Zuhair Murad's gowns have been inescapable on the red carpet since Miley Cyrus wore one to the 2009 Oscars. Yesterday, he showed his new fall collection at couture week. WWD may have called it "tacky," but his unapologetically lavish aesthetic is clearly working for some of the most famous women in the world today (prices for couture start at $5,000, so it ain't cheap). Murad, whose business now employs more than 170 people, routinely dresses everyone from Beyoncé to Blake Lively to Jennifer Lopez, to oohs and aahs from their — and his — adoring fans. Ahead of his couture show, we rang up Murad in Lebanon to find out more about his curious ubiquity, who his clients are, and his plans for his first New York store.
You are clearly everywhere right now, but how did you get your start?
When I was very young, a little child, I used to draw all the time, fashion, and cut fabrics and buy fashion magazines. I decided to study fashion and art. At the age of 20, 22, I opened my first atelier in Beirut, my city. If you like something, you can do it with passion, so this is my world and I love my atelier.
Who are your clients?
Especially because I started with the couture, all of my clients are princesses — women who love fashion, who spend, maybe, a lot of money to be unique, to be special, to be different. Especially for a special occasion, especially for celebrities, for rich women all over the world. My client, she’s a woman who likes couture because it’s a very special art, and at the same time she’s classic.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
Even if there is the classic couture or the classic embroidery or classic fabric, there is always something modern and a little bit eccentric, but not that much.
Your pieces are very elaborate-looking. How long does it take to make them?
A simple piece of couture takes 300 hours and more. This is the minimum, you know? Some pieces with a lot of embroidery take, minimum, 500 to 800 hours — and hundreds of meters or yards of tulle or organza or chiffon. It depends on the style of the pieces.
How about Miley Cyrus's Oscar dress, for example?
It was an homage to Christian Dior, and it took, I think, at least 1,000 hours of work between the embroidery and the tailoring and the cutting.
That was a big red-carpet moment for you. What did it mean for your business?
Beyoncé, J.Lo, Miley Cyrus — many, many, many celebrities at the same time start wearing my clothes. But the biggest occasion, the first one, was Miley Cyrus at the Oscars.
What happened in your studio the day after she wore it?
I was very proud, very happy, especially [because she wore it to] the Oscars and the dress, everybody loved it. It had the covers of all the magazines, all the television, all the press, all the sites. We got many calls, many e-mails, some of them just for congratulations and some of them for orders. The people and clients with celebrities, they are waiting and they want to be like that, so we did a lot of orders and now this dress — we have a lot of success. Of course we have a lot of orders to repeat this for the clients.
What are some of your favorite red-carpet looks?
All of them are beautiful for me, and celebrities have their own style or their own character and it depends on which occasion. The dress that J.Lo wore at the Met Gala — it was the woman of the year, especially for me, something very, very, very huge. She has fans all over the world, and everybody loves her and adores her. That night with that dress, people were crying and we had a lot of phone calls and demand and still now people want to be like J.Lo.
Wait, people were crying?
Each time she wears one of my creations, really, it’s something really, really special because I am a big fan of her.
So, you were crying?
Something like that. Crying from the happiness.
Understandable. But not every dress is as successful in the press. Do you pay attention to best- and worst-dressed lists?
Sometimes I see what they critique, but it’s normal because everybody can't love the same piece because everyone has a vision, a taste, a mood. Sometimes I take it into consideration, maybe sometimes they are right — no one is perfect.
Where do you sell your clothes?
Our company year after year is growing. I start from my city, Beirut, and then we move to Paris and we open our workshop and our studio and our boutique in Rue Francois 1er, one of the famous streets in Paris, next to Christian Dior and all the other big names. Also everywhere in the big department stores — for example, in the U.S., Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue and other stores. And Harrods in Europe. Also in Russia and China and the Middle East. Lately we signed a licensee with an Italian group for our ready-to-wear daywear collection made in Italy.
Is that casual?
Not casual, but still luxe, but more affordable pieces, more daily pieces. So we can have couture, we can have simple jersey dresses, we can have something easier to wear, not only evening and bridal and haute couture.
Will you ever make anything casual?
Not yet, maybe later on. It’s one of our projects for the future, to have like a second or third line that's casual, but not for the moment.
Will you open a store in New York?
Yes, yes, yes, yes, that’s one of our plans and maybe it will be very, very, very, very, very soon to open a showroom and boutique in New York because there is a lot of demand from the people there, from the buyers, from the clients, so we are now working on this project.
Any other new stores in the works?
We are planning to open a boutique in Moscow and in Qatar. We are fully booked. There is no time even for vacation.
See some of Murad's best red-carpet moments in the slideshow.