A&E Interviews: Zuhair Murad

Eliza Scarborough   |   10-05-2018


Revered designer Zuhair Murad is skilled in the art of making women feel like princesses. Starting out in an atelier in Beirut, Murad has gathered a following for his romantic-cut dresses, made from the finest of fabrics. His painstaking attention to detail, and ceaseless pursuit of silhouettes that flatter the female form, has seen him reign supreme in the haute couture and bridal stakes for years.


One of his most memorable brides is actress Sofía Vergara, whose gown took 1657 hours to craft, including the application of 350 hand-beaded crystals and hundreds of pearls. Murad’s Fall 2018 collection was another milestone in the bridal sector. 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.


Born in Ras Baalbek, Lebanon, Murad quickly discovered his love for fashion. In 1997 he opened 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, catapulting him onto the global scene.


In 2007, Murad inaugurated his Parisian ‘Maison de Couture’ in the heart of the Triangle d’Or on François 1er  Street, followed by his second office in Paris in 2015, located this time on Pierre Charron street. In addition to the flagship stores in Beirut, Paris and Dubai and shop-in-shop in London, Kuwait and Istanbul, Zuhair Murad collections are distributed through a retail network of more than 150 multi-brand outlets and leading high-end department stores in the major cities around the world the US, France, the United Kingdom, Monaco, Switzerland, Japan, Russia, Canada, Singapore, China and the UAE.


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, however 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. His collections blend ancient heritage with a modern twist, a signature to which the House is very loyal, with a mission for a continuous quest for craftsmanship, glamour, and reverie.


Perfection is also what Zuhair Murad strives to implement during all the phases of his creations, from the concept to the conception then the completion. Each garment is the result of a long and rigorous artisanal savoir-faire that creates the ultimate experience in elegance and refinement.


‘It’s about sensuality and femininity, along with a touch of glamour.’



How did your journey in fashion begin?

Fashion was my passion, my life! I never dreamt myself doing something else. I cannot deny that my parents encouraged me when I used to draw, but they looked at art as a hobby, not a career, especially that fashion in the modern sense wasn’t the trend in Beirut. Beginnings were a bit hard, and competition was everywhere, so it took me years of self-support with many ups and downs and challenges to continue my path. But my great passion and most importantly my ambition was my drive and desire to go bigger and bigger along the way.


What prompted you to decide to create your own brand?

I am an ambitious person and always seek for the best. I always wanted to stand out from the crowd and create my own brand. That was for me the normal process for my business to develop.



Who is the Zuhair Murad woman, and what is your design aesthetic?

It’s about sensuality, femininity, and a touch of glamour. The cuts of the pieces are made with the intention to highlight the natural shape of the woman wearing them. The adornment including inserts of lace, embroidery, sheer panels, print and cut-outs are carefully crafted to achieve a strong silhouette.



What makes your collections unique?

I think they reflect my vision and my personal style, even though they also follow the actual trends.


What do you enjoy most about being a designer, and how has your role changed as you have scaled the company up?

The first years following the opening were very exciting and so overwhelming. Although I had been designing for years before that and I was familiar with fashion in all its aspects, the whole business side happened so fast and it boomed so quickly. As we all know the fashion business requires a lot of personal involvement and a total dedication of time and energy. I learned so much and am a different man today!


What do you feel is key to the growth of the brand, and has been key so far in the journey of the brand?

Personal dedication, personal presence, and perseverance.


What do you find the most challenging part of having your own fashion line?

You and your brand become one entity. It affects you personally through the good times and the bad. You have sleepless nights, constant worrying, lives that depend on you, eyes that are on you. So, I would say that the most challenging part is the pressure that comes with this beautiful career.



Can you share the secret to a successful label?

I guess it is the way I get involved in all the steps when creating, from the first idea that pops up to the final step. Of course, I would have to say that everything I do is a work in progress and is all based on trial and error and finding the perfect combinations for the creations of collections.


What personal qualities to you attribute most to your success?

Perseverance and the desire for perfection.


Can you share with us a milestone moment in your career?

