Reem Acra returns home to Beirut with first store

The Associated Press
Wednesday, November 3, 2010; 3:26 PM

BEIRUT -- Lebanese-born New York designer Reem Acra has a message to successful Lebanese entrepreneurs: No matter how big you become abroad, in the end you have to return home.

On Wednesday, Acra opened her first franchise boutique in downtown Beirut - more than a decade after launching her fashion journey with a bridal collection in New York.

"I've always been proud to be of Lebanese origin and today I'm even prouder," Acra said as she stood smiling amid elaborate evening gowns in the gleaming two-story boutique.

Clutching Loulou, a small Maltese dog she takes everywhere, Acra said it seemed like "grand timing" to enter the Lebanese market.

Many would disagree. Political and sectarian tensions have risen recently over speculation the U.N. tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of a former Lebanese prime minister would indict the country's militant Hezbollah group.

There are mounting fears the indictments, which could come as early as next month, could re-ignite hostilities between Lebanon's rival Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

Acra said she speaks only about fashion.

"I do not know anything about what is happening ... I'm just excited about the fashion part of Beirut and that's all I know," she said.

A tiny Arab country of 4 million people along the Mediterranean Sea, Lebanon has produced an impressive crop of designers. They include Elie Saab and Zuhair Murad, whose work is regularly featured at celebrity events such as the Oscars and the Golden Globes.

The Lebanese have a reputation for being among the most fashion-conscious people in the Middle East - and are extremely liberal about the amount of skin they show.

Downtown Beirut, an area rebuilt over the past two decades from civil war destruction and the place where Acra opened her boutique, is dotted with high-end luxury boutiques such as Gucci, Dior, Vivienne Westwood and Prada.

Like many Lebanese, Acra left Lebanon with her family at the height of the civil war in 1983. But she said she first got her sense of fashion from living in Beirut.

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