Lebanese designer brings haute couture to Vancouver (w/gallery)

Published: July 17, 2013


Fashion designer Gianni Maanaki in his new store, July 17th, on Vancouver’s Granville street. He is a favourite designer for celebrities in the Middle East. (Ward Perrin/PNG)

Gianni Maanaki doesn’t want any Vancouver woman to ever experience the embarrassing fashion faux pas of showing up at an event in the same dress as another guest.

That’s where the Lebanese designer’s custom-made gowns come in.

This month, Maanaki opened his first showroom in Vancouver amid luxury retailers in the South Granville shopping district, believed to be the first haute couture atelier of its kind in the city.

Open by appointment only, the boutique allows customers to have a private consultation with Maanaki who collaborates with them to create one-of-a-kind dresses.

Born in Lebanon, Maanaki moved to Vancouver with his family in 1993. But until recently, the designer said he still spent most of his time back home where he worked as the exclusive designer for several Middle Eastern royal families.

This year, he decided to give up his prestigious 30-year career in Lebanon and set up a new shop in Vancouver. The heavy time commitment working for the royals didn’t allow him much freedom to design for other clients, he said.

“To be honest, I’m tired,” he said. “I want to be home and with my family.”

Maanaki said Vancouver is also experiencing an exciting fashion revival at the moment. He got a taste of that when he headlined Vancouver Fashion Week in 2009, and again this spring.

The show was a huge success, he said, with clients asking to buy the dresses straight off the runway.

One of those customers was Russian beauty Ioulia Reynolds of Real Housewives of Vancouver fame, who called the designer with a request for a custom gown to wear for the show’s opening sequence.

“It made me feel like, ‘Yeah, I should open (a store) here,’” Maanaki said with a laugh.

Maanaki said he dreamt of being a fashion designer for as long as he could remember, and wasted no time trying to break into the industry. At 16, he was enrolled in design school, and two years later, opened his first factory by himself.

It didn’t take long for Maanaki’s garments to grace the glitterati of the Arab World, like Lebanese singer Haifa Wehbe and pop icon and model Amal Hijazi.

Maanaki’s specialty is women’s evening wear, in which he combines Hollywood elegance with Middle Eastern influences.

Inspired by the female silhouette, his designs are a mix of sexy, with a lot of sheer fabrics, and exotic, with touches of texture like brocade and beading that conjure images of curvaceous belly dancers and colourful Arabian bazaars.

“When you mix the two together, it makes something ‘Wow,’” he explained.

Although his dresses are ornate, Maanaki has a love for simple, minimalistic lines, reflected in his vast and glossy all-white showroom. The only pops of colour are in the towering orchid flower arrangements and a regal-looking purple ottoman, a fitting choice considering Maanaki’s royal connections.

Maanaki, who considers himself more of an artist, said he wanted a simple backdrop to showcase his decadent dresses, which he sees as works of art. Clients often ask which dresses are his favourites, a question he said he never likes to answer.

“How can I say that? All of them are like my babies,” he said. “I create them all so I love them all.”

He declined to give exact prices, but said his dresses range anywhere from $1,500 to $15,000, the latter price tag being a floor-length Swarovski crystal-studded wedding gown.

Fellow fashion designer Shainin Hudda, who is also an instructor at the Vancouver Art Institute fashion design program, said Maanaki’s high-end gowns are a welcome addition to the Vancouver fashion scene, known for its casual, yoga clothing.

“It’s great to see high-calibre designers choose Vancouver as their base,” she said. “This will hopefully extend our reach to a place on the world fashion map.”

Maanaki said he has high hopes his showroom will be a success in Vancouver. However, the boutique had a rocky start this week with a break-in Tuesday when a thief smashed a glass panel beside the front door and stole an iMac.

Fortunately, none of their precious merchandise was taken, he said. Still, the irony was not lost on Maanaki who said he left the Middle East partly to escape the often-volatile region for the safety of Canada.

“I feel more safe here … but now after they broke the door, I’m worried a little bit,” he joked.


Gianni Maanaki's designs

Picture 1 of 18

Models walk the runway for a Haute Couture fashion show by Gianni Maanaki to mark the opening of his store in the South Granville shopping district, Vancouver July 05 2013. Gerry Kahrmann/PNG

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