Middle East fashion exports

Time Out meets the regional style gurus causing global shockwaves

Reem Acra
Reem Acra
Amr Ali
Amr Ali
Georges Chakra
Georges Chakra
Karen Karam
Karen Karam
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Reem Acra

Fellow Lebanese designer Reem Acra, who has been dressing international royalty, movie stars and brides for many years now – notably Kristen Stewart at the last People’s Choice Awards – believes that the secret to her global success is an understanding and awareness of what women want. ‘Women around the world appreciate fine workmanship and sophisticated designs,’ she explains. ‘I lived and studied in the US before starting my business and had a unique international perspective. This helped me a lot when I was starting out.’

While Reem fell in love with the simplistic yet luxurious American style of dressing, she hasn’t lost sight of the importance of retaining her heritage and Eastern design influences. ‘In the Middle East there is more emphasis on elaborate detailing, draping and interesting fabrics,’ she explains. ‘It’s a matter of the West getting used to a different aesthetic and the merging of the two cultures. There are famous Middle Eastern designers working all over the world now. As the fashion community has become more global, the fashion business has become more international.’ ‘I would love to see more Dubai fashion designers in the West,’ she adds, ‘and I do think this will happen soon. They are very much focused on promoting fashion design from over there.’


Amr Ali

Lebanon and Dubai are not the Middle East’s only sources of fashion talent and enterprise. Oman’s Amr Ali and his London-based fashion label, Bodyamr, have been up there with the big European fashion players since he launched the first collection in 2002. ‘As an Omani I feel that it is important to be successful globally and represent the elegance and beauty of the Middle East on the international stage,’ explains Amr. Although he has achieved phenomenal international success – his first collection was picked up by Harrods in London and Collette in Paris; he has collaborated with Christian Louboutin and is a firm favourite with Elle Macpherson and Kylie Minogue – Amr believes that the Middle East still has a long way to go before it is established as a fully-fledged fashion market.

‘The Middle East needs to [appreciate] its own design talent and nurture that in order to become recognised globally. At the moment, the Middle East is considered a top consumer, rather than being recognised for its talent.’ This is something that Amr would like to see change. ‘There is no entity that I know of that helps, funds or supports new design talent in the Middle East,’ he says. ‘I would very much like to be part of setting up something that allows young talent to prosper through guidance, advice and support that will assist in achieving their goals and dreams. I hope that in turn this would build a platform in the Middle East for better recognition of our designers internationally.’


Georges Chakra

One of Lebanon’s finest exports, Georges Chakra has dressed some of Hollywood’s biggest stars including Beyoncé and Jennifer Lopez. Queen Latifah has described the unique cut of his dresses as ‘nailing my body fit’. But global success didn’t come overnight. Georges’ first show was in Beirut in 1993, yet it wasn’t until 2001 that he made it in the West with the launch of his haute couture collection in Paris. ‘The international market has different rules and ways of doing business, and the competition is tougher,’ he explains. ‘The most important turning point in my international career was the movie The Devil Wears Prada. They recreated my Paris Spring/Summer ‘05 show.’ With such international acclaim, what is it about Georges’ designs that the West has taken to? ‘My designs mix Western fashion values with a unique blend of oriental mystique and sensitivity,’ he suggests. ‘My Eastern touch of originality might also be what Western women are looking for in a piece of clothing,’ he adds. ‘My Middle East heritage is part of my identity. I act as an ambassador of that heritage and I try to convey it through my art and my designs.’

Georges is not alone. There are many Lebanese and Middle Eastern designers proving that the European market is hungry for a more Eastern-influenced design style. ‘I believe Lebanese designers have become so successful because their work presents the same high level of craftsmanship and attention to detail as the big fashion houses,’ explains Georges. ‘There are a lot of new talents here and I’m looking forward to all of their upcoming creations.’


Karen Karam

While Reem Acra left Beirut to study in the Big Apple, Lebanese designer Karen Karam headed to London’s Central Saint Martin’s College to follow in the footsteps of her idol Alexander McQueen, and is still based there. ‘The exposure you get from studying abroad changes your perspective on fashion – but at the end of the day talent is talent,’ she says. ‘The British are very proud and very supportive in nurturing a talent that they think they had a part in growing. In the Middle East, we tend to wait for international approval before we take notice of one of our own… Studying at Saint Martin’s opened up a lot of doors for me. I started my label in London and it grew from its baby stages here.’

Within two months of her graduation, Karen’s accessories were flying off the shelves at Parisian boutique Collette, catapulting her to success. Today her unique and playful dresses are worn by international starlets such as Lily Allen and Natalie Imbruglia, and she is becoming increasingly popular in the Middle East. ‘There is a certain pleasure in getting recognised in your own country,’ she says. ‘I think the West launches fashion labels, but we buy into them in the Middle East.’

Does Karen feel that there is now a more established fashion industry In Lebanon for up-and-coming designers? ‘I am actually shocked at how different things are since I left Beirut. The Middle East as a whole has become an emerging art scene to be watched by the world. In Dubai, in particular, the combination of Western and Middle Eastern people working in the arts makes for a winning combination for bringing the scene alive and catching global attention.’

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