Middle East Fashion Capital: Beirut Lebanon Dissertation

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[. . .] In fact, a good number of Lebanese fashion designers are now settled in Dubai where they supply the city’s local and foreign populations with luxury gowns, dresses, robes, and casual wear (Endeavor Lebanon 2015; Sharif 2017). And it is very likely that new and emerging Lebanese designers may end up relocating to Dubai because the city has an official fashion design district that it hopes to attract international designers to through the use of incentives and pro-business regulations. Nevertheless, as of this moment, Beirut remains the fashion capital of the region. And if the government of Lebanon puts in concerted efforts to build the country’s fashion industry, the industry could expand considerably and it could create new employment for thousands of youths. 

The objectives of this research are to:

1. Evaluate the Lebanese fashion industry via identifying its pillars and the challenges it faces. 

2. Assess the role that Lebanese designers play in the industry and investigate how they can help to catapult the industry forward. 

3. Make recommendations that that government and other stakeholders can take to continue maintaining the position of Beirut as the fashion capital of the region. 

2. Literature Review 

2.1. History and Background 

Found on the shores of the Mediterranean and bordering countries such as Israel and Syria, Lebanon is a tiny yet significant country in the Middle East. An official nationwide census has not been done in the country for quite a while but it is estimated to have about four million people. The people are from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds. The country has undergone periods of progress, stagnation, and destruction over the last one hundred years ago. When the French as a colonial power, the country was wealthy and it was a melting pot of multiple cultures and religions. Tourists from all ethnic and racial backgrounds visited the capital city in numbers and were amazed by its cleanliness, architecture and the warmth of its people that some commentators referred to it as the Paris of the Middle East (The World Bank 2016). However, this period of peace and progress was cut short by the start of the Lebanese Civil War in 1975. The war ended 15 years later in 1990 and the country has ever since trying to build back up to its pre-war levels of economic success. 

With regards to the cultural scene, Lebanon is one of the best countries in the world. Its positioning in the middle of the Middle East has made it a meeting point for food, dance, fashion, and music from the East and from the West. Combined with its own Arab foods and traditions, the fusion of multiple cultures makes this country a must-visit for cultural enthusiasts. A sizeable population of the country lives in the diaspora. In fact, some figures suggest that more than eight million Lebanese people live abroad. These foreign-living Lebanese people are not only contributing to the openness of the Lebanese society but also introducing their family and friends back home to foreign fashions and designs. They also provide funding and in some instances they collaborate with locals to establish creative businesses or industries back home. The country also has a specific association to develop funding for culture-based businesses and initiatives. This organization and the other factors explained for it show that culture is being taken seriously in the country and that there are many stakeholders who are already actively involved in trying to improve the already-amazing culture of the country. It is safe to conclude that the future is looking bright in terms of culture. 

The capital of the Lebanon is Beirut. It is also the largest city and the commercial center of Lebanon. The city has an international airport and road and rail links to all parts of the country. Beirut is also multicultural, multi-religious, and multilingual. Compared to the rest of the country and to other cities across the Middle East, Beirut is one of the most welcoming and tolerant cities in the region. The economy of the city is largely service-based and quite a number of fashion creatives are contributing already contributing significantly to the economy. 

Because of its stagnating economy and multiple internal and external crises, significant numbers of the countries talented youths are relocating to other countries in the Middle East and elsewhere around the globe. To put an end to this and to ensure that the talented youths focus their energies in their homeland, there is a need for a comprehensive plan to create political and economic stability. There is also a need to create a bold strategy to incentivize the country’s creatives to establish businesses or expand their businesses to international markets so as to improve the local economy and to create jobs for others. The good thing is that the country’s vibrant diaspora population is largely wealthy and is an available asset that can be deployed to tap into the largely untapped local fashion and creative industry potential. The faster that a strong plan is drawn and implemented, the faster the country will be able to grow its economy to provide jobs, and better services for its population.

2.2. Overview of the Lebanese Fashion Industry 

The fashion industry is a multi-faceted industry; there are multiple subsectors in the industry without which the industry would not move forward. The subsectors include: fabrics and textiles manufacture; fashion design; clothing production; clothing distribution; retail; and marketing. This research particularly focuses on one element of the Lebanese fashion industry i.e. womenswear design. Womenswear include custom-made luxury clothing and ready-to-wear apparel. Custom-made luxury clothing are haute couture garments that are made-to-measure. Clients usually have to give their specific measurements for such garments to be made. Most haute couture garments are handmade. Ready-to-wear apparel are clothes that are produced in bulk in manufacturing facilities. They are available in standard sizes and often include activewear, tops, bottoms, blouses, dresses, and almost all other types of clothing (Bauknecht, Schaefer and Bug 2017). Most of the times, in a bid to market their clothes as high-end or good quality clothes, some clothing companies often refer to their ready-to-wear apparel as haute couture. Therefore, the line between the two types of clothing is sometimes blurred (Bauknecht et al. 2017; Krijnen and De Beukelaer 2015).

Lebanese fashion designers are renowned for making both lines of clothing (haute couture and ready-to-wear). The most famous Lebanese designers are those who have been making haute couture gowns and dresses. This is what Lebanese designers are known for throughout the fashion world. Several world-famous celebrities have worn Lebanese designers on red carpets including Beyoncé and Angelina Jolie. This kind of publicity has not only brought even more attention to the industry but is also testament to the quality of the clothing and stylishness of the designs made in the country. Moreover, wealthy clientele from the Middle East, the Far East, Russia, and other parts of the globe often frequent the fashion houses of Lebanese designers in Beirut and in other places around the globe to buy their evening gowns and other luxury clothing, another proof of the popularity of the country’s haute couture clothing (Krijnen and De Beukelaer 2015; Hill 2008).

The fact that Lebanon was for a very long time a French colony, one of the more positive French legacies was to create an appetite for the French way of dressing. The style included mostly the wearing of luxury evening gowns and dresses. This is one of the important contributing factors that made the country to become known as the Paris of the Middle East (Sharif 2017). Even as early as 1960, Beirut was already the playground for rich men and women from the region. The rich could just dock their boats at the port and hold lavish parties. This doubled the need for luxury party dresses and further contributed to the popularity of haute couture designs in the city and in major towns across the country. 

Figure 1. Downtown Beirut, 1941. (Adopted from Sharif 2017)

2.3. ESMOD Beirut

ESMOD Beirut is a part and parcel of the country’s fashion industry. The school has helped to nurture thousands of young Lebanese designers who have gone on to become successful in their own right. ESMOD was founded in France by a French designer by the name Alexis Lavigne in 1841. At the time he was establishing ESMOD, Alexis was designer for the French royal house. He had also already invented the flexible measuring tape, the fashion bust mannequin, and several tailoring guides. ESMOD was the first fashion school of its kind in the globe. Alexis established it to pass on his knowledge to others. As of now, the prestigious school has only fourteen campuses around the globe whose objective is to integrate students from diverse culture into the international fashion world (ESMOD Beirut 2018).… [end of preview; READ MORE]

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