Beirut-based couturier Georges Chakra has created a niche for himself in the fashion business with the likes of Helen Mirren, Jane Fonda and Jennifer Lopez spotted in his designs. Hailing from a country where freedom has suffered, he launched his new line at the Petit Palais in Paris, conveying a political message to safeguard liberty in Lebanon. Find out more about Chakra and his vision in this exclusive interview with Haider Rifaat

You’ve been in the fashion business for over three decades. What’s the key to your success?

Passion—my team and I love creating haute couture. I like surprising people each season, without repeating any of my designs, even if an idea has proven successful already. My work is detailed; I’m not sure if that’s a good quality to factor in so often, but I try to deliver perfection. I’m never satisfied with what I do, which pushes me to do better.

Fashion capitals of the world—New York, Paris and London—drive mainstream consumers to their markets. As a designer from Beirut, do you not find yourself lagging behind?

I don’t think most designers who showcase their lines originate from these major cities only. The world has become a melting pot of cultures and I haven’t found myself lagging behind. Many designers from the Middle East, including myself, contribute creatively to the world with our collections. Lebanon may not have its own fashion week, but our designers have certainly held their own in the international market.

Have you considered moving to these cities to compete with the best in fashion?

In 2001, we opened a showroom in Triangle d’Or, Paris, to entertain our clientele and have a strong base during fashion weeks. My head office is in Beirut and will remain there indefinitely. With a network of people and our teams in Los Angeles, New York and Paris, we’re able to create an extensive system that can handle anything.

Why should consumers choose Georges Chakra?

We create pieces that are timeless and can be passed down with ease. This has happened several times. Our consumers appreciate originality, experimental fabrics and our one-on-one relationship with them.

You recently debuted your exquisite collection at the Petit Palais, campaigning for freedom in Lebanon. Why did you choose such an occasion to relay a political message?

Fashion has always acted as a barometer of attitudes in society, reflecting moods and thoughts, expressed through the length of hemlines and cuts. Following the recent revolutionary movement in Beirut, I wanted to portray to the world Lebanon’s frantic energy, its youth’s desire for freedom and the complex reality we were living.

Walk us through your S/S 2020 collection. What have you done differently this time?

My inspiration for the 2020 collection is Lebanon. It has my heart. Couture is art and art is the core component of its surroundings. The country’s ongoing situation is exactly how I see my brand. We’re constantly evolving and incorporating fresh ideas, so my vision for this year took off from here. I can proudly say that my efforts have proven successful again.

After the show, my team and atelier walked for the first time on the Parisian ramp to symbolise unity. We gave each guest a white organza rose as an embodiment of support for peace in Lebanon. I collaborated with renowned jeweller and good friend Fawaz Gruosi on a necklace. The sales we generate from it will be donated to Beirut‘s Children Cancer Hospital and the scholastic scholarships of St. Vincent de Paul School. All these measures are a part of the positive change we wish to see.

Artistic expression is essential in your line of work. What encourages you to create garments that are a reflection of who you are?

The generic answer would be culture, but I wouldn’t say it’s my only source of encouragement. I think the hardest battle for me is to draw inspiration from my surroundings and to condense ideas that can translate well into a couture collection.

Is fashion a stigmatised profession for men in Lebanon?

It was, but the trend has changed now. Success stories of Lebanese designers have become more common in the past decade. Fashion in my home country has garnered immense recognition around the world. The induction of fashion design programmes at many Lebanese universities has also helped the cause. Despite these efforts, the government should support our industry and the private investors involved.

Have you encountered any mishaps during fashion weeks? If so, how did you bounce back?

Sometimes, yes, but things work out in the end. We’ve had issues backstage that required us to swap the sequence of models.  We’ve also had to have a few of them removed before shows. I suppose the most shocking moment for us was when a habilleuse (dresser) had dressed our model unsuitably. The clients responded surprisingly well and we ended up re-creating and selling the garment as it was.

Which other Lebanese designer do you like and find underrated?

I admire the work of our new generation. They have a long way to go, but as clients we should believe in their talent and support them despite limited resources, execution techniques and socio-economic challenges in the market.

The first time I heard of your work was through the Oscar-nominated film, “The Devil Wears Prada.” Tell us of a memorable moment you shared on set with the cast and crew?

The film producers emailed us, asking for our S/S 2005 collection in a movie starring Meryl Streep. However, we never knew that our gowns would make it to the final cut. When we saw our label alongside Valentino and Azzaro in the fashion sequence of the film, we were over the moon! Woody Allen’s “Café Society” and “Gossip Girl” also featured our brand.

Professionally, who do you cite as your source of strength?

My business partner, Jocelyne Abdel Malak, who has been by my side through thick and thin and my daughter Jennifer. She joined our team a few years ago as an Assistant Creative Director and is heading our ready-to-wear line. Above all, my ateliers who make the impossible possible and translate my challenging ideas and designs into beautiful garments.

Good Times


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