A popular local legend says that Beirut was destroyed seven times. And seven times it was rebuilt. In the 1960s, the city was known for its vibrant social scene, attracting artists and glamorous jet-setters from across the globe, this changed in the 80’s as the country was fraught by unrest and a long drawn civil war. Nestled at the Mediterranean Sea and fringed by dramatic mountains, the city, with its cosmopolitan-leaning and intellectual lifestyle, has always been the epicenter of fashion and a key player in the global couture arena. Lebanese haute couturiers routinely showcase their avant garde designs at the Paris and Arab Fashion Weeks – setting a high bar and a stellar reputation of extraordinary craftsmanship and artistic dominance. We travelled to this beautiful, dynamic city to bring to you the essence of their magnificent culture, traditions and prolific history in haute couture.
A fundamentally conservative nation, the Lebanese exhibit a strong respect for traditions. The cedar at the centre of the Lebanese flag, was the country’s chief export in the ancient times and chronicles six thousand years of history – fashion being an integral part of this rich history. Designers like Elie Saab, Tony Ward, Zuhair Murad, Azzi and Osta, Georges Chakra and Reem Acra, have successfully transcended the geo-political barriers of the country bringing Lebanese designs to the global forefront.
Known as gracious hosts, the fervent Lebanese sense of style has been shaped by centuries of cultural exchanges between the Arab, Hellenic, Roman, Ottoman and the French civilizations. Once dubbed as the “Paris of the Middle East,” its capital city Beirut is the fulcrum of glamour, traditions, art and fashion. A gregarious society. The souks(markets) are always crowded; shopping downtown is very popular, as is strolling in high heels along the busy streets where one can hear jovial summons of bonjour, bon soir, and au revoir.
The French influence in architecture, lifestyle and cuisine is the strongest in Beirut. The bustling Hamra Street with sidewalk cafés, or the charming Souk Bazaar with the latest wares of every international brand, are reminiscent of the Champs Elysées. The art-deco aesthetic so prevalent in the main streets of Beirut come as a mixture of Arabic, Italian, European, and American influences.
An inexhaustible store house of inspiration comes from the famous Citadel of Raymond de Saint-Gilles, Cathedral of St Elie, St Gregory the Illuminator and the castle of Tyre. The oldest inhabited cities in the world, tracing back to around 8800 years B.C – Byblos, brims with iridescent cultural inspiration for local artists.
Extravagance is eluded in every form at Beirut. This is why Lebanese designers feel at home at Paris Fashion Week. And If Hollywood is any indicator of their global dominance, then Lebanese designers are routinely picked for the red carpet at the Oscars or the Golden Globes 2020.
The creative energy is palpable in Beirut, the Beirut Art Fair is at it’s 11th edition this year, and it is only a matter of time when local designers will come together to create their own fashion forum and develop a self-sustaining model where their main roadblocks- an unreliable international supply chain and recurring shipment and custom issues are eliminated.
A city unmatched in raw energy, glamour, benevolence and brimming with untapped global prospects – Beirut is the perfect alchemy of culture and fashion. A true goldmine of visceral originality and artistry that the world has not fully experienced.