The Lebanese Designers Who Are Everywhere This Awards Season

Lebanese designers have been dressing glamorous women all over the world for a long time. This awards season, fashion talents from the tiny Levantine nation have been exceptionally prominent on awards season red carpets as well, from the Golden Globes to the Academy Awards and everything in between.

Tony Ward, whose atelier is located in Beirut, dressed Da’Vine Joy Randolph for the Governor’s Awards and Hannah Waddingham for the SAG Awards. Lebanese designer Elie Saab, with headquarters in Paris, has been worn by Mandy Moore (Critics Choice), Reese Witherspoon (SAG Awards), Emily Blunt (BAFTAs) and Hailee Steinfeld (Oscars) in recent weeks.

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Beirut-based duo Azzi & Osta dressed Veronica Ferres for The Golden Globes, while Zuhair Murad, also based in Beirut, has been seen on Maitreyi Ramakrishnan (at the Oscars), Allison Williams (Critics Choice), Zawe Ashton (Emmys) and Jennifer Lopez (for her This is Me… Now: A Love Story L.A. premiere).

Known for first breaking through with its cut-out dresses, Mônot, by Lebanese-American designer Eli MIzrahi, dressed Sydney Sweeney for the People’s Choice Awards, Fantasia Barrino for the NAACP Image Awards, and Brittany Snow attended the Oscars to support the short film Red, White and Blue wearing the brand.

In recent months, Georges Chakra, based in Beirut with a showroom in Paris, dressed Molly Sims and Andra Day for the Golden Globes, and Sims again for the Oscars, plus Killers of the Flower Moon‘s Cara Jade Myers, while Georges Hobeika (also Beirut-based with a Paris showroom) has dressed Adele, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Beyoncé, Blackpink’s Lisa and Quinta Brunson.

As to why actresses are drawn to the oft-flamboyant silhouettes of these designers, Joe Challita, founder of Lebanese Fashion History and fashion editor at Marie Claire Arabia has an explanation. “Lebanese designers beautifully reflect the essence of their geographic position, nestled as the gateway between the East and West,” says Challita. “They draw inspiration from both worlds, blending the allure of the Orient and the sophistication of the Occident, shaping their unique identity, which is a great advantage. With a deep understanding and appreciation of both Eastern and Western aesthetics, Lebanese designers craft pieces that resonate with a global audience.”

Jennifer Lopez
Jennifer Lopez, wearing Zuhair Murad, attends Los Angeles Premiere Of Amazon MGM Studios This Is Me…Now: A Love Story at Dolby Theatre on Feb. 13, 2024 in Hollywood.

Ward, a longtime regular on red carpets from awards season to the Cannes Film Festival, points to the “innovative craftsmanship” of this group of designers as well. “We spend endless hours researching and experimenting to make a piece as timeless and unique as possible, while creating gowns that will be hard to replicate,” says Ward. “We go into the micro details for the picture perfect and I think that’s what makes us stand out.

Chakra, whose brand was featured in The Devil Wears Prada notes, “Craftsmanship, particularly in couture, stands out due to its meticulous attention to detail and use of luxurious fabrics. As Lebanese, the artisans and couture atelier infuse traditional artistry with modern aesthetics, creating something opulent. Personally, my focus is on the quality of fabrics, and the impeccable tailoring techniques to show gowns that tell a story of elegance and showcase the exceptional craftsmanship.”

Emily Blunt attends the 2024 EE BAFTA Film Awards at The Royal Festival Hall on February 18, 2024 in London, England.
Emily Blunt, wearing Elie Saab, attends the 2024 BAFTA Film Awards on Feb. 18, 2024 in London. “The red carpet for a designer is a podium where he can highlight the woman’s figure, and show how the power of a gown can define his signature,” says Saab.

