PARIS: Scores of clapping showgoers stood and craned to get a look at Zuhair Murad at the end of his couture show in Paris Thursday. It wasn’t a standing ovation, per se, but it had that intensity.Murad’s spring summer couture collection, based on the Garden of Eden, came at the end of another packed haute couture fashion week, after top designers had already bombarded fashion writers and buyers with their most fantastical creations for several days. His was the third-to-last show of the four-day event, which featured almost 40 designers, not counting the minor collection shows on the periphery.
It was a feat for Murad to have inspired the kind of giddy awe that proliferated the Palais du Beaux-Arts so late in the week. Audience members clapped for not one but five or so evening gowns that also elicited an echo of “oohs-and-aahs” as they trailed down the U-shaped catwalk.
Zuhair owed part of the collection’s success to the show’s layout, which situated guests up close and personal to the catwalk. He also chose not to dim the lights or distract from the visuals with a pop-y soundtrack. All of that kept attendees’ attention focused on the exquisite detail that has made Murad a leading designer for red carpet affairs.
Murad often relies on sheath dresses and translucent materials, which under the glare of bright lighting make apparent the painstaking detail sewn into every garment. Hundreds of thousands of sequins, pearls, crystal beads, feathers and 3-D satin flowers turned his basic chiffon or tulle silhouettes into the animals and foliage that populate the Eden of his imagination.
Sequin-skinned zebras, plumes of lifelike camellias, sweetbriar, peonies and roses, large glimmering felines, ostriches and of course the biblical snake were all present in Murad’s garden. A panther in billowing tulle with black sequins drew forth the first round of cheers from spectators for the gradual ombre of spots that flared from the chest down through the top of the skirt.
The past year has been pivotal for the designer, who made headlines for dressing Jennifer Lopez numerous times and creating a custom stage costume for the American pop star at the 2013 American Music Awards. In 2013, Murad also made news as two of his ensembles were immortalized in miniature form when Barbie released a pair of special edition, Lopez-inspired dolls.
Other celebrity boosts this year came from Gwyneth Paltrow, who wore a black cutout Murad dress in her campaign for cosmetic line Max Factor. And the designer started 2013 strong when “Twilight” actress Kristen Stewart attended his spring-summer 2013 show in one of his black jumpsuits.
Murad also piqued the attention of international media on more than one occasion for feature stories. Ostentatious gowns of the sort he and his haute couture kin create each season can lose their luster if collections – no matter how detailed – just become different combinations of the same sheath and sequins.
Murad, though relatively new on the scene, has shown a versatility that’s kept critics’ attention. He has structured each collection after a definitive theme that has inspired variety from one showing to the next.
The bright Garden of Eden in soft blossoms and whimsical animal prints was the answer to the dark and ominous forest that inspired Murad’s winter collection. He offered the continuity of forest themes, except that the skeletal branches of winter had blossomed, for example, into 25,000 silk flowers on his finale wedding dress.
Thomas Adamson of the Associated Press after the show asked a question recently nagging those in tune with Lebanon’s fashion scene: Is Zuhair Murad the new Elie Saab?
The two Lebanese giants have distinctive work. But with such similar clientele, it’s worth pondering whether Murad might one day overtake Saab on the international fashion stage. Particularly since Saab has come under fire recently by fashion critics who charge he’s become too commercialized.
Of course, the world should have room for more than one leading Lebanese designer. But there’s also nothing like a good rivalry to shake things up.
And Murad seems to know he’s on a roll, though he referred to it somewhat more elegantly as “a state of grace.” In his collection notes, he said his “imagination is more fertile than ever.”