BEIRUT: Enchanted forests and a queen of hearts – Lebanese designers took guests down a series of “Alice in Wonderland” fantasies during their couture fall-winter 2013-14 fashion shows in Paris and Rome. Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week wrapped up Thursday, after members of France’s exclusive Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture  presented their out-of-this-world (and out-of-this-budget) collections for next winter. In Rome, secondary shows by international designers kicked off and continue through the week at the Alta Roma Fashion Week, during which a handful of Lebanese designers like Tony Ward and Mireille Dagher  are participating.
Elie Saab and Zuhair Murad are two of three Lebanese members of France’s haute couturier union who presented collections this season, as third member Rabih Kayrouz has recently focused on ready-to-wear.
Murad’s journey into the rabbit hole landed his guests among wood nymphs covered in twig and branch appliqué, which he dramatically set against nude transparents.
The feminine collection entitled “Enchanted Forest” played heavily on layering translucent fabrics and peak-a-boo lace that made most of the collection look fragile.
Murad chose dark winter tones like black, navy, eggplant and silver for his creeping branches, which, with the help of their transparent base, gave the illusion they were painted directly onto the skin.
For example, Murad showed a body suit of black floral embroidery over a skintight base, the effect of which turned the model into a walking baroque wallpaper sample.
Speaking of jumpsuits, one from last year’s collection became the topic of tabloid gossip after Kristen Stewart, sweetheart of the blockbuster “Twilight” trilogy, wore the lace number to Murad’s show Thursday.
Murad also layered billowing, sheer skirts over tight pants with the same dark vines-on-nude pattern; and see-through maxis over hot pants, which has crept into local high-end boutiques as a trendy eveningwear option.
A parade of statement collars, one or two verging on pure costume, marched down Hobeika’s collection, heavily inspired by the European royalty of the 1600s.
The ruff collar, the stiff looped neckpiece worn by the likes of Queen Elizabeth I, was the highlight of Hobeika’s winter collection. He paired the starchy collar several ways as a standalone statement on a strapless pale rose gown and throughout the collection on a series of silk dress coats in crimson, peach and ivory.
He took the same collar-making technique and turned it into the puffy trim to line a plunging neckline. Borrowing other 17th and 18th century collar designs, Hobeika offset the stiff-necked conservatism with transparent materials and a few unorthodox winter colors, like pastel yellows and pinks.
Collars aside, the collection was an exploration of regal fashion of centuries past, borrowing and re-envisioning elements like puffy sleeves, square necklines, large pearls, flor d’lis and well-defined natural waistlines – a signature structure in Hobeika’s collections.
The wedding dress was a culmination of these regal influences, but done in their most subtle forms. On his Facebook and Twitter page, Hobeika dubbed her the “Queen of Hearts” – a reference to the fictional, kill-happy character in “Alice in Wonderland.”
Real horrors, rather than fantastic ones, influenced the dark themes of Chakra’s winter couture.
In an interview with Blouin Art Info online magazine, Chakra said his concerns for the political and economic upheaval in the Middle East led to the somberness of his couture collection.
“She’s a little bit melancholic with everything that is happening in the world, in light of the economic and political situation in the Arab world,” he told the magazine.
Working in the dramatic pairing of white and black, Chakra’s most daring piece was a wedding dress with hand-painted black flowers sprouting from the skirt and paired with a black veil.
If the dark lipstick wasn’t clear enough, it was this dress that conveyed the darker mood in Charka’s still-glamorous collection.
A bit of 1940s Hollywood influenced Atrache’s fall-winter couture, which he showed at the Salon De Miroir in Paris to coincide with Haute Couture Fashion Week.
1940s elements showed through in the silk sleeves, circle skirts and classic colors like ivory, black and gold. Art Deco details, like the geometric bodice patterns in metallic colors also gave the collection a hint of 1940s glamour.
The ’40s were an awkward time for couture, as most of the world was at war and average women were taking up minimalistic cuts and cheap materials out of practicality. Atrache brought a modern feel to the gowns with transparencies and electric blue dresses.
Dagher debuted her winter couture collection as part of the Alta Roma fashion shows. The secondary fashion shows featured rising and well-established designers from around the world.
As for Dagher, the immortal beauty of ancient mythological heroines influenced her collection, according to the news release accompanying her fashion show. As in past collections, Dagher relied exclusively on high-waistlines, maxi lengths and figure-hugging silhouettes.
“Mireille Dagher invokes the memory of the ancient Middle East, influences of the Greek myths,” said her collection explanation, “and includes the needs of a very refined contemporary woman.”