Georges Hobeika is one of the most successful haute couture designers in the world. His couture art reflects creativity, femininity, glamour, detail richness and craftsmanship at its highest level. At every haute couture show, he unveils sophisticated, elegant and refined looks fit for a princess. I had the chance to interview the Lebanese designer in July 2013 in Paris.
Nearly 20 years ago, you left Beirut for Paris to pursue internships at prestigious fashion houses. Was your goal to become a local fashion designer in Beirut or to start an international career, like Christian Lacroix or Jean-Paul Gaultier?
Georges Hobeika: I never dreamt of becoming a world-renowned fashion designer. I wanted to design clothes. I love creating collections because itâ€™s an art that is constantly moving. An evening gown is neither a sketch nor a painting; it moves and it expresses something on a womanâ€™s body.
How long did you stay in Paris?
About a year.
You also did an internship at the prestigious Chanel ateliers. Did they offer you a job at the end of your internship?
No. The internship contract was limited to 4 to 6 months. That was at the very beginning of my career. I returned to Beirut and started my own small atelier with the help of my mother.
Was there any other student in your class in Paris who became a world-renowned fashion designer like you?
No. Not that I know of.
Haute couture is your passion. Your creativity and know-how in haute couture are amazing. Why have you always been so passionate about the highest class of fashion design?
Haute couture is my favourite field of creativity. I have plenty of ideas, especially when it comes to creating details. I love the art of embroidery and I love to include it in my collections, as a part of the gown. But I donâ€™t use it in a classical or old-fashioned way. Itâ€™s always a delicate element that embellishes the gown. I love working on my collections and making many changes, even to the details.
I recall seeing a video of you where you are holding an electric iron in your hand before a fashion show. That shows your love for craftsmanship. No one has ever seen Karl Lagerfeld holding an electric iron in his hand.
I donâ€™t limit myself to designing sketches. I love working on the clothes in my atelier and supervising all the details. I even sit down next to the embroiderers to see their work. I also love to apply pearls, paillettes, flowers and other details myself.
Why did you return to Beirut once you finished your internships in Paris? Were you not tempted to work for a fashion house in Paris?
No. I returned to Beirut because itâ€™s my world. I love being surrounded by quietness, in the mountains and on my own. When Iâ€™m working, I have to be alone in order to think and to create a collection.
Is silence also a source of inspiration for you when it comes to finding new ideas for your collections or do you find inspiration by travelling to new places and visiting exhibitions?
I have to be surrounded by nature to find new ideas for my creations. Obviously, I also get inspired by art or trips abroad, recently, for instance, in Marrakesh and Tangier in Morocco.
I think being on your own helps you to find strength. Sometimes, you also need silence and distance to be creative. If you are always surrounded by people, it obstructs you.
Yes. I canâ€™t think properly when Iâ€™m surrounded by many people.
Yves Saint Laurent used to have three muses: Loulou de la Falaise, Betty Catroux and Catherine Deneuve. Do you have a real muse who inspires you or is she simply imaginary?
I donâ€™t have a muse. I not only design clothes but also furniture. Sometimes, I walk for hours in the woods to find new ideas for my furniture pieces.
Iâ€™m amazed. Do you really have the time to design furniture on top of designing two haute couture, four prÃªt-Ã -porter and one bridal collection every year?
Of course. (He laughs).
What are your future projects?
An exhibition in Beirut or Dubai might be one of my future projects. But not right now. I’m working on the production of various unique pieces.
You have your own company, which gives you independence and freedom. Unlike John Galliano or Yves Saint Laurent, you canâ€™t be fired.
It gives me a lot of freedom, indeed. I make all the decisions. I work in close contact with my team, the tailors, the atelier employees, the embroiderers, etcetera. They are all part of my company. Every single garment is made in our ateliers in Beirut. We donâ€™t work with any other ateliers or factories.
Your mother inspired you to become a fashion designer when she asked you to help her with the sketches in her tailorâ€™s shop. Does she still work for you?
My mother means everything to me. She encouraged me to enter the world of fashion. Today, she still works in my company.
That reminds me of Gianni Versace, who was inspired by his mother. She used to have a small tailorâ€™s shop like your mother. As a child, he spent every single day in his motherâ€™s atelier.
Itâ€™s a similar story. My mother had a small atelier and I was always with her.
Does your mother attend your haute couture shows in Paris?
No. She prefers to stay in Beirut and look after my children and my brothers.
Lebanon is a very small country with only 4.1 million inhabitants, but it has the highest percentage of international haute couture designers in the world: you, Elie Saab, Zuhair Murad, Georges Chakra and Basil Soda. You keep up with a tradition that other countries have lost. Itâ€™s the patrimony of your country.
I think itâ€™s fascinating to have many talented fashion designers in a small country that is not bigger than Paris. I also love to help young Lebanese designers.
You used to show your haute couture collections in Rome at the Alta Roma. What changed in 2001, when you first presented a haute couture collection in Paris?
There have been many changes. My company and I have become much more professional. Itâ€™s easier to have access to the resources, the fabrics and the embroidery. Each time I come to Paris, I try to showcase a better couture collection with better cuts, details and embellishments. For example, for my new couture collection for fall/winter 2013/14, I focused on the details of the coats.
When I attended your fashion show two days ago, here in Paris, I thought that your collection, which is a tribute to the couture of the ancient French aristocracy, would upgrade any Hollywood film. Would you be tempted to design the costumes of a movie?
Yes. Why not? I love everything related to art and creativity.
In 2006, Lebanon was at war during the three-month conflict of Hezbollah and Israel. How did you manage to create a new collection in those three months of violence? You never knew where the next bomb would explode.
Everything we are surrounded by gives us some ideas for new creations, even if itâ€™s a war or sadness. To be honest, in Lebanon, we are used to that reality. Even if the war is over, the country is still confronted with problems and tensions. I have moved my company from the city of Beirut to the mountains, where I have a big loft. Itâ€™s very calm there.
Did you ever lose your inspiration for a few months?
Sometimes, I feel uninspired for a few days but never for a few months. That would be too much. In the days of no inspiration, I try to do something completely different, something that has nothing to do with my job.
Are you already working on your new collection?
Iâ€™m taking two weeks off to go on holiday with my family. As soon as I get back to Beirut, I will start working on my new collection.
Interview: Yolanda Di Mambro, all rights reserved
PHOTOS: HAUTE COUTURE DESIGNER GEORGES HOBEIKA
Photos: Courtesy of Georges Hobeika
VIDEO: FASHION SHOW GEORGES HOBEIKA HAUTE COUTURE FALL/WINTER 2013/14