Zuhair Murad Courts Controversy With 'Indian Summer' Collection at Couture

Models walk the Zuhair Murad Spring Summer 2018 show - Getty -H 2018
Thierry Chesnot/Getty Images

Models walked through tepees and wore feather headpieces at the Lebanese designer's show.

Haute couture — the amuse bouche before February's meatier fashion month — is short and sweet at just four days. The last big day went from A to Z, starting with Acne off-calendar and ending with Zuhair Murad, with a bit of controversy in between. 

Acne Studios

Acne Studios showed off the official calendar Wednesday morning, and off the beaten path in the cavernous customs building in Paris’ canal district. But the draw of the studio was still strong enough for Juliette Lewis, Isabelle Huppert and French celebs Karin Viard and Jean Imbert.

Creative director Jonny Johansson combined the brand’s pre-fall and main collections for the first time, thus staking out a spot earlier on the calendar so as not to get lost in the February mix. It wasn’t couture for sure, and it didn’t pretend to be.

Much of the collection was centered on coats, from pale plaids to deep forest green and mustard yellow with faux fur paneling. Flat, back-laced boxing boots and slippers with fuzzy socks were the footwear of choice, and with mohair sweater dresses and wraps that could easily double as blankets, the collection you’d want to wear at your country cabin.  

Waiters served hot cider, and models walked along woven rugs, adding to the coziness.

Elie Saab

Elie Saab created an homage to 1920s Paris, a time the designer credited with making the modern woman, a woman “who lives largely and dresses beautifully, because life is one glitzy party.” And there was glitz galore with the heavy beading and sparkle the red carpet regular is known for. He toned down the tulle for a sleeker silhouette, and used a subtle color palette of pale pastels and slate grays. He topped it all off with sparkly cloches (which were in the lead for best headwear of this couture season until Valentino just a few hours later).

Inspiration books featured photos of Josephine Baker, Kiki de Montparnasse and the famed Moulin Rouge, and evoked the idea of movement and freedom. But this is couture, and many gowns are restrictive and heavy simply by their nature, so Saab added asymmetrical “mullet dresses” — a mini in the front, long trains in the back. Easier to walk in, sure, but long gowns with architectural twists worked better. Neck bows (bows have been everywhere on the runways here) were a baffling addition; sparkly sunnies and art deco bracelets worked better as accessories.

The sheer "trend" seems unstoppable. Saab is not alone; several houses are guilty of this. But after season after season of barely there fabric with beading, it would be almost scandalous not to see the models' undergarments (or lack thereof). 

Saab will always have a strong Hollywood presence, and there are plenty of contenders in this collection.

Viktor & Rolf

These post-truth times have certainly been called surreal by many a pundit, so maybe it’s something in the air. Or at least at couture week, where Viktor & Rolf followed Dior’s surrealist collection with one of their own. Complete with masked models (Dior threw a masked ball after its Monday show), the Dutch design duo’s idea stemmed from using a single material — duchesse satin — for the entire collection.

That resulted in cocoon capes, check, plaid and striped patterns, and everything from petals to palm fronds decorating dresses and gowns.

One white gown adorned with a lily was both stark and stunning, especially in a nearly pitch black room, which added to the drama of having models revealed as a curtain was pulled back. 

This collection also marked the launch of the Viktor & Rolf jewelry line, and there's a fete planned in their native Netherlands for the 25th anniversary of the house with an exhibition opening in Rotterdam in May. One attendee was overheard gushing about the collection saying that maybe “they will be the comeback kids of couture.” They may have closed their ready-to-wear line two years ago, but they never left.

Ulyana Sergeenko

When the Russian designer, who was taking a break from her usual runway show for an intimate presentation this season, sent flowers to her bestie Miroslava Duma with a note referencing a lyric to the Kanye West and Jay Z song "Ni**as in Paris,a pic of the bouquet went from Instagram to infamous within minutes. Social media blew up with immediate backlash criticizing her and calling her racist, with even model Naomi Campbell weighing in. The buzz in the front row of Murad’s evening show was that Sergeenko’s afternoon presentation was empty of editors as a result of the controversy.

Zuhair Murad

Zuhair Murad, known for dressing Beyonce and Jennifer Lopez, held his show in his usual spot — the gilded hall of the Hotel Potocki in Paris' chic 8th. Only this time, he had his models walk through tepees. Problematic? Some of the Americans in the audience thought so, at a moment when we have all become attuned to cultural appropriation. Murad may not understand what a hot a topic it is in the U.S. since he is based between Lebanon and Paris, and certainly his many Russian and Middle Eastern clients will probably not care.

Titled “Indian Summer,” the collection took inspiration from “ancient tribes, notably the Sioux, the Navajos, [and] the Iroquois," according to show notes. He also used “references from Native American culture ... as inspirations to rethink and liven up classical ball gowns.” Those pieces were embroidered with arrows, suns, cacti and eagles. Models wore feather headpieces tucked into low ponys or braids in back. Oh boy.

Aesthetically, the collection was true to Murad form, with exquisite tailoring and embroidery, though some of the fringed pieces read as a bit costumey, while the cactus design worked better as a subtle, sandy print than as bold beadwork. The slouchy boots seen everywhere this season looked particularly fresh when paired with gowns. Murad’s an awards season staple, but any star wearing this collection on the carpet could be playing with fire.