Jan 28, 2009
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Hard times nothing new for Lebanese designers

Jan 28, 2009

Georges Chakra
PARIS, Jan 27, 2009 (AFP) - The Lebanese contingent of designers showing their couture collections this week are quietly optimistic that they can weather the current global recession.

From their personal experience of surviving in battle-scarred Beirut, they know that even in war life goes on - and their customers remain faithful.

"If they can't have the marriage in Beirut then they'll hold it in Montecarlo or Geneva," says Zuhair Murad.

"Maybe instead of ordering 10 couture dresses they will order four, but they won't call off the wedding," says Georges Chakra.

Despite the difficult economic climate, Chakra is going ahead with the launch of his high-end ready-to-wear in Bryant Park in New York on February 14, in response to customers who wanted to be able to buy off the peg.

"We are crossing our fingers" he told AFP, saying that the new line would have "lots of frocks for cocktails and lunches in smart restaurants."

The designers are also banking on their popularity with the red-carpet crowd.

Chakra's clients include British actress Helen Mirren and Queen Latifah recently wore one of his designs to the People's Choice awards in Chicago.

Murad has dressed Beyonce Knowles, Christina Aguilera and Shakira, who has Lebanese roots, among others.

Elie Saab's show in the Palais de Toyko modern art museum on Wednesday was jam-packed, with photographers jostling to grab shots of celebrities in front-row seats, who included the rapper Kanye West, actress Mischa Barton and burlesque artiste Dita von Teese.

Saab's collection for spring-summer 2009 made no concessions to austerity, even though the palette was more subdued than usual, centring on dusky pastels, beige, blossom pink, pearl grey, jade and lilac.

He wound rich brocades, lame, and embossed silks into glamorous evening frocks, their dramatic silhouettes inspired by the Japanese kimono with wide-cut sleeves and obi sashes.

Bodices bristled with Swarovski crystals, which also spangled the floor-sweeping trains.

Whorls of chiffon flowers edging hemlines, a giant crystal bauble adorning a bare back, rhinestones twinkling on cap sleeves, all conveyed a sense of unadulterated luxury.

Murad's show earlier in the week found inspiration on the bottom of the ocean. "It's escapism, going down into the peaceful and mysterious deep, leaving the world above behind."

His evening gowns in shades of sea green, emerald, blue and turquoise were embroidered with marine motifs like starfish and crab or with applications of real branches of coral.

A witty ocean floor print had tropical fish and waving seaweed fronds picked out in sequins while an iridescent blue taffeta had jellyfish traced in strass.

They were accessorised with dinky little clutch bags shaped like seashells, while real shells also dangled from the model's sandals.

Chakra's collection highlighted the versatility of plastics, not normally associated with couture.

He mounted guipure lace on clear plastic to give a dress body, while a sequinned sheath was protected from the elements by a jaunty raincoat in see-through plastic appliqued with white plastic flowers.

The spiky fringes on flappers' cocktail frocks in acid lemon and shocking pink were plastic. Even his lounge wear pyjamas came in perforated plastic with gold filigree thread and starbursts of embroidery.

Grander evening gowns for red-carpet entrances used bales of tulle, dozens of metres for a single dress, with layers billowing out from the waist in a riot of pleated organza fan shapes.by Sarah Shard

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