PARIS - During this past week’s fashion shows, an eastern wind was blowing on the runways of Paris. And even as France has begun to question the very necessity of ultra high-end fashion collections, half a dozen Lebanese designers have kept a certain elite idea of couture alive with the help of design studios that employ hundreds of seamstresses.

Elie Saab, one of a handful of foreign designers recognized by the French Chamber of High Fashion, is the most famous of these Oriental designers. Stars walk red carpets around the world in his creations. Dresses from his new collection unveiled on July 6 will shine ever greater this year, reflecting light through hundreds of Swarovski crystals. Long, short, pleated or veiled, these luxurious outfits made of muslin or lace are embroidered with tiny velvet flowers or bits of mink, and took between 50 or 100 hours to make.

Zuhair Murad, a former assistant for Elie Saab, also likes embroidery, working it into a collection inspired by the Far East, complete with obis and karate pants. Murad is part of a generation of designers who exploded onto the Lebanese fashion scene about 15 years ago, taking over from their elder kin who in the 1950s and 1960s had come to Paris to learn from Dior, Balenciaga and Balmain.

Murad landed in Paris seven years ago in order to have a more international clientele. His goal is to make “a rich mix between French taste and the Mediterranean woman who likes to be elegant and cultivate her femininity.”

Georges Hobeika works with creased muslin and creped silk in which he hides shiny stones; a collection inspired by the Greek goddess Athena. Like Murad, Hobeika was showing his work outside of the official program, but has high ambitions. His Parisian showroom displays evening gowns that aren’t covered in jewels and that took less work then those shown on the catwalk. He’ll launch his prêt-a-porter line in October.

Walking on water

Georges Chakra plays up “both sides of the woman, the modern determined side and the romantic, more glamorous side.” The first one wears tight dresses with asymmetric cuts and lines across the bust. The other is more fragile, the fabric is flowing, in movement with rounder lines.

Rabih Kayrouz, on the other hand, offers high fashion that is light-years away from his fellow countrymen: simple, pure and fresh. Models walk barefoot in the water. The clothes are inspired by sportswear for women on the move. “I’m not here to impress anyone. What inspires me are women’s movements, the way they walk, dance… It’s the client who gives the clothes their soul, not the other way around,” he says. “Clothes should always adapt to everyday life just like other objects. Couture is above all about savoir-faire.” He used the concept to develop a luxury prêt-a-porter aimed at women who don’t have the means or the time to wait for a custom-made outfit.

Kayrouz is one of the only Lebanese designers to actually produce in France, and has been invited to official French high fashion shows since 2009. He has, however, kept an important part of his activity in Lebanon, where he founded an association that helps young designers in the region. In Beirut, he opened a store where these up-and-coming designers can sell their pieces. Some day, they could stride across the Mediterranean to the catwalks of Paris. 

Read original article in French here

Photo credit - Burrs & Berries