Showcasing my couture collection for the first time in 2001 during Haute Couture Week in Paris. It encouraged me to inaugurate a couture showroom in Paris because I felt that I had to be present in the capital of fashion. It was a bit risky at that time because I was just a beginner, but thanks to the encouragements that surrounded me and my determination to succeed, it was a very positive step that I made.


What is your creative process like, and what part do you enjoy the most?

I love the early stage of the creation of the collections, when I am spending entire days with my team with a lot of ideas, suggestions, details, fabric samples, embroidery swatches, and colour palettes. Then comes the drawing part followed by producing those designs where no mistakes are allowed.



To you, what makes the perfect dress?

I am a woman’s curves fanatic! The perfect dress is the one that heightens the silhouette whether with décolletage, fabrics, or style to end up with a perfect creation.


Tell us about your favourite signature fabrics?

Muslin, silk, and lace are my favourites. Even though they are not easy to handle because of their delicate texture, they look so glamorous, and the result is always spectacular.


Why did you decide to take the Haute couture route with your gowns?

I have an endless dream of magnificence that I concretise with couture designs. This message of beauty and aesthetic is also my state of mind throughout the collections.



What has been key to gaining credibility in a segment of fashion that is so elite and surrounded by so much history?

The level of craftsmanship maintained in each one of my designs, whether ready-to-wear, couture or bridal. The same attention to detail is invested in all my pieces.


How do you guarantee exclusivity with your gowns?

When it comes to couture gowns, it’s very easy since every piece sold is documented and the files are with our headquarters. We make sure no couture design has been sold to more than one client.


As more luxury brands bolster their couture strategies, what do you feel sets you apart?

As a designer I’d like to think that my designs set me apart from other designers. There are also the numerous red-carpet placements, the positive feedback we’ve had so far from the press and most importantly my clientele’s testimonials.


Can you talk us through the couture process at Zuhair Murad?

Designing a couture look ensures that the outfit is a piece of art and offering a distinction in design and practice remains a constant challenge. Whether it is fully beaded, embroidered or made in plain fabric with intricate details, it is all about that feel-great factor in a unique piece. Everything turns around that piece conceived by craftspeople with a particular aptitude. I love working with sheer materials such as silks, chiffons, and tulle, as they feel very feminine to me. These fabrics give depth and perspective, allowing me to highlight the natural shape and curves of a woman’s body and show as much as I like while maintaining a certain degree of mystery as well. It is a very long process of work between creation and production for each look, with a simple dress taking a minimum of 300 hours for design, producing and beading, whereas for a sophisticated style, over 1,000 hours would be dedicated to designing, hand embroidering, and tailoring.


Do you travel to meet your clients around the world too?

I rarely travel for clients. They all come to our showrooms in Paris and Beirut for that exclusive and singular VIP treatment.


Tell us about your decision to diversify into Ready-to-Wear and accessories?

My decision to design high-end garments that are more available to purchase at store front boutiques, high-end department stores and online boutiques comes from the need and the want to engage on a larger level and include a new clientele and market to the existing one. I want my designs to be accessible to all kinds of sophisticated tastes.


How do you find the process of Ready-to-Wear designing? Does your heart always remain with the exclusivity and luxury of couture?

There is luxury in my ready-to-wear pieces as much as there is in my couture pieces, with the brand identity and the DNA remaining the same. The styles, cuts, and fabric of course change, but my heart is poured out on these collections as much as it is on couture.


How would you define luxury?

Luxury means exclusiveness, premium quality material, and exclusive distribution.



What is the biggest luxury in your life?

Healthy time spent with your loved ones.


Tell us about why you decided to expand into bridal wear?

I believe that the main reason for creating bridal gowns has been my oriental origins, where marriage is an institution. The wedding day is the most important day of every woman’s life and her wedding gown has to be outstanding and remembered. To develop this line, we have come to the creation of two RTW bridal collections per year, sold all over the world beside the custom-made couture collection.


How is the process different when designing either red-carpet gowns or bridal wear?

