There are cultural moments when all the stars align to create a phenomenon that transcends time and space, when an image alchemizes from a simple camera click to a symbol of artistry. When creative forces meet to imagine and present something new, the zeitgeist becomes greater than the sum of its parts. And few collaborations are as fruitful and instantly iconic as the ones between a superstar performer and a virtuoso designer. Think of Madonna in the cone bras and corsets designed by Jean Paul Gaultier for her Blond Ambition tour of 1990, or Lady Gaga towering vertiginously in Alexander McQueen’s armadillo heels. See also: colorful and whimsical Katy Perry in the self-same Jeremy Scott, or Elton John in equally flamboyant and extravagant Versace. When a performer finds their sartorial soulmate, magic ensues. And 2023 is shaping up to be the year when Arab designers dress the queens of the stage, from Jennifer Lopez to Taylor Swift and Cardi B, Beyoncé, and Shakira. Swift’s record-breaking and billionaire-making worldwide Eras tour is set to become legendary not just for her buzz-worthy love life, but for the succession of bejeweled gowns and bodysuits designed by Elie Saab and Zuhair Murad – one even with a matching garter – the star wore on stage.
“Grateful!” says Jad Hobeika, co- creative director of his father’s eponymous label, Georges Hobeika, about Beyoncé reaching out to them to create stage outfits for her performances. “The process was so smooth,” he continues. “Beyoncé’s team is so professional. Mood boards were sent to us, and we worked on combining the DNA of Renaissance and the DNA of Hobeika, which had a lot of similarities: strength, attitude, love, and acceptance… Which is what Beyoncé gives to the world through her music.” The star wore a silver and nude bodysuit for a performance in Germany, but it’s an ethereally embellished pink number she wore on stage in the US that is Hobeika’s most-loved piece for her so far. “The pink look from our couture Fall 2023 collection is one of my absolute favorites. Creating this and styling it with amazing people was just mind-blowing during the couture fittings, so for Beyoncé to wear it exactly like we imagined it for the runway show made me so emotional.”
Beyoncé’s “tourtrobe” has firmly entrenched her as one of the most fearless and savvy stage dressers of the 21st century, and one who is also astute and deliberate about who she chooses to wear. Working with an army of stylists, she often chooses designers from the country or city she is performing in, donning Iris van Herpen in Amsterdam and Jacquemus in Marseilles. For a performance on Juneteenth, the day in the US marking the end of slavery, Beyoncé wore only Black designers, and for her surprise show at the opening of the Atlantis The Royal in Dubai in January this year, she stepped out in Dubai-based, Omani heritage label Atelier Zuhra, as well as Lebanese Nicolas Jebran. “We started on that dress the November before the show,” says Rayan Al Sulaimani, the designer behind Atelier Zuhra, who worked with Beyoncé and her stylist KJ Moody on the design. “It took us almost a month-and-a-half to finish.”
Dressing someone for the stage is a different process to designing for the runway or even the red carpet. A stage outfit needs to be visually stunning but also durable. It needs to be easy to put on and take off, or its layers or outer pieces need to be removable without affecting the look. Hobeika also notes that the seams must be stronger than usual, because of all the movement and dancing. Lebanese designer Charbel Zoe, who has created outfits for Beyoncé, Shakira, Jennifer Lopez, Nicky Minaj, Mariah Carey, and Haifa Wehbe, agrees.
“For the stage, you can go wide, you can go more creative, crazy, as I love to do,” he shares. Each celebrity has her own style, he adds, and the process of crafting a stage look for a big star is time-consuming yet thrilling. “It usually takes between two weeks to a month, depending on the event or the performance,” he says. The star’s team will contact him a month or two beforehand to give him time to work on the tour. “We work on a mood board, and then they choose from my designs,” he says. For Wehbe, though, Zoe reached out first, creating a dress for her as a surprise. The Lebanese-Egyptian singer and actor loved it, and the two became firm friends. “With Haifa, we always work on the design together, from the inspiration,” Zoe shares. It was also “a dream” to dress Shakira and JLo, with Shakira’s red dress for the closing ceremony of the 2014 Fifa World Cup in Brazil a favorite of his, as well as the silver dress he made for JLo for the MTV Video Music Awards that same year.
JLo is also a favorite of Zuhair Murad, with the Lebanese couturier creating her dress for the 2010 Met Gala. “I wore his dress to the Met Ball and after that, I just started using him for everything – he designed my last tour. We just have a great relationship. He’s a beautiful man, a beautiful designer,” the Grammy- winning artist has said. The star was struck by how Murad balances classic aesthetic intelligence and innovation, and also wore a dusty pink pantsuit for the Global Citizen Vax Live Concert in 2021. “I know her silhouette,” says Murad. “The Lebanese woman has a figure with a bust and waist and hips – curves are something I really appreciate. Jennifer has the body and the shape for my style.”
Stage and performance design is the complete antithesis of the current trend for stealth wealth – this is full-throttle glamour in all its show-stopping, dazzling, megawatt glory. Arab designers are well-placed to wow on stage, with the region known for its eye-catching extravagance and elegance. Regional designers have contributed to a growing appreciation for Arab aesthetics in the global fashion scene. Their work has shown that Arab fashion is not monolithic but is as diverse and dynamic as the region itself. By incorporating elements of their heritage and cultural background into their designs – be it the ancient artisanal crafts of intricate embroidery and beading, or the use of luxurious fabrics and cape-like designs – these designers have opened a dialogue about identity and representation in the fashion industry.
The presence of Arab designers on international stages has also had a positive impact on the perception of Arab culture globally. With their ability to blend tradition with modernity, these designers are not just dressing performers; they are helping them tell a story, adding depth and context to their music and performances. Their work goes beyond aesthetics – it is a celebration of cultural diversity and a testament to the universal language of fashion.
Originally published in the December 2023 issue of Vogue Arabia