I remember reading a report in the New York Times about the fashion scene in Beirut. The headline struck me: “In Beirut, Where Fashion Lives Dangerously”. It was in 2013. If only the journalist had known how prescient his headline was; even though it was written at a time of seemingly endless political assassinations by car bombs, something even more devastating was on the horizon.

A few years later, on August 4, 2020, at 18:08, the whole world stood dumbfounded as it witnessed  one of the most monstrous explosions of this century in the port of Beirut. The surrounding neighborhoods were almost razed to the ground. It just so happens that these neighborhoods were the home of almost the entire creative industry in the city, starting with the fashion designers.

Zuhair Murad, a darling of Hollywood red carpets with his signature embroidery-tattoos, is part of this distraught community. The building that housed his offices and workshops, which sat facing the port, was completely shattered. If we chose to interview him on this sad anniversary, it is because he has just returned to his rebuilt premises. Sitting in front of the ghostly silhouette of the port’s silos, one of which has just fallen, can still be seen through the bay window, he told us a story of faith and hope. Here is our conversation.

Were sitting with you in a building that was devastated by the 4th of August Beirut Port blast. You decided to rebuild and move back in following the explosion and despite everything… Why? What does this building mean to you?

For me, this building is my second home, I spend most of my time there, maybe even more than at home, where I sleep. It’s a dream I’ve had since I was a kid, to have an independent fashion house in Beirut where all my team would be located, with a big office where we would all collaborate together to send the message, or the product we are working on, to the whole world.

Did you make any changes, or did you rebuild it exactly as it was?

Honestly, there are places that I loved deeply and I loved the decor, and I insisted on keeping them as they were, and there are other places that I wasn’t very convinced of, that I changed. I wanted to preserve the initial character, with its Parisian spirit by which we are very influenced by here in Beirut and Lebanon, because it also resembles my studio in Paris, while the entrance, the boutique and the bridal store will have a new concept.

Where were you on August 4th 2020? What was your experience of the explosion, how did you react? Whats the most precious thing you lost?

On August 4th, honestly, at the time of the explosion, I had left the building for about 10 minutes. Of course, I had not yet arrived home when we heard the explosion. I turned around on the spot, to see how close it was to the building and if any of the employees had been hurt. It’s a very painful memory. It comes back every year on the same date. But if you notice, right in front of me is the place of the explosion, at the port, the place of the disaster. So, sincerely, we are happy to be back here, because we feel that we have found the beautiful spirit in which we worked. We came back to our original house after having to move. The only problem is that we can’t forget what happened right in front of us.

The most valuable thing I lost was a large part of our archives. Archives that date back to my beginnings, almost 25 years ago. That’s what I regret the most, the sketches, the dresses, pieces kept from old collections, or from the last collection before the explosion. Invaluable archives in my eyes. Everything else, material things, thank God we were able to save or repair.

The theme of your new Haute Couture collection is divination. Youre sensitive to signs from above, did you feel that something was going to happen before the explosion?

Honestly, I have a sixth sense, enough to sense certain things, to sniff out bad air, but like all people in Lebanon, I knew that the situation was unstable, but I never anticipated an explosion of this magnitude, certainly not. Lebanon is always unpredictable, you should expect anything. Anything that might seem impossible elsewhere can happen here.

Do you feel that the collections that will be born in this atelier will be special compared to those conceived in exile, somehow different from those made in Sin el Fils ateliers, where you retreated to after the blast?

What I can tell you, and which is certain, is that I divided this place myself, so that each one of us has their space and can work in serenity and give their utmost. For the past two years, we had relocated to a place which, sincerely, did not resemble us much. We all worked together in a place that was too small, people were not comfortable in their offices, we were tightly packed. But personally, when I work on a collection, I forget everything around me. Even if I have to work on the road, either I make my collection according to my convictions, so that it resembles me 100/100, or I don’t make it at all. This did not prevent us from experiencing stress in an uncomfortable atmosphere. It is certain that the collections we are going to work on from here will be created with much more ease and serenity for the team.

Do you think that Beirut will always be your base? If so, why?

Certainly, and the proof is that everyone was surprised that I restored the building almost from scratch, with the costs that this implies. In my opinion, Beirut… I am a child of this country and I am very attached to it. It is from Lebanon that I was able to access the world, and I think that Beirut, for me, cannot be compared to other cities like Paris, or Milan, or New York, which are the number one fashion capitals. But as I am Lebanese, and particularly attached to my country, I preferred to keep this house and continue to work from here, even if we travel every two days, weeks or months to our companies abroad. Lebanon has a different flavor.