For the red carpet, that magical place, I believe it’s about finding a balance and of course the dress should inspire confidence. When a celebrity feels confident on the red carpet, it is clearly reflected in the way she carries herself. Every detail is treated with the utmost attention and dedication, which is why it takes a lot of time to create a satisfactory result. I wouldn’t have ever had a chance on the red carpet if I didn’t work this way, precision is what makes headlines. Whereas for the bridal dress I focus on the bride and the way she wants to look for her most important day. Even though she is here to seek my personal style and taste, leading her into her choices I, from my side, take into consideration that young woman’s opinion whose aim is to look splendid on that day. This process takes time because as you may know we are not often on the same page. We both need to agree in which direction we’re going. Then as soon as we both approve on the style, the production of the dress is the easy part even though it is time consuming and can take a minimum of 1000 hours of production.


Designing a bridal dress has many constraints. What inspires you, and how do you keep creating new and exciting designs with such a tight remit?

I think the inspiration for wedding dresses is based on what we have lived, experienced and seen over the years. We all have memories of lavish weddings, romantic princess dresses, and endless veils. These omnipresent reminiscences, in addition to current trends, nourish the inspiration ending up with collections whose ultimate goal is to provide to the bride a spectacular entrance that will set the tone for the atmosphere of the wedding.


Who would be your dream bride to dress?

I don’t dream of dressing anyone in particular for their wedding dress, as long as the bride is happy wearing my dress I am more than satisfied. I feel so involved in the happiness of the brides that already wore Zuhair Murad on their most special day, and I wish from the bottom of my heart to be able to be part of this joy for many other brides.


Tell us about your recent Fall 2018 bridal collection and the inspiration behind it?

Pink, the eternal symbol of femininity is celebrated throughout the collection, and is used in a limited palette, ranging from tender ivory to powdered and muted tones, giving centre stage to the house’s savoir-faire. The collection celebrates a tradition both ancient and modernised, and more importantly, the woman is it designed for, equally in love and of her time. Flowers appear in all shapes and sizes throughout the pieces, expressing the same philosophy, whether worn as a crown, embroidered in 3D, or delicate on sheer chiffon like a tattoo on nude skin. Channelling the timeless elegance of Grace Kelly, the short and bouffant cut Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face, or Mia Farrow’s pared down chic, in their respective off and on-screen weddings, each design radically rethinks classical codes. Silk chiffon, tears of ruffles, and airy lace create a tension between what is made visible and invisible, and this equilibrium reflects a harmony between worlds, cultures and generations.


Tell us about your favourite part of designing a bride’s big dress, and what do you feel is most important when creating their dream gown?

The perfect dream dress is the one that reflects the bride and only the bride herself, her character, her taste, her choices, and her envies, because the wedding day is the most important day of every woman’s life and her wedding gown has to be outstanding and remembered. I emphasise a lot on highlighting a feminine silhouette along with the sensuality that enhances the woman’s body. I want the bride to be elegant and contemporary with a touch of romantic. The lines and cuts have to be pure and perfect along with the fabrics and embroideries.


Can you share with us your top tip for brides-to-be?

The golden rule of a wedding dress is that it reflects the wearers personality. Nothing beats having your DNA and the designer’s encrypted in the dress you’ll wear on the most important day of your life. You don’t want to be remembered for the rest of your life in something that doesn’t represent you.


What is the biggest mistake a bride can make while wedding dress shopping?

Mistakes happen only when the bride chooses a style that does not fit her figure, following trends instead. The choice of colour of the dress is also very important, it should go with the colour of your skin and bring out the colour in your eyes.


Is there a particular style or look of Zuhair Murad dress that seems to appeal to the Middle Eastern woman?

From their cultural background, Middle Eastern women tend to be very sophisticated and elegant. They love glamour, seduction, refined details, and luxury and like to be distinguished from the others. They are always on the lookout for anything new in fashion and they want unique and singular gowns for their occasions and this is what couture offers them.


Which markets do you feel will present the biggest opportunities in the future?



What do you expect to be the biggest challenge the brand will face in the coming years?

Diversifying has its risks and limits of course, and with our recently implemented strategy that focuses on diversifying in ready-to-wear, we need to ensure Zuhair Murad as a brand doesn’t get diluted and keeps its identity, whilst being more accessible and reachable to a bigger market.


What is next on the agenda when it comes to product lines, and what can we look forward to seeing at Zuhair Murad?

Expanding our new RTW lines, which include daywear garments, shoes, and accessories, together with the opening of franchise and flagship stores.


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