Reem Acra: Success at its Finest
January 12, 2011
More than thirteen years after launching her fashion career in New York with a spectacular bridal collection, Lebanese designer Reem Acra celebrated the grand opening of her first franchise boutique in downtown Beirut.
Acra’s journey to success began in 1997 in New York City, where she launched her own bridal gown company. Since her early years, Acra used to accompany her mother to the textile souks in Beirut where she learned about tulle, silk, chiffon and other beautiful fabrics, and was introduced to the intricate world of design by her grandmother who was skilled in creating handmade silk flowers. Her interest in fashion design grew stronger with the years, prompting her to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York after finishing her college studies in Lebanon, and to launch a fashion house under her own name, offering unique bridal gowns with ornate beading and elaborate details that gained her international recognition. Based on this success, Acra expanded her company to include eveningwear and ready-to-wear.
Known for her signature beaded embroideries and unique fabric combinations, and for gracefully blending Western simplicity with Eastern glamour, Acra has become one of the leading names in the luxury bridal and eveningwear market, attracting celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, Eva Longoria, Halle Berry and Christina Applegate, who have turned to her for their red-carpet moment. Today, in addition to her flagship Manhattan boutique, Acra’s collections are available in more than 150 of the most exclusive retailers in the world including Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, and Saks Fifth Avenue.
In this interview with Today’s Outlook, Acra lets us in on her secrets to success, her latest collection and her future projects.
Tell us about the collection you have in your Beirut boutique right now.
Currently in store are the pre-fall and fall collection. This is the collection that I recently presented in New York and because the opening of the boutique coincided with this season, this is what is currently available. Soon we will be introducing the spring collection. We have four collections every year and we also have two wedding collections. On the upper level of the boutique, you will find all our wedding dresses, which is a phenomenon for Beirut! In fact, we have a new way of selling wedding dresses – we are doing it the American way, which means that it is couture in terms of quality, but ready-to-wear in terms of price. So customers can come in and pick their dress and we will order it for them and deliver it.
As for the colors of the season, there is a lot of gold, silver and bronze. I’ve chosen colors that are full of passion. Shades of brown mixed with aubergine and dark navy blue are also popular as are special fabrics with floral prints.
Are you excited about this particular boutique?
Of course! I am very excited! This boutique in Beirut represents me as a person. It represents my company and my surroundings. My brother and I designed the interior of the boutique and of course we had a team of wonderful people who brought it all to life. The boutique has a modern touch to it as well as a touch of Lebanese culture. For example, I have a fountain in the boutique, just as I do in my boutique and workshops in New York. It reminds me so much of Lebanon.
When did you leave Lebanon?
I left Lebanon in 1983. I had finished my degree in Business Administration at the American University of Beirut and my parents gave me their blessing to travel and explore my opportunities overseas. I am married to my work and my child is my little Maltese puppy, Loulou, who is always with me. You can see her at the end of my fashion shows and she is also in some of my ad campaigns. She is my guardian angel. I’ve had her for 10 years.
Do you custom-make wedding dresses?
Custom-made is couture. Believe me, we have such a variety of choice that any bride-to-be will be happy with the collection available and will definitely find a dress that pleases her. By offering couture style at ready-to-wear prices, we expect that many brides will be surprisingly happy! After all, this is how I started my company and I am hoping that I can bring this to Lebanon. I know that so many brides wanted my dresses, but they were unable to fly to New York to visit my boutique, so now they can see the dresses here. I hope that this will serve as many brides and as many dreams as possible!
Do you stock big sizes?
Yes, absolutely! A woman of any size will find something to her liking.
You have been very successful in the US and we know that it has been a dream of yours to open a boutique of your own in your hometown. What took you so long to do it?
You always wait for the right time. If you do something too quickly and the timing is off, you are minimizing your chances of success. Of course, this is not the opening of our first boutique in Lebanon, but rather our first franchise which is a much bigger thing! It is much more important to open a franchise than a boutique.
What makes the timing so right, now?
I think that downtown Beirut is happening. Amal Berri, the owner of the franchise, came to me not so long ago and I decided that she is the right person. She has that perfect energy; she’s smart and she’s ambitious. I believe that she is the one that can pull this together because this is not at all easy! You are not just bringing any brand; you are bringing Reem Acra to the country where she was born and raised and this is a big deal! This is about so much more than just opening a boutique; this is about giving opportunities to other people to say ‘look, it can happen. You can leave your country and make it big elsewhere.’ So, in this sense, the opening of this boutique is indeed a message.
How are Lebanese designers viewed in the United States?
Americans love Lebanese designers, it’s evident on the red carpet, and that shows that we have proven ourselves.
Are you proud to be Lebanese?
I have always, from the very beginning, from day one, proudly said that I am Lebanese. It didn’t matter if Lebanon was at war or in the media spotlight, whatever the case, this is the truth – the undeniable truth of my heart.
What do you think of the Lebanese woman?
She loves to dress-up and be elegant. She is very fashionable. She is sexy and chic. Socializing and going out are a big part of the Lebanese culture, so it’s natural that the Lebanese woman loves to look glamorous. And because of this active social life, Lebanese women require a larger wardrobe than other women around the world, which in-turn helps to keep them abreast of the latest trends.
Do you have a special collection for the Middle East?
We do have a collection that is ‘hiding’ in this store, waiting for a woman who is looking for something special. It is not part of the ready-to-wear collection. I am talking about gorgeous, never-before-seen evening dresses. They are one-of-a-kind dresses only made for this boutique.
Dressing the stars is something that you have become accustomed to; how did you feel the first time you dressed a celebrity?
The very first time I dressed a celebrity was when I made a dress for Halle Berry, which was white, and we had to dip it in pale blue and I had only 24 hours to make this happen. So, I just prayed that it would work and that it would be ready, and it did work and it was ready! She wore it on the red carpet the very next day and she looked amazing. I was extremely happy!