Thursday, 28 January 2010

It's fashionable to be Lebanese in Paris

At the Paris haute couture shows this week, a crop of Lebanese designers charmed private clients with sparkling gowns and wispy wedding dresses, produced in Beirut ateliers that have survived decades of bloodshed.

PARIS, FRANCE (JANUARY 26, 2010)REUTERS - Lebanon's new star couturiers used to face the typical problems of people working in fashion: snarled deliveries, cancelled trips, delayed fittings. Only in their case, such hiccups were caused by war. Now it is them on the offensive - on the catwalks rather than the battlefield.
These days, helped by a period of political stability and strong economic growth, Lebanon's fashion houses are taking the elite world of haute couture by storm.

These days, helped by a period of political stability and strong economic growth, Lebanon's fashion houses are taking the elite world of haute couture by storm.

And while storied French names such as Christian Lacroix are in financial difficulties, the Lebanese are flourishing thanks to a style and service that wealthy Middle Easterners love.

"There are many Lebanese designers. Lebanon is a country which loves fashion. We have a culture of fashion, and by that I mean it's like our daily bread, we love getting dressed up and going out. You see a lot of young men and women growing up in this culture and many of them become designers, this is how I explain it," designer Georges Chakra told Reuters before his show.

Beirut was known as the Paris of the Orient before the gruesome 1975-1990 civil war. Recent upheaval includes a 34-day war with Israel in 2006, a militant Islamist revolt and political killings.

Chakra, a red carpet favourite, caught major international attention when his designs appeared in the 2006 motion picture "The Devil Wears Prada" starring Meryl Streep.

His dresses cost $20,000-$50,000. A Middle Eastern bride, he said, may easily order a dozen: one for the wedding, the others for the 11 nightly parties that follow.

And that's not counting the dresses for her mother, sisters and cousins.

Most Arab countries are expected to record an average 3.6 percent economic growth this year as the price of crude oil rebounds, according to a United Nations report.

That kind of market is a dream for couturiers. However, exploiting it takes more than a show in Paris and a boutique in Beirut.

For a start, there is the question of style. French haute couture prides itself on being innovative, avant garde. But this does not necessarily translate into the kind of fairytale gown a Saudi princess wants to wear.

The advantage of the Lebanese is that they are seen as somewhat of an Arab-European melange.

Middle Eastern and French women alike applauded the swishing organza and heavily embroidered silk at the Georges Chakra and Zuhair Murad shows.

"I see that Lebanese designers really have a lot of taste. They see women maybe a little bit differently, they like to see women as very sensual, very elegant, like models. And at the same time there is a mix between the Orient and the West, and that enriches the taste and the creations at the same time," Murad said.