World renowned designer Elie Saab — who just unveiled a fascinating Fall Winter 2024 collection in Paris inspired by the 1960s and 70s, the world of Elvis and Priscilla Presley, and Country Western culture — tells The Hollywood Reporter that, “the rich Lebanese culture and the inspiration of Lebanese women, notably from the 70’s strongly influences my designs. In our creations, we blend Lebanon’s essence with the charm of the Mediterranean and we aim to make women feel confident and beautiful at all times. From intricate beading and embroidery to perfectly tailored silhouettes, each garment tells its own story.”

<p>Halle Berry in Elie Saab at the 2002 Academy Awards.</p>

Halle Berry in Elie Saab at the 2002 Academy Awards.

Saab was the first Lebanese designer to have a major breakthrough on the award season red carpet, back when Halle Berry wore his burgundy gown with a sheer floral bodice to the 2002 Academy Awards. That year, Berry became the first Black woman to win the Oscar for best actress.

“Several factors contributed to make the dress that Halle Berry wore at the 2001 Oscars iconic,” recalls Saab. “Of course, the design of the dress had an important role to play but also the fact that she won the Oscar that night made this moment legendary and unforgettable. The coverage of this dress and the exposure that it had put the brand in all headlines and consolidated our name on the international scene. This story shows how much a single piece can change a designer’s career and that every design can be powerful and make people feel something special.”

Berry wearing that dress put Saab on the map and since then, Lebanon has produced a plethora of talented couture designers who are also making their mark dressing Hollywood women.

The Ins and Outs of Dressing For the Red Carpet

When duo Azzi & Osta got the call that they were dressing German actress Veronica Ferres (Catherine The Great, Ladies Room) for the Globes, they knew the outfit that would best suit her. “When Veronica’s stylist picked this look from our latest spring summer ready-to-wear collection, we thought it would be a great match,” says George Azzi. “She has such a strong presence and the off-shoulder detail would work perfectly with her silhouette, charisma and haircut, she wore it perfectly! The design, mostly highlighting tailoring and cuts, the bicolored black and white shape with the swirling ruffle on the dress popped on the red carpet.”

Veronica Ferres at the 81st Golden Globe Awards held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 7, 2024 in Beverly Hills, California.
Veronica Ferres, in Azzi & Osta, at the 81st Golden Globe Awards held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Jan. 7, 2024 in Beverly Hills, California.

His Azzi & Osta design partner agrees. “Indeed, with every design, we picture leading women as muses, and what’s more of a starlight moment than a Hollywood actress on a red carpet moment during the awards season,” says Assaad Osta. “It gives the star the spotlight to celebrate her achievements, and the right dress will always complement the moment. The best part about it is that it becomes an eternal moment.”

The truth is, sometimes designers get little notice when dressing an actress for an awards show, but they endeavor to make it happen. With notice from anywhere between a few days before the show to a week before, they have to quickly create a gown to that actress’s measurements and send it off to the location. Lebanese designer Rani Zakhem knows the rush all too well. In 2010, he dressed Betty White when she received the lifetime achievement award at the SAG Awards, he dressed Queen Latifah in a black one-shoulder mermaid evening gown in 2012 and Kaley Cuoco in a corseted floral ball gown in 2014, both for the Golden Globes.

“It’s very thrilling and very exciting, sometimes we do get last-minute notice to dress an actress,” Zakhem tells THR. “There are many sleepless nights and restless hours to get the gown done on time. I had to do Jacki Weaver’s dress in one week [for the 2013 Oscars]. Either someone ships the gown to L.A. or someone flies it to L.A. personally. And in those moments when it’s two-to-three days’ notice, the gown has been fit from the collection, and it fits the actress like a glove. I always feel very happy when an accomplished actress is wearing one of my gowns on a red carpet.”

Camila Alves and Matthew McConaughey attend the 2024 Vanity Fair Oscar Party Hosted By Radhika Jones at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on March 10, 2024 in Beverly Hills, California.
Camila Alves, wearing Tony Ward, and Matthew McConaughey attend the 2024 Vanity Fair Oscar Party on March 10, 2024 in Beverly Hills.

