It may have been unveiled in Paris, but Zuhair Murad's latest couture collection harked back to the lavish days of 16th-century Renaissance Italy.
Models wore delicate, crystal-adorned masks, inspired by Venice's carnival history, as they presented the Lebanese designer's imaginings for autumn/winter 2021-2022 in the romantic courtyard of the Lycee Louis-le-Grand.
Marking his return to the couture catwalk after more than a year's absence, Ras Baalbek-born Murad presented an array of suitably lavish looks during Wednesday's show, each offering a welcome dose of pure, sartorial escapism.
With fashion shows largely switching to online formats since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the label was one of a select group of brands that returned to the physical runway for Paris Haute Couture Week.
Just eight designers, including Chanel and Christian Dior, were scheduled to hold in-person showcases, with Murad the only label representing the Arab region.
For autumn/winter, Murad paid tribute to the masquerading traditions of Italian's famous canal-strewn city, telling fashion website WWD: "I’ve visited Venice a lot in the past few years, and I’ve fallen in love with the city."
That inspiration translated into a parade of unabashed glamour; trailing, floor-length gowns in jewel tones, hand-stitched with the most delicate of embroidery and laced with the tiniest of shimmering crystals. Silhouettes toed the line between dramatically voluminous and sleekly tailored, creating a theatrical fluidity when showcased on the runway.
Taffeta capes, almost Gothic beadwork and dashes of ethereal, sheer, glimmering tulle – a hallmark of the label – were scattered across the red-carpet-ready collection at large.
After more than a year of Covid-19 essentially shifting the fashion industry into the virtual realm, it was important to hold an in-person show, presented in front of a small, curated audience, Murad told US Vogue.
“I wanted to show it in a physical format as a celebration of renewal and hope,” the designer, who has dressed Jennifer Lopez, Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Celine Dion, said. “My clients almost demanded it. They want to enjoy life, go out again, buy new pieces and look beautiful, resuming a sense of luxe fastueux [sumptuousness].”
Murad pulled out of January's digital Haute Couture Week, announcing the label would postpone the showcase to a “near and peaceful future”.
“In light of the devastation caused by the pandemic and the drastic restrictions taken worldwide, the safety of our community and especially the well-being of our employees, who have participated in spreading beauty through various collections, remains our top priority,” he said at the time.
The label, which suffered widespread damage to its Beirut atelier in the August 4, 2020 port blast, last presented couture collection in Paris in January 2020.