I used to wonder how couture brands developed loyal followers among the realms of citizens who would never wear couture clothing. Of course some fans are born of hype, the result of celebrity attention; red carpet strategy winning the hearts of the masses. I could never be one of those fans. Most collections fail to excited me, and when a collection does capture my imagination, it is probably based on the two or three pieces I liked. Recently I discovered another way that designers develop loyal followers… or rather how I was made a fan. This is the story of how I met
Asna was visibly disappointed. Solemnly she explained: "oh, honey, I won't be able to attend the presentation on Saturday". Her voice was emphatic and sincere. "And Zuhair is my FAVORITE designer"… she elaborated for a while on how much she loved his gowns and how he was simply the best dress-maker alive. I listened attentively. (but not altogether convinced) We talked for a while about his dresses and who had worn them. Then she got my attention by asking if I would go to the Presentation and cover his new pret-a-porter collection for her. I could see it meant a lot to her- and she had a gentle smirk, knowing that it was my first fashion week and I was eager to see and experience everything. It was she who was actually doing the favor. I eagerly agreed and she added me to the list of attendees. I was excited for the adventure of it, and the chance to help out Asna's Magazine-
In a Fashion Week that was rather rainy, this saturday stood out as a surprise. The sun shone warm on the Portico of the Hotel Crillon as models basked in pastel gowns. The Place de la Concorde below was bright, and bustling. Inside the ballroom, Zuhair himself greeted the dozen or so guests, each visitor with champagne in hand pacing the floor. The gilded room was filled with models. A sheik pawed contentedly at a rack of dresses. The editors of Spanish Vogue were tweeting away in the corner.
"You know, of course, that he has fifty craftsmen at work in his Beirut atelier, don't you?" I heard this over and over. Rumors and details spilled out of the guests between sips of coffee… drips and details that my google research had failed to divulge. "They are responsible for his extensive beadwork". This was the kind of gossip one could verify right away. With my own eyes I could see the beadwork… extensive was putting it mildly. Some of the gowns looked as if they were made entirely of beads. I lifted the train of a gown hanging nearby, its weight was staggering.
The benefit to a preview rather than a runway show was tangible exploration. I carefully examined every garment: the beadwork, the construction, every detail. On the hanger each fell somehow short of how they looked on the models. As they strolled around the room you could look nowhere else. Light caught and refracted through every piece of tulle. The models were not wearing dresses so much as they were transformed by them. I was mesmerized. These were not just gowns, they were masterpieces.
ZM's press secretary Andree stood nearby in a simple black dress. We chatted for a while about her work. When pressed for her favorite Andree selected a feathered and sequined dress. It looked like it could belong to Bridget Bardot, or Twiggy, or Josephine Baker… or perhaps all three. Anyway, it was fantastic. "I could wear that one… anyone could wear that one" she said. …she was right. "That is the thing about ZM's gowns" Andree went on: "they are made for every woman" I was a bit skeptical, but she was insistent. "any woman could walk off the street and put on one of his dresses. They are absolutely flattering".
"Let me introduce you to him" she said blithely. We stood drinking champagne next to a rack of bright red dresses. A few minutes later she was back. A man who was obviously ZM was at her side. Introductions were made. He asked me a bit about who I was and what I did. He politely examined my necklaces and asked about them. As soon as I worked up the courage I plied him with a cascade of questions: "Which is your favorite piece? Who is the woman you imagine when you design?" He answered each one patiently and warmly all the while complimenting my scarf and ordering us more coffee from the waiter nearby.
Zuhair's assistant came and whispered something in his ear. "Look at this" Zuhair said as he took a gown from among the others. A cascade of beadwork followed. "Its like a tattoo". He handed over the garment and a few minutes later the room paused and gasped as a new model entered the room wearing the dress.
We chatted for a while longer. When I had exhautsed my questions- Zuhair began asking me about L'Insolent Magazine, about my blog, and then casually about life in general. With a warm handshake I freed him to greet other guests. I wandered around for a while longer before leaving for other shows.
Often I used to wonder how couture brands develop fans. Some fans are perhaps born of hype, the result of celebrity attention. I was made a fan of Zuhair Murad, because of a few minutes of conversation and the time it took to explain a collection. I have heard that not all designers are this approachable, or easy to talk with. I can imagine that most don't have time for bloggers… so I am all the more impressed. Zuhair Murad now has one more loyal fan, and you can be assured that
will be featuring his gowns in upcoming shoots.
Jonathan Randall Grant