Ward says he’s experienced instances where celebrities make up their mind at the last minute as to which gown they will wear to an event. “However,” he stresses, “the pieces I had in mind for these beautiful celebrities are, as always, what reflects their style and makes them shine under the spotlight in an edgy way with my signature embossed.” Echoing him, Saab explains that “Our PR agency located in L.A. is assigned the task to communicate either directly with the celebrity or stylist in order to assist them into finding the right dress. We present them with a selection of dresses that aligns with their criteria. They sometimes choose the look as is or we adapt it and tailor it to meet their expectations.”

The Long History of Fashion Design in Lebanon

Saab is far from the first Lebanese designer to dress notable women. The late Elie Ward, one of Beirut’s renowned tailors and father to couturier Tony Ward created gowns and ready-to-wear pieces for women from Iraq, Saudi Arabia, France, and Mexico. And before him, haute couture in Lebanon was well established and it has gone from strength to strength over the past decades.

In order to understand the legacy of Lebanese fashion design, it requires some historical context. Lebanon is a country that was controlled over centuries by the Egyptians, Persians, Greeks, Ottomans, several Italian city states, the Syrians, and the French. As a result, these nations left bits of their culture and sartorial craftsmanship, which seeped into Lebanese villages. That know-how of sewing has been passed from one generation to the next by Lebanese women to their children and grandchildren for generations.

Cara Jade Myers attends the Elton John AIDS Foundation's 32nd Annual Academy Awards Viewing Party on March 10, 2024 in West Hollywood, California.
Cara Jade Myers, wearing Georges Chakra, attends the Elton John AIDS Foundation’s 32nd Annual Academy Awards Viewing Party on March 10, 2024 in West Hollywood, California.

Women visionaries like Madame Djenny, known as the “Chanel du Liban” inspired Lebanon’s haute couture scene in the late 1920s and early 1930s. But, explains Challita, “It wasn’t until the 1960s that Lebanese couturiers gained prominence, coinciding with the country’s economic, tourism, and social revival, earning Beirut the epithet ‘Paris of the East’. This era catapulted Lebanon into the international spotlight, attracting luminaries such as Queen Soraya of Iran and Empress Farah Diba to visit esteemed designers like Joseph Harouni and embroidery master Madame Salha, who Francois Lesage of Paris’ Maison Lesage referred to as the ‘Christian Dior of the East.’ European celebrities also flocked to Lebanese couture for its opulent designs, especially renowned for its rich embroidery with an Eastern flair.”

Quinta Brunson in Georges Hobeika
Quinta Brunson in Georges Hobeika at the 2024 Critics Choice Awards.

Challita notes that Lebanese couturiers became renowned for their meticulous attention to detail and opulence. Thus, women like Lamia El Solh —  known for having the world’s longest wedding dress train, designed by Madame Salha, when she married the Prince of Morocco, Moulay Abdallah in 1961 — was featured in Paris Match magazine and Germany’s Quick magazine. “Additionally, Joseph Harouni’s designs graced Empress Farah Diba’s coronation ceremony, and after his passing, his wife Samia continued the legacy by designing a dress for Jacqueline Kennedy, the First Lady of the USA, as told by his family. Harouni also dressed Queen Soraya of Iran, marking his enduring impact on the world of haute couture,” says Challita.

That rich century-plus history informs today’s Lebanese designers. “I am excited about the red carpets this year. I have been noticing celebrities and stylists being more daring and really focus on artistic pieces to tell a story,” says Chakra. Adds Saab, “I always look forward for the awards season, as it is a very special period for the film industry and for actresses who want to shine and always look their best. And it’s also a great opportunity for designers to outgrow themselves, showing their most recent work and inspirations. While the approach in gown selection has changed over the years, we still take it as a challenge every time to surpass expectations.”

Fantasia Barrino attends the 55th Annual NAACP Awards at the Shrine Auditorium and Expo Hall on March 16, 2024 in Los Angeles, California.
Fantasia Barrino, wearing Monot, attends the 55th Annual NAACP Awards at the Shrine Auditorium and Expo Hall on March 16, 2024 in Los Angeles, California.

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