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BEIRUT — As the list of names of Lebanese designers showing during Paris Couture Week grows, one regular came back home to Beirut this season.
“I felt in a way that I need to do something in my country,” said designer Basil Soda. “We left because of the war in 2006.”
Throughout the ensuing difficulties, he continued to operate his atelier from Beirut but showed in Paris. This season he brought his collection home because, he said, “we need to change the mood here.”
His spring couture collection was unveiled in a presentation format to local media, buyers and international guests. Inspired by Pieris butterflies, the collection was rendered in sheer fabrics — tulle, chiffon and lace.”
“Everyone who knows me knows I’m a little bit aggressive, so I took my woman to a garden,” said Soda, explaining the delicate nature of the collection.
In keeping with the hard lines and cuts that have come to define the designer, he juxtaposed the softness of the butterfly by exposing what he calls the inner skeleton. “When you see an image in an X ray, you see a lot of details that are not known,” he explained. Each piece is a combination of two dresses layered over one another, the softness of the butterfly juxtaposed against the X ray underneath.
With the help of celebrity placement agents and stylists, Soda’s couture creations have become quite popular on the red carpet. He has dressed Marion Cotillard, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Paris Hilton, Britney Spears and Morena Baccarin.
He said the exposure has done a lot for the business. “One of the best things we’ve done is working on the red carpet. This reflects in sales. When you start doing ready-to-wear, the buyers taking your brand are interesting in seeing your visibility. Visibility through the red carpet is excellent,” he said, hastening to add, “I don’t want to be only a red-carpet designer.”
His rtw, now in its fifth season, is gaining traction. He currently sells in nine markets, including the U.S., France, Russia and the Middle East. He produces 1,200 pieces a season at his atelier in Beirut. As demand increases, he hopes to move production to Milan. Next season he will also launch his accessories line, as well as his second ad campaign, featuring model Jessica Stam.
Though he will again show couture in Paris, bringing his couture collection back to Beirut was partly business-driven. “For the couture, we still rely on our customers from the Middle East,” said Soda. Lebanon has a long tradition of couture, catering to Middle Eastern clients who spend lavishly, especially on weddings.
Soda said he employs 75 tailors and 35 embroiderers, mostly for the couture business. He spent four years working for fellow Lebanese designer Elie Saab, whom he considers a good friend. “I admire him, I respect him, he’s a person I love,” he said. “I left only because I wanted to open my own.”
Soda said he opted for a presentation instead of a runway show in Beirut because logistically it is difficult to bring models, as well as production crews, into Lebanon. However, he said things at home are evolving at a rapid pace.
“There is a generation here. I want to work with stylists here. There is a new vibe happening, they have a different sense of fashion. I’m still very attached,” he said.