Originally printed in the November 2017 issue of Vogue Arabia. Words by Rebecca McLaughlin-Duane
Revered Lebanese designer Zuhair Murad is skilled in the art of making women feel like princesses. His painstaking attention to detail – and ceaseless pursuit of silhouettes that flatter the female form – has seen him reign supreme in the bridal stakes for years. Murad’s bridal couture is practically legendary among royals, VIPs, and Hollywood stars who have been clamoring to wear his ethereal creations since he first revealed his talent some 20 years ago. “I love bridal because it’s a symbol of a sacred devotion and a fairytale dream,” says Murad. One of his most memorable brides is actor Sofía Vergara, who wed Joe Manganiello in Florida. Some of the elements that made her baroque embroidered wedding dress remarkable include the 1 657 hours it took to craft, its 350 hand-beaded crystals, and its hundreds of pearls. Murad’s Fall 2018 collection was another milestone. The gowns were an ode to pink, with flower motifs adorning silk chiffon, mikado, and lace dresses in a blushing, powdery palette. The designs typified Murad’s creative journey, which has seen him continue to rethink classical codes while retaining an unabashed romanticism. “My collections always seek inspiration from previous trends and to these omnipresent reminiscences I add contemporary elements like innovative cuts and materials,” he says.
Murad’s fashion story started in Lebanon, in 1981. As his friends played with toy cars and planes in the streets of the ancient Roman city of Ras Baalbek, a 10-year-old Murad was busy sketching dresses. After high school he moved to Paris to hone his skills and obtain a fashion degree. He returned to his native land in 1997 to open his first atelier in Beirut, and his private client list grew rapidly in tandem with his burgeoning reputation for dazzling eveningwear.
Just four years later, Murad made his debut at Haute Couture Week in Paris. The soft-spoken designer was catapulted onto the global stage and women the world over began to covet the way his sculptural gowns enhanced their curves. “It’s about sensuality and femininity, along with a touch of glamour,” says Murad of his aesthetic. “The cuts of the pieces are made with the intention to highlight the natural shape of the woman wearing them. And the adornments – including inserts of lace, embroidery, sheer panels, print, and cut-outs – are carefully crafted to achieve a strong silhouette.”
Murad looks back fondly on the early days of building his brand, acknowledging that while the creative side of things came naturally to him, the long hours and level of commitment required proved a steep learning curve. “The first few years were very exciting and overwhelming,” says the designer. “The business boomed so quickly and required a lot of personal involvement and the total dedication of my time and energy. I learned so much and I’m a different man today.” In 2005, Murad rolled out his first ready-to-wear collection and since then his global footprint has expanded to include more than 100 points-of-sale, showrooms, and boutiques in cities from Paris and London to Shanghai and Baku in Azerbaijan. Much to the delight of his legions of fans in the UAE, Murad will also open a boutique in the Dubai Mall early next year.
In 2012, the designer was elected as a guest member to the Haute Couture calendar by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. His bespoke and bejeweled masterpieces have long been a fixture at star-studded events, including the Oscars and the Golden Globes, as seen on Marion Cotillard and Priyanka Chopra, or even music videos featuring multi-platinum singer Najwa Karam. “One of my proudest red carpet moments was Jennifer Lopez at the 2010 Met Gala,” says Murad nostalgically. “We worked on the dress for more than 1 000 hours, from the design to the hand-embroidery and the tailoring. Of course, the time spent on the gown was worth it, as Jennifer matched every second of its glory that night.”
In a world of fast fashion and an era of unprecedented competitiveness between established maisons and leading brands, some designers have turned their back on couture. Murad has no intention of following suit, and the DNA of his label is firmly rooted in the heritage, savoir faire, and precision of exquisite one-off pieces. “Traditional couture is undeniably fading since we are no longer living in the 1950s or 1960s, but the know-how and techniques are still here,” says Murad. “Women who like unique and exclusive high-level fashion are still out there too and that’s why couture will always be a necessity. I love designing in general and I love couture because I can go as far as I want with it via my imagination. The sky is the limit.”
Seeking to impart his wisdom and enthusiasm for fashion in all its forms to the next generation of designers, Murad has been a judge for the DDFC/Vogue Fashion Prize in recent years. While he’s particularly encouraged by regional designers who are fusing traditional clothing with modern techniques and styling, he has sage words for those who want to take their brand to stratospheric heights. “Firstly, you should be passionate about your job and give it your very best,” he says. “The most important advice I can offer is to find your own style, your own inspiration, and stay true to your vision. Be not afraid to work hard if this is what you truly want to do. Inevitably, you will get frustrated and upset, and will probably question yourself along the way. It’s a tough road where you will face fierce competition and comparable talent. You need to be patient and work carefully. Only perseverance will compensate those who want to succeed in the fashion industry.”
The hard work and determination paid o for Murad, yet resting on his laurels is not something he will ever entertain. When his schedule permits, he is likely to be found at his home in the lush hills of Beit Mery, immersing himself in the ora and fauna of the Lebanese mountain town, rather than mingling at an A-list party. “My ideal day – and it happens so rarely – is spent surrounded by a pine forest full of singing cicadas who appear as soon as the sun comes out,” says Murad. “I’ll take time to rest, walk in the garden, read a book, or listen to music. I relish those quiet hours.”