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The glamorous world of Lebanese haute couture

By George Webster for CNN
  • Some of the most spectacular dresses worn at this year's Oscars were by Lebanese designers
  • Elie Saab and Zuhair Murad are among the best known Lebanese couturiers
  • Clothes often combine European cuts with embellishment and revealing splits

London, England (CNN) -- Gowns drape seductively; splits are thigh-high; fabrics are sheer and sparkling with embellishments: Welcome to the glamorous world of Lebanese haute couture.

Perhaps better known for conflict than high fashion, the tiny cosmopolitan nation of Lebanon has recently produced a dazzling crop of designers who have been getting noticed far outside the country's borders.

Notable among them are Zuhair Murad, Reem Acra and Elie Saab, each of whom have dressed an array of A-list celebrities at events like the Oscars and the Golden Globe ceremonies over the past few years.

Lebanon is nestled south of Syria on the Mediterranean Sea in a region more generally associated with modest dress, and with a population of less than four million, the preponderance of Lebanon's couturiers on the international scene is unexpected.

Saab is perhaps the most recognizable name in Lebanese couture fashion. The 45-year-old achieved star-status when Halle Berry accepted an Oscar for Best Actress in 2002 wearing a spectacular Saab burgundy gown.

The designer's fan base of A-list celebrities includes Beyonce, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Elizabeth Hurley. It shouldn't surprise that these stars -- who share a reputation for their sartorial elegance -- would be drawn to the sense of classic glamour in Saabs luxurious, cut-to-the-curve creations.

Acra meanwhile is renowned in the U.S. for her regal bridal designs, and for dressing feminine icons such as film star Kate Beckinsale and Eva Longoria Parker as well as Jill Biden, the wife of the U.S. vice president.

Like Saab, Accra's reputation is rooted in the fusion of vibrant eastern influences with what her Web site describes as a "European style interlaced with a sense of luxury."

Murad crafted the figure-hugging red and nude stripey sequin number singer Katy Perry's wore this year's Vanity Fair Oscars after party.

The Beirut-based designer acknowledges his country's unexpected presence on the global fashion scene, which he attributes in part to its position on the map.

"I think the geographic location of Lebanon on the Mediterranean Sea helps the Lebanese designer to travel abroad and present their collections all over the world," he told CNN.