#RebuildingBeirut: How Azzi & Osta Are Picking Up The Pieces And Salvaging Dreams

6 min read

“Lebanese people are a force of nature, full of contrasts, full of love and full of resilience and love for life,” say couturiers George Azzi and Assaad Osta, of Azzi & Osta, “Lebanon is everything for us. Our childhood, our memories, our history, our family and friends.” Inspired by their heritage and culture, the designers have built a brand that reflects the soul and spirit of the country they grew up in, “the contrasts between modern and vintage…the history and the different sceneries inspire us in our creations,” the dynamic duo tell MOJEH.

“We like to think that we create dreams, and those dreams are made in Lebanon.” But after decades of hardship and currently in the midst of crisis after the devastating explosion on August 4, the creative community in Lebanon – and their many dreams – are in danger of being destroyed. Here, we talk to the Azzi & Osta about the event that tore their atelier apart, and how they plan to prevail and continue to turn their Lebanese-made dreams a reality 

Can you tell us about what happened on August 4 — where were you and your staff when the explosion hit and what can you remember from this heartbreaking moment? 
Our teams were still in atelier, due to lockdown the day before they were staying later as we were launching the new couture collection within the next 10 days – we personally had just left and were nearby in our cars. There was a vacuum then a massive explosion and time stopped, we remember not knowing what it was, thinking a million things in seconds; our families, our teams, our loved ones, no phone lines – it was catastrophic. Our teams were injured, some serious injuries – however we are thankful that all lives were spared.

A drawing of Azzi & Osta’s new atelier in Beirut, before the blast

Azzi & Osta had just opened its new atelier, describe this space prior to the explosion?
This new location was a dream. We call it our “Magical Village in the City”. It is a rare – if not the only – place in Beirut where you still have 3 century old traditionnal Lebanese buildings, with a large cobblestone courtyard, a century old olive tree in the middle, a small fountain, even a well …it was our own gated calm universe where we were looking forward to have fashion shows, throw parties, launch exciting projects, and mostly a place where creativity flourishes and the Azzi & Osta team feels at home. We felt incredibly privileged to have had the opportunity to be the tenants of such a unique place full of history and charm.

Azzi & Osta’s new atelier

Azzi & Osta’s new atelier

And what does it look like now? How has the explosion damaged your atelier and your business?
Total loss – total devastation. Two of the three buildings have been officially marked as dangerous and irreparable…rubble is everywhere, every single room we renovated, redocarated, brought character into was gone. Unfortunately we had to completely evacuate and be uprooted again, putting our business to a halt.

Can you put into words how you felt when you first saw the damage and destruction?
Speechless, heartbroken , worried about what we will see – we ran back to the space as soon as we found out the explosion was a few metres away from us – to check on our teams and to try to help where we can, once we arrived there we lost all sense of reality.

Azzi & Osta’s studio after the explosion

Azzi Osta Beirut

Azzi & Osta’s studio after the explosion

What were you working on before the explosion hit?
We were working on the Couture autumn/winter 20/21 collection, which was set to be shot and revealed on August 20. We were in talks with a photographer, set designer and everything was just so positive and full of life.

How will these plans be affected by what has happened?
A big part of the new collection was damaged, we picked up dresses from off the trees basically. The fact that our atelier was completely destroyed, will delay us quiet a bit. We met with our teams, we set a pact that we shall prevail and although delayed, we will still make it happen. Same for our RTW AW 20 production which was set to go to stores worldwide. We lost a big part of our collections, however we retrieved some, we will build from there.

Do you have plans to rebuild your space and continue to work in Beirut — or would you consider leaving?
It would be our dream to rebuild that location – it was what we wanted celebrating 10 years of the brand. At the moment, we wait to see what can be repaired – as it seems that most of it cannot be. We want to stay in Beirut, we will be expanding our businesses abroad – we can’t risk losing everything again – however Lebanon is our roots nonetheless.

Azzi Osta Beirut

The rubble and debris of Azzi & Osta’s space

Beirut is often seen as the creative capital of the Middle East, what is this tragedy likely to mean for the city and the Middle Eastern fashion industry?
Beirut is resilient and strong, Beirut loves arts and creativity. We hope it will bring back the creative community stronger, with bigger support.

What needs to be done to ensure designers and fashion houses can survive and rebuild?
Designers need support – this was a very hard blow to the whole industry, designers needs to design and create. We had Covid-19 constraints, a collapsed economy and a devalued currency – designers need resources, need the ability to move forward. 

And what support do you need from consumers and the regional fashion community at this time?
Azzi & Osta is never an address, we will be back and we can’t wait to show them and receive their love – just like they have all been showering us with it since August 4. Azzi & Osta is the power of its team and the love of its clients and the support of the press and media and the reassurance of our worldwide partners which we value endlessly.

Azzi Osta Beirut

The designer’s hope to rebuild their atelier

How has the explosion affected you personally?
We have been so busy trying to salvage our dreams, no time to fall… personally we are changed, we are disappointed but we are filled with motivation.

Finally, how are you trying to stay positive during this time and what is your hope for the future?
By staying busy, by knowing we are surrounded by so much support morally and by seeing our teams safe and active and wanting to make things happen same way we do. By simply being forward thinkers. Azziandosta.com

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