Reem Acra, the internationally renowned fashion designer, has styled some of the most famous and influential people, from royalty and heads of state to celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Lopez, Taylor Swift and Halle Berry. Her exquisite collections are carried by luxury retailers such as Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue in the United States, with an international presence in over two dozen countries at exclusive retail outlets. She was named seventh in the 100 Most Powerful Arab Women in the World list by Forbes magazine and is a recipient of the Building Bridges Award from the Bridges of Understanding Foundation, which seeks to improve relations between the United States and the Middle East. Reem Acra launched her eponymous label in 1997 from New York and has become a household name in the USA and far beyond, admired for her exquisite bridal wear and luxurious fashion lines. HOME talks exclusively to this sartorial star and businesswoman…
Exclusive Photo Shoot by: Maya Alameddine
You do Bridal Wear, Evening Wear and Ready to Wear. How do you approach designing each collection? How different or similar is the process for you?
The process is the same with every collection. I am always inspired from within; I dream and am a part of the inspiration. I live the inspiration just as actors will live the part they are acting. I think about the young and old and who they want to be, and then I think of all the styles they would want to wear.
The inevitable question is how much of your Lebanese heritage and upbringing influences (or has influenced) your work and your designs.
Fashion has always been a part of my life. Growing up in Lebanon, my mother took me to the souks. We had a live-in seamstress, so fashion and tailoring were embedded in my DNA at a very early age. Lebanon fuels my passion for style and my Lebanese roots have greatly influenced my sense of color and the embellishments I use throughout my collections. Sensuality is another element that comes from my roots.
In addition to being incredibly exquisite and luxurious, your bridal line is also fashion-forward and stylish – just how a modern bride wants to look. You manage to create an opulent mix of materials and fabrics yet the dresses look light and flowing on the bride. What’s your secret?
There are no secrets. I love the brides. I am happy for each one of them and I want to make them look their best and feel their best at a very important time of their life. It is a sort of empowerment, from one woman to another.
"It is a sort of empowerment, from one woman to another."
You have dressed countless glamorous and famous women the world over. Is there any particular celebrity you dressed that stood out for you, and why?
It is always the first one that sticks out in my mind: Halle Berry at the Golden Globes almost 15 years ago wearing a pale blue taffeta dress. The dress was originally white, but she wanted it to be blue, so we dyed it for her the day before the Golden Globes and sent it to her team. She looked absolutely stunning. There are so many similar stories that have created the magic of the brand.
A few years ago, you designed and produced the uniforms for the American University of Beirut Medical Center, where your parents had both worked. Tell us about this project.
I loved being involved – I wanted to do it because I have a very special place for that institution in my heart. I was born there. I was educated at the University. I spent time visiting my parents at their offices at that institution. It is a part of my culture.
You were a judge at the Vogue Arabia DDFC Fashion Prize and you were also involved in the Dubai One TV show Fashion Star, both of which took place in the Middle East. Tell us about your involvement in supporting regional talent by partaking in these and any other fashion projects.
These competitions are tools for young designers to experience the real life of a fashion designer: the competition, the friendships, the tension, the time constraints, and all that it takes to become a fashion designer. I love my role within these platforms as it’s very nurturing and allows for my real personality to come through and shows who I truly am.
Is the USA your biggest market, since you are based there? Where is your biggest market outside the USA?
Japan and China.
Undeniably, you have worked extremely hard to establish yourself in New York and created a global, successful brand from scratch. Fashion is highly competitive and talent alone is not enough to make it, as many would say. What advice do you have for aspiring fashion designers in Lebanon?
All I can say is that success is not an easy road but it welcomes everyone that deserves it. I would advise aspiring designers to work hard and understand their talent as well as their limitations. The new generation needs to know that patience is an important element of success. Things do not happen overnight – perseverance is of utmost importance.
"Success is not an easy road but it welcomes everyone that deserves it."
If you did not become a fashion designer, what other profession may you have chosen?
I would have been an interior designer or product designer.
How has fashion changed from when you first started out to today? Have you witnessed a marked change in this industry? If so, do you see it as being for the better?
I started 20 years ago, when it was a different experience altogether. Some things might have been more difficult then, and some things are more difficult in today’s world.
It can be challenging being a woman in a traditionally male-dominated business world. As a woman, did you face challenges, or perhaps opportunities? Can you share any insights and/or advice?
We all have to fight to get what we desire, and this applies to both men and women. It is sometimes much harder as a woman, but when you reach success it is 10 times more rewarding. I believe I have paved the way for many young women and men and provided a living example of what it takes to become a successful, powerful woman.
Are there any other designers – fashion or otherwise – that you have admired?
All women who make a difference: Coco Chanel, Madame Lanvin and Madame Gres. These are the women I look up to in my career.
You have HOMEs in New York, Nashville and Beirut, but where is HOME really for you?
HOME is anywhere I want it to be.
For the Resort 2018 collection, Reem Acra takes us to a magical world of playful color-blocking, saccharine hues, and effortless styles. She is widely known for her bridal wear and evening wear styles, and the Resort collection whimsically showcases the designer’s mastery of versatile separates. Casual elegance permeates the collection as it offers a modern lens on special event wear. Acra’s masterfully tailored silhouettes are accentuated with bold flourishes, adding a dose of graphic chic to solid crepe styles. The full collection is a jet-set dream complete with saturated shift dresses embellished with black bows, elegantly carefree jumpsuits, and chiffon kaftans that work the minimalist side of poolside glamour. Always staying true to the brand’s romantic essence, Acra made sure the collection was suitably injected with a myriad of lace dresses, tulle skirts, and illusion details. The vivacious compilation was finished with a range of black gowns garnished with crystal embellishments a la Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s that debuted during the Spring 2018 bridal show.