June 3, 2020

June 2020 Editor’s Letter: My Love Letter to Lebanon

Vogue Arabia Editor-in-Chief Manuel Arnaut dedicates the June issue to Lebanon. Photography: Ethan Mann

I have a confession to make. This magazine you hold in your hands wasn’t planned. In fact, now that Arab countries have started to ease their lockdowns and people are slowly invited to step outside, we had scheduled and shot something entirely different: a big, international celebrity with a glow of positivity that emanated “we will be alright.” However, there was something in the back of my mind telling me that this was not the right thing to do.I’ve been traveling to Lebanon for many years now. My local friends joke that a Lebanese passport will be offered to me very soon – particularly when I took the helm of the previous magazine I edited, Architectural Digest. Seduced by the great taste of its decorators and architects, I spent long periods in Beirut, searching for the most gorgeous homes to photograph. It was during those days that I was also introduced to the magnificent fashion designers and jewelers, the delicious food, the natural wonders, and – most importantly – the Lebanese people, who are always so welcoming, gracious, and full of joie de vivre, even if the facades of their homes are peppered with gunshot holes.

Tessa Sakhi wears Lebanese label Sandra Mansour. Photo: Sam Rawadi

Taking into consideration the recent political events in Lebanon and the dark and dreary economic situation the country is now facing, we literally dropped all that we were working on, to instead dedicate our June issue to this country and its brave people, in a heartfelt homage we are calling “Love Letter to Lebanon.” But this is not a pity party; on the contrary. Through hardship, Lebanon stands tall, and it is on this spirit of pride and resilience that we focus.

The historic streets of Tripoli, Lebanon. Photo: Sam Rawadi

Many of you might ask, why didn’t Vogue Arabia dedicate an issue to other Arab countries experiencing adversity? When the topic is fashion, there is no question that Lebanon is the leading hub for the industry in the Arab world. Names such as Elie Saab, Zuhair Murad, Georges Hobeika, Rabih Kayrouz, and Nicolas Jebran, but also younger labels such as Rami Kadi, Krikor Jabotian, Sandra Mansour, and Azzi and Osta never fail to conquer international fashion weeks, not to mention the most glamorous red carpets. This issue aims to celebrate the artistry of these creatives, but also the hundreds of professionals working behind the scenes – from patternmakers to embroiderers and communications teams – who allow the work of these designers to shine inside and outside the borders of their country. I consider it a duty to support a country that is a pillar of what Vogue Arabia represents.Outside the realm of fashion, this issue also pays tribute to people in other creative and humanitarian fields that we are proud to profile. Oscar-nominated director Nadine Labaki, Maya Ibrahimchah (Beit el Baraka), Adib Dada (Regenerate Lebanon), and Olfat Mounzer (representing Dafa) are some of the citizens with significant projects that are making a difference in the lives of hundreds of struggling Lebanese. I was truly inspired by their stories and their sense of mission; I hope you feel the same.

Majida El Roumi photographed at Résidence Des Pins wearing a Georges Hobeika haute couture gown. Photography: Sandra Chidiac

Once I decided that June was our “Love Letter to Lebanon” issue, the question of who to feature on this important cover immediately crossed my mind. Who is the personality that could represent the best of Lebanon, and the spirit of its diverse yet more united than ever people? I hope that our readers agree with our decision to ask the iconic singer Majida El Roumi to lend us her grace and unmatchable reputation for this cover. With a career that spans more than 45 years, she is the voice that inspires the country and gives strength to Lebanon when most needed, singing true anthems such as “Ya Sit El Dounia ya Beirut,” “Oum Thadda,” “Kalimat,” and “Ma hadan bi3abi matrahak bi Albi.” I am particularly grateful that she accepted my invitation, as this is the first time ever that El Roumi poses for a magazine cover in so many decades of being an active force in the cultural ecosystem of the region.
Before I invite you to pick up the magazine and enjoy this heartfelt homage to this country I love, I have to thank some people who were fundamental in the orchestration of this edition, especially during the Lebanese lockdown, and without the on-the-ground support of our core team, who is now restricted to Dubai due to the closing of airports. A word of appreciation to everyone who produced magnificent images and texts for the issue, especially Mariana Wehbe, Amine Jreissati, Awad El Roumi, and the entire team at the French Embassy in Beirut, who invited us to capture our cover image at the stunning La Résidence des Pins. Surely, we will all meet again in person very soon, in one of the charming streets of Beirut that I miss so dearly. Even amid uncertainty and chaos, Lebanon will always be there for us. And now, we have to be here for Lebanon.Originally published in the June 2020 issue of Vogue ArabiaRead Next: The Arab Designers Report: Your Guide to Supporting Local Talent