In preparation for my interview with designer Georges Hobeika, I spend a few minutes practising how to pronounce haute couture (say ‘oat koo-TOOR,’ if you too are an ignoramus). A denizen of the rarefied world of high fashion, Georges belongs to a breed rarely seen in Sri Lanka. I imagine this has something to do with the incredible prices his designs command. A garment by Hobeika can cost upwards of $30,000, and if it’s your wedding gown, it might be as much as triple that figure.
Having clothed the likes of J-Lo and Kim Kardashian, Georges came to Colombo fresh from a show at the Louvre in Paris where he debuted his 2010-2011 Fall collection.
His couture line is distinguished by the absolute elegance of his draping and by his distinctly Asian love of beading, intricate embroidery and appliqué. We aren’t strangers to couture – designers hailing from this region have a dedicated following across the globe. But Georges, who says he’s looking forward to creating a collection inspired by the region, imagines that his designs will be more of fusion between western and oriental styles. Speaking through a translator, he declares himself very pleased to be here and excited at the prospect of opening several stores in the Asian region. These stores will feature the Georges Hobeika Signature line. Off the rack, this line of garments will also be priced accordingly, falling into the range of $3,000 approximately.
Georges was in town last week for his fashion show at the Cinnamon Grand. All proceeds from the event were donated to the ‘Carlton Suwa Sewana’ Cancer Charity, under the aegis of First Lady Shiranthi Wickremasinghe Rajapaksa. Clothed in ‘the world’s first Kandyan couture saree’ she was there in person to receive the donation. As for the audience they were offered the audience a glimpse of Georges’ retrospective collection, along with selections from the show at the Louvre. The former included many of the designer’s personal favourites.
Modelling the garments were many new faces. A majority of models were Sri Lankan, though some had been brought in from India and Lebanon. The second half of the show featured the garments show at the Louvre. Inspired by the “sights and sounds of the Masai Mara,” garments came in the glorious red worn by the tribes there and featured distinctive embroidery that mimicked the adornments worn by them. Other designs were borrowed from the wildlife of the region. The crowning glory though was a sumptuous wedding gown with a rich veil made up seemingly of dozens of blooming flowers.
The shimmering silks and heavy brocades were often laden with heavy embroidery and beadwork, occasionally so rich that it risked being labelled tacky. However, Georges’ beautiful draping and layering created garments that swirled and flowed beguilingly around the bodies of the models. His occasional use of translucent fabrics contributed to the sensuality inherent in his designs. Playing with silhouettes and lines, the collection featured simple garments, whose plain lines clung faithfully to the female form while others billowed out, creating exaggerated curves. Reportedly, each of those garments represents 1,000 man hours.
The son of a seamstress, Georges initially pursued a career in civil engineering. However, after many years of helping his mother with her work he eventually turned to fashion design. Though his company has now grown, his mother can still be found in their studios from 8 a.m to 5.30 p.m every day.
International Business Developer for the Hobeika brand, Martine Helou says that Georges can be relied upon to be ahead of the curve. Citing his collection inspired by optical illusions, she says it made him the only designer who could meet the craze created by the Alice in Wonderland movie. His Masai Mara theme also comes at a time when so many things African are becoming popular, she said. “He’s always ahead of the trend.”
His move to bring some of the fashion seen on European runways to Asian markets is another canny move that Martine is sure more Western designers will soon emulate. “The world is coming to Asia,” she says, adding “it’s going to be great for us.”