a 1940s screen queen in a gold-and-turquoise one-shouldered gown; Olivia Wilde as a princess in a champagne shirred confection; and Eva Longoria-Parker heating things up in a fire-engine-red scallop-edged frock. And at the 2009 Emmy Awards, the designer's red carpet streak continued. The Office's Jenna Fisher showed up in a form-hugging black Reem Acra gown with intricate ebony beading framing its deep sweetheart neckline, while Elisabeth Moss from Mad Men shined in a dynamite-dusty rose one-shouldered gown accented with vintage-feeling jewels.
Georges Hobeika did not pursue his fashion career early in his life. In fact, he studied to be a civil engineer and was eager to learn about architectural art and design. Hobeika began acquiring an interest in fabric and design following his mother’s requests to assist her in her work as a seamstress. Soon, the young Hobeika began designing his own clothes and later moved to Paris where he worked at Chanel and other fashion giants.
In 1995, Hobeika returned to Lebanon where he launched his own haute couture label and an atelier that is home to 150 skilled workers, who assist the designer in producing some of the most exceptional evening and wedding gowns.
Today, Hobeika is a regular participant at the Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week and has recently opened a new showroom in Paris. Michelle Stafford, Ashley Judd, Holly Hunter, Vanessa Hudgens, Julie Bowen and many other stars are part of Hobeika’s long list of A-list clientele.
The name Tony Ward conjures up images of glorious gowns that are both feminine and exquisite.
Ward studied tailoring in Paris and worked with some of the most famous designers in France including Dominique Morlotti and Claude Montana for Lanvin, Gianfranco Ferré for Dior, and Karl Lagerfeld for Chloé.
In 1995, Ward returned to Lebanon where he launched a line of haute couture under his own name. His creations were an instant success, attracting an ever-growing list of clients that found a unique blend of distinctive charm and timeless style in his designs.
Throughout the past years, Ward has showcased his haute couture and ready-to-wear collections in Rome, Moscow and other fashion capitals. In September 2008, Ward was chosen to exclusively dress all the models participating in the Model of the World competition that took place in Moscow.
Ward tasteful designs continue to attract some of the most beautiful and celebrated women around the world. Most recently, on February 4, 2010, American singer Ashanti stole the show at the Grammy Awards with her beautifully embroidered $300,000 dress from Tony Ward Couture.
Basil Soda’s designs covered the red carpet at the 2009 Emmy Awards and the 67th Annual Golden Globe Awards. He dressed Christina Applegate in a dark blue gown and Dana Delany in a purple one at the Emmy Awards. Jennifer Carpenter chose a gorgeous burgundy silk strapless gown with pleated front crystal detail from Soda’s Autumn/Winter 2009 collection for the Golden Globe Awards in Los Angeles.
Basil Soda studied architecture, fashion design, and hat-making in Beirut. He then moved to the Arab Gulf where he mastered the art of embroidery. The designer worked with Elie Saab as foreman, and ultimately decided to strike out on his own, making creations under his own name.
Today, the couture house of Basil Soda in Beirut enjoys a contemporary and simplistic design that is very inviting, allowing clients to take in the beauty and charm of every dress.