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From the aisle to the runway

One of the world's most famous wedding dress designers, Lebanese fashionista Reem Acra has built her empire on gorgeous couture designs that combine traditional touches with modernity

Her name has become synonymous with statement bridal gowns all over the world, but Reem Acra's empire had rather humble beginnings. Hailing from Lebanon, she grew up with three brothers in Beirut and as a teenager, her interest in all things sartorial led her to join the fashion club at the American University of Beirut, where her parents worked.

As a young student, her moment came while attending a party at which Acra wore an embroidered silk organza gown that she designed herself using a tablecloth from her mother's dining room. Such was its intricacy and attention to detail that her creation caught the eye of a fashion editor also in attendance at the event.

Eager to give her talent a well-deserved spotlight, the editor offered to host a fashion show for the budding designer. Jumping at the opportunity, Acra's first showcase hit the runway 10 days later in June 1982. The success made her realise that she had found her calling and so she went on to pursue her passion at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.

After graduating magna cum laude from FIT in 1986, she decided to dive

deeper into the field by enrolling at École Supérieure des Arts et Techniques de la Mode (ESMOD), the foremost design school in Paris. So when luck would go on to strike the young designer once again, she was well prepared.

A little less than a decade after graduating from ESMOD, in 1997, Acra was asked to design a wedding dress by her close friend, who also happened to be a high-profile socialite. But as the Lebanese designer once revealed, it all began with a bet. The friend needed Acra's encouragement to say yes to the suitor she had recently met, but said she would go ahead with the wedding only if Acra would design her wedding dress. She accepted; the only caveat: the wedding was three weeks away.

Nevertheless, Acra rose to the challenge and went all out! She used the handmade floral embellishment skills that she learnt from her grandmother and a live-in seamstress since the age of five to finish the gown. And in a brilliant PR move, the designer brought an amateur photographer friend on board to shoot some still-life photos of the dress, which she then pitched to the New York Times. The paper ran it and the rest, as they say, is history.

Following the positive response, Acra went on to launch her eponymous bridal line in the same year. Her signature techniques – dramatic cuts, innovative designs, beading and lace embroidery – caught the world's attention, cementing her position in the bridal market.

A few years later, she expanded by introducing a ready-to-wear collection featuring carefully crafted pieces with ornate beading, flawless embroidery and layered texture details. Expanding her range further and highlighting her versatility, her line-up began to feature everything from head-to-toe sparkly gowns and pastel frocks to minimalist silhouettes and playful mini dresses.

Reem Acra New York continues to attract a clientele of discerning women, royalty, heads of state and socialites. With an international presence in more than 25 countries, the designer’s creations can be found in some of the world's most exclusive retailers, including Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue.

A favourite among celebrities, the likes of Angelina Jolie, Taylor Swift, Jennifer Lopez, Beyonce, Halle Berry and Selena Gomez have flaunted her collections at red carpet events, including the Oscars, Grammys and Golden Globes.

Acra is a reputed member of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, the Bridal Council of America and the International Advisory Council of the American University of Beirut and has also served on the Board of the Dubai Design and Fashion Council since its inception. Some of her notable accolades include being named the seventh most powerful Arab Woman in the World by Forbes Magazine and being the recipient of the Building Bridges Award from the Bridges of Understanding Foundation, a non-profit organisation which seeks to improve relations between the Middle East and United States.

She also serves as the lead judge and a mentor to aspiring designers on Fashion Star, the hit Middle Eastern reality TV show, which has garnered critical acclaim and has been instrumental in helping establish the Middle East as the forefront for emerging talent in fashion design. At the heart of it all is Acra's drive to combine tradition and trend, consistently updating the ideas of beauty and elegance. She believes in women's empowerment and hopes that her creations will give them the confidence to look and feel like their best selves.


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