Before the explosions, before the pandemic, Beirut was the cradle of culture in the Middle East.
At the Lebanese capital, you’d find traces of Hellenistic, Roman and Ottoman civilisations, all intertwined with a 21st century one. Beirut’s art galleries were as rich as its historical buildings, while trendy restaurants and bars fed those with an appetite for life (and nightlife).
There was also fashion: in its highest form, from the likes of Lebanese couturiers Elie Saab, Zuhair Murad, Rabih Kayrouz and Tony Ward, as well in its most potential form, from emerging designers like Roni Helou and Salim Azzam. No wonder that Beirut was also known as the “Paris of the Middle East”.
But it may be a long time before that title is used again. When Beirut’s port exploded last week, it took both lives and livelihoods. Ateliers, offices and designer boutiques that once stood as the pride of the Lebanese fashion industry were destroyed in a flash.
“It was my dream to build my fashion house in Beirut, in my city, in Lebanon where I was born but in one second everything went and I lost everything,” told Zuhair Murad, to Business of Fashion.
Murad’s headquarters were located in the Gemmayze district — the “heart and soul” of Beirut — which lay less than 800 metres from the site of the blast. It wiped out the designer’s couture and bridal gowns for his clients, his 20-year archive and even his art collection. Thankfully, his 200-strong staff, who left the building minutes before the explosions, remain unscathed.
The same can’t be said for Maison Rabih Kayrouz, another haute couture fashion brand in the neighbourhood. Its headquarters, which combined Rabih Kayrouz’s atelier, couture salon and ready-to-wear store, only opened last year. It’s now reduced to rubble, as the designer shared on his Instagram — along with a photo of his head injury.
Couturier and bridal designer Tony Ward also took to Instagram to show the extent of the destruction of his studio and offices in the Ashrafieh district. Elie Saab, another Lebanese fixture of Paris Couture Week, was also affected: his building in Beirut’s Central District was damaged by the blasts.
Saab and his team, however, are safe. Even more remarkably, the designer is already moving forward despite the tragedy of his hometown. He plans to showcase his upcoming couture and ready-to-wear collections this September. As for his headquarters, it will be repaired by the end of the month.
In that same spirit, Murad, too, is getting back to work. The designer intends to be ready with his Spring/Summer 2021 collection in time for Paris Fashion Week. He and his team will continue their design duties from their homes or at temporary studio spaces, while Murad’s building is rebuilt in the year ahead.
But Murad is also doing his bit to aid Beirut’s relief efforts. From next week, his brand will be raising funds for humanitarian organisations like the Lebanese Red Cross. Other Lebanese designers are doing the same.
It’s a testament to the resilience of the Lebanese people, who have withstood crisis after crisis in the past. (Saab, for example, had built his fashion company as a teenager in the midst of the Lebanese Civil War.)
Now, as their country is faced with political, economic, financial and health challenges like never before, Lebanese fashion designers are making a grand example of solidarity and strength for the rest of the world to follow.
Header photo credit: Zuhair Murad / Instagram