Lebanese red-carpet pleasers in Paris couture week

Lebanese red-carpet pleasers are increasingly filling the gaps in the haute couture calendar left by French houses pulling out of fashion's most extravagant manifestation.

While Givenchy decided this week to stage a scaled down presentation to a privileged few, Lebanon's Elie Saab, Georges Chakra, Basil Soda, Georges Hobeika, and the house of Rabih Kayrouz all opted for catwalk shows.

Only Elie Saab is a member of the elite club and Rabih Kayrouz a guest, the others showing outside the official programme, but their collections are all the more welcome as only three big French names - Chanel, Dior and Jean-Paul Gaultier - and Italians Giorgio Armani and Valentino were presenting runway shows for autumn-winter 2011.

Lebanese designers are naturally drawn to Paris like moths to a flame, Basil Soda told AFP. "In Lebanon we call France our mother. The cultural influence is very strong."

But Soda, Chakra and Saab draw their clientele from all over the world, notably across the Atlantic, and among royalty. The Crown Princess of Sweden wore Saab twice last month on her wedding day.

Emily Blunt, Sandra Bullock, Kate Perry, Scarlett Johannsson and Helen Mirren are among the A-list actresses and celebrities to have chosen a Lebanese design for their red carpet moments.

Chakra dedicated his collection on Monday to silver screen goddesses: "I was thinking of Rita Hayworth, Greta Garbo, 1950s Hollywood glamour - at times like this we need to dream for 15 minutes."

He showed sumptuous ballgowns with lots of whorls and bows, designed "so the dress dances as the wearer moves."

He used lots of gold "flattering to a skin that is slightly tanned" but avoided bling, for example by adding a sheer top layer of iridescent violent and yellow tulle, or combining gold and silver in a cloqued lame.

A crimson lacquered satin looked like deep pile velvet, while marron glace shot satin had hues of blue and green.

One cocktail frock twinkled with fringes of pearly sequins, another had a top embroidered with crimson flowers and flounced sunray-pleated skirts.

Ahead of his show on Tuesday Soda told AFP his collection was designed for "strong, confident women, who have travelled a lot, but are also inaccessible, idolised."

He favoured mostly neutral colours - black, grey, white and flesh tones, with flashes of zircon - and a structured but feminine silhouette, with lots of big shoulders and emphasised waists.

There was very little stand-alone embroidery, the decoration being part of the overall concept, as with his grand entrance black organza ballgown with its myriad of zippers snaking round, dictating its shape.

Corsets, jackets and frocks were all complicated constructions of grey python, lace, gros grain ribbons, strass and zippers, all intermingled.

Instead of draping, he used very precise layering to achieve a trompe l'oeil effect, "which is much more challenging and labour intensive."

One of his favourite pieces this season is a sleeveless cocktail frock consisting in layer upon layer of micro-pleated flesh-coloured organza, with a few jewels nestling among them.

A veritable tour-de-force, it took 600 hours' labour to make and has an extraordinary tactile sensuality akin to animal fur.

Elie Saab and Rabih Kayrouz present their collections on Wednesday.

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