Reem Acra: the secret of my success

The Lebanese-born Reem Acra says her advice to budding fashion designers is to never give up.

Selena Gomez in a Reem Acra gown. Jordan Strauss / Invision / AP Photo
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Welcome back to the UAE. You are constantly travelling, so where is home for you these days?

Home is New York. I’ve been there for 28 years and I’ve actually lived there more than I’ve ever lived in Lebanon. But I have to say, my heart is here in the region and l have visited Dubai more than seven times this year already. I’m here every few weeks and I guess there must be some magnetic attraction. I really love Dubai. I mean it from the bottom of my heart and I’m not just saying that. It is a beautiful place with a great leader, full of energy and good vibes. It has a good future, for sure.

While your flagship store is in New York, you are carried by more than 150 retailers around the world. So how is business in the Middle East?

Fortunately, I was able to create a label that does have a good sell – through the stores that it’s in. It sells well here because I think people support designers from the region. They like my style and I also dress celebrities, which I suppose helps, too. I think there’s a lot of effort on my part to continually bring the brand along, such as with the recent launch of my perfume in the UAE. Which, I guess, means the more effort I put in, the more sales follow.

What’s the backstory to your first scent, Reem Acra Eau de Parfum, created by the acclaimed perfumer Pierre Negrin?

It’s my life’s story. It’s how I was brought up and it incorporates the scents that I was raised with. Amber, for example.  When we were kids in Lebanon we’d go off and dig the mountains, looking for amber – that was just part of everyday life. I also drink orange blossom every morning so that features in the perfume too. Naturally, the Cedars of Lebanon were important to have, also. So, it’s a lot to do with my culture and background but there are also many elements of the countries I’ve lived in since I left Lebanon. From New York and Hong Kong to the Far East and Paris. It’s a very multicultural scent.

Where do you continually find inspiration for your new collections?

When you are under pressure, you just do. [Laughs] So, I would normally wait until the pressure is really on, then the collection flows. I literally just finished a collection a week ago, just before coming here to Dubai. So it was a case of pressure and, of course, imagination. But, as I always say, it’s not me doing all of this alone. It’s down to the success of a group and I’m thankful to have a great team behind me.

When inspiration hits you, how
do you record what you’ve seen or imagined?

It’s a mental thing. I always have sharp, visual, mental pictures. When it’s time to sit down and figure out how to put my ideas into practice, I visualise things very clearly. The ideas come straight back.

Looking back over the past 16 years, which collection do you remember most fondly?

I think always the first ones – whether in eveningwear, ready-to-wear or bridal. I’ve always made such an effort to give the brand a very strong stamp that I knew I needed to hit the right note from the very beginning or not bother. So, my first shows were really incredible and I’ll always flick back through them and look at them with such pride.

You were most recently in town for Fashion Forward. What did you make of it?

I think it’s a great group of people with tremendous talent and ambition. That’s the reason I came all this way on my own; to support them and introduce them to my friend Steven Kolb, president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), of which I’m a member.

When you say you “came here on your own”, did you hear about the event on the fashion-grapevine and travel of your own volition?

Well, no. Bong [Guerrero, founder]called me up while I was in Paris a while back when I was meeting with the CFDA there. I then decided that I wanted to come here and introduce the CFDA to FFWD,  as the event was being held in Dubai and I’m from of the Middle East. This is where I needed to be; I was happy to make the introductions and wouldn’t have had it any other way.

How about your label opening or closing [the next] Fashion Forward in October?

My calendar is so crazy at the moment that it’s very difficult to put extra things on the agenda right now. We’re so busy with the global fashion weeks, Paris then New York etc. There’s just so much going on. That said, I do believe in these guys [FFWD] and what they are doing. I know it’s only the first step, but it’s exciting to see it in these early stages.

What did you make of our home-grown designer talent at the runway shows?

I didn’t get the chance to go to any of the shows, but I did have a good look through the lookbooks and saw their collections beforehand. I think there is great talent here and a new generation that wants to be part of the fashion industry globally. Where there’s a will, there’s always a way.

? quick fire

Life philosophy

Stay true to yourself

Work philosophy

Never give up

Remaining ambitions

I just take it one step at a time

Advice for designer newbies

I would urge them to never, ever give up

How to relax

I wish I had more time to dance. I love ballroom dancing but I had to stop it about two years ago

Favourite movie

Love Story

Currently reading

Fashion magazines, there’s no time for books

Go-to energising colour

Definitely red

An admired design peer

Geoffrey Beene

Last deed of the day before sleep

I thank God

? acra biog

Born and raised in Lebanon, Acra attended the American University of Beirut

Further study followed at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and Esmod in Paris

In 1997 she launched her fashion business with a bridal range

In 2003 Acra launched ready-to-wear

Her flagship boutique in New York City opened the same year

Acra's pet pooch, a white Maltese called Lou Lou, accompanies her to every catwalk show

? celeb couture

A-listers to have worn Acra’s gowns on the red carpet include:

• Angelina Jolie

• Taylor Swift

• Beyoncé

• Olivia Wilde

• Eva Longoria

• Nicole Richie

• Catherine

• Selena Gomez

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