Lebanese designer Georges Hobeika takes inspiration from Impressionist painter Claude Monet for latest collection

The designer Georges Hobeika, who showed his autumn collection at Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week, talks about the craftsmanship in Beirut and the celebs he has dressed in Europe and the Middle East.

A model wears a wedding dress, the final presentation in the show, from the Haute Couture autumn/winter 2014-2015 collection by Lebanese designer Georges Hobeika at Paris Fashion Week on July 7. Courtesy Etienne Laurent / EPA
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In an elegant salon overlooking Paris’s grand Rue Royale, Georges Hobeika is looking casual in jeans among the clouds of organza, exquisite embroidery and metallic guipure lace that a couple of days earlier had been presented on the catwalk at the Paris autumn haute couture collections. He was snatching a moment of relaxation before flying back to Beirut to continue work on his next Signature ready-to-wear collection for Spring/Summer 2015, which will be shown in September. Apart from haute couture, he has a bridal range, Signature, and the younger GH by Georges Hobeika to create.

The night before his show Hobeika, his son Jad (who is studying fashion at the École de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne) and the rest of his team were putting the finishing touches to the wedding dress that closes the show. It is not unusual for him to put in all-nighters working on the embroidery samples for his collection, which this season was inspired by the Impressionist artist Claude Monet. The blue-green palette, the sequins, flowers, feathery organza “are just like a painting, aren’t they?” he says.

In his atelier of 100 in Beirut, 25 are embroiderers and the standard is comparable to the Paris embroidery house Lesage. The petites mains (as the seamstresses are called) work non-stop on the 12 wedding dresses and more than 100 evening gowns his house produces each year for haute couture clients.

“I am loyal to the traditional art of Parisian haute couture,” he explains. “It is very important for me to find those tailors who have dedicated their profession to the study and perfection of couture craftsmanship.”

Hobeika, who has been showing at Paris couture since 2001 “because this is where the clients come to buy”, is one of a coterie of Lebanese designers to make the biannual trip to the French fashion capital, including Elie Saab, Zuhair Murad and Georges Chakra. Beirut has pretty much become an outpost for Paris couture.

“The Lebanese love fashion,” says Hobeika. “It’s in their blood. I also believe that our past French colonisation really influenced our affection towards Paris and its fashion culture.” Many, like his son, studied fashion in France and “we brought the haute couture technique and artistic sentiment back with us and successfully combine it with our cultural passion for beauty”.

Unlike his son, Hobeika studied civil engineering, and quickly realised that haute couture is all about structure. The son of a seamstress, he discovered at an early age his love for fashion and would help his mother look after her clientele until he took them on himself.

In the Middle East, where most of his clients are based, there is a culture for dressing up and he has noticed that it is starting to happen again in Europe. There are young clients who snap up his modern cuts such as the little zippered bolero in luminous peacock blue or rose pink that looks great with jeans or a jumpsuit, or the pretty petal skirts that can be worn with a T-shirt.

The young actress Elle Fanning wore one of his gowns to the Maleficent premiere earlier this year. Marion Cotillard wore his chic turquoise pencil skirt and brick-red bodysuit to the Cannes Film Festival. In the Middle East, the soprano Majida El Roumi is a fan of his style.

Hobeika, however, doesn’t court the limelight if he can help it, admitting he is happiest among the tulle and silks.