Special Lebanese Souvenirs: Forever lasting & more (reel) gems

Some of the best souvenirs to wear and cultural offerings to fit in your suitcase

Fashion

Unbeknown to many, Beirut is a veritable fashion Mecca! If you’re looking for haute couture, there are some big international names to check out, frequently represented on Hollywood’s and Cannes’ red carpets: Elie SaabZuhair MuradReem AcraGeorges ChakraKrikor Jabotian.

Timi Hayek is a young and upcoming designer with highly wearable designs that come in gentle hues. Look out for her Viento y Terra collection and hand-painted silk scarves. 

Whether you’re looking for traditional garments, traditional pieces with a modern twist, every-day-wear or an item signed by one of the great Lebanese fashion houses, Beirut has something for every taste and shape. 
Looking for high-end, perfectly finished abayat, Orient 499 in Clemenceau will simply amaze you.

Foreverlasting, Sparkling Souvenirs

Lebanon’s haute couture creations need a little sparkle to dazzle. Not surprisingly, Lebanon’s jewellery sector is on par with international hubs such as Switzerland, South Africa and Russia. The sector, often run by family-businesses, goes back over a century. A key turning point was the exodus of Armenians in the wake of the genocide, many of which came to Lebanon, bringing along their fine craft.

Mostly based in Beirut, there is a vast range of young, successful jewellery designers as well as old, established names. A good place to start is the Gold Souk at Beirut Souks where Mouawad is based. The Beiruti family has been making fine jewellery since 1890 when founder David Mouawad opened a small shop in Beirut. Currently in its fourth generation, the famous brand makes jewellery, watches, perfumes and accessories. Besides having one of the largest and most spectacular private diamonds collections in the world, the luxury brand have also four Guiness Book World Records, notably for having created the most valuable necklace in the world – the Mouawad l’Incomparable Diamond Necklace.

Rosa Maria Jewellery is based in the creative and design hub of buzzing Mar Mikhael. Her distinct pieces boldly mix silver and gold embracing rose-cut diamonds, rubies, sapphires and topaz.

Rosa Maria is a prime example of how younger Lebanese jewellers shift towards being jewellery designers and creating more avant-garde pieces.

Carpets

Can you leave the Orient without a carpet? If the answer is no, then head to Tabaris and visit Hadi Maktabi Rare Carpets & Antiques Gallery. It is the ultimate carpet treasure trove, established by Hadi Maktabi, an expert in rare carpets who holds a PhD and lectures at the American University of Beirut.

Art

Beirut boasts a great number of established galleries and gallerists. If you want to invest into local art or to add Lebanese art to a friend or loved one’s collection, consider visiting these select galleries: Agial in Hamra and Janine Rubeiz in Raouche as well as Fadi Mogabgab – Art Contemporain and Artlab Galerie in the heart of Gemmayzeh, feature contemporary and modern artists. Plan Bey in Mar Mikhael specialises in prints and photography.

Make sure your goodies are well wrapped and protected for the (long) journey home, if necessary insured. Some of the shops may be able to assist in shipping items to your address.

For Book Worms and Book Lovers

Lebanon has yet to produce a Nobel Prize for Literature but the literary output compared to the size of the country, is rather impressive.

Long before Amin Maalouf was admitted to the Académie Française, Lebanese literature did get read abroad. Ever since the first publication of an Arabic printing press appeared in Khenchara in 1734, Lebanon became an important centre for Arabic publications and given that the country and its education system are multi-lingual, literary output has been happening in Arabic, French, English and Armenian.

Among the classics (written in Arabic and translated into over 50 languages!) is of course Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet. A multitude of editions are available, some even tri-lingual (Arabic, English, French).

Librairie Antoine, which has a number of branches around the country and the Librairie Internationale on the ground floor of Hamra’s Gefinor Centre (Block D) have a great selection of books paired with knowledgeable and helpful staff.

Papercup Store in Mar Mikhael, stocks a large selection of magazines and coffee table books focusing on art and design. Quaint and smaller than the others listed, Dar Bistro & Books nonetheless successfully manages to carry a distinct selection of international and Arabic literature, as well as coffee table books and magazines.

For art books and publications focusing on Lebanese and Arab artists, the best address is Recto Verso in Monot, run by art critic and publisher Cesar Nammour and his partner Gabriela Schaub.

Dawawine is a hybrid space that boasts a fine and quite large and comprehensive collection of books in Arabic, French and English on theatre, dance, cinema, video and music, to browse or buy.

Who and what to read?

Novels by Hoda Barakat, Elias Khoury, Rabih Alameddine, Rawi Hage, Rabee Jaber, Hanan Al-Shayk and Lamia Ziade. For a full immersion, Arablit compiled an excellent list comprising of 50 titles.

Regarding non-fiction, Fawwaz Traboulsi’s History of Lebanon and Kamal Salibi’s A House of many Mansions, as well as David Hirst’s Beware of Small States and Samir Kassir’s History of Beirut are essential readings for anyone interested in Beirut, Lebanon and the region; Anthony Shadid’s House of Stone is a beautifully-written masterpiece, set mostly in Marjayoun, in the South.

Reel Gems

Despite the fact that the Lebanese cinema industry does not receive notable official support, its filmmakers have managed to produce significant cinematic works.

The documentary genre generally outdoes fiction. Here are a few noteworthy titles to consider for a cinephile friend or relative:

Hady Zaccak’s documentary Marcedes is a great medium to gain insight into Lebanon’s recent history as the accomplished director blends various media, including archival footage and a sense of humour.

The Lebanese Rocket Society, directed by Joanna Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige is about one of the most captivating – true – stories that took place in the 1960s.

Rania Stephan retraces the life of famous Egyptian actress Souad Hosny in The Three Disappearances of Souad Hosny.

When Maryam Spoke Out (Lamma Hikyit Maryam) is a drama that touches on the social pressure a married, childless couple has to endure.

Sector Zero explores the Karantina area on the periphery of Beirut, once the Ellis Island of Lebanon, and a site of a massacre during the Civil War.

12 Angry Lebanese by Zeina Daccache centres on the adaptation of Twelve Angry Men, starring inmates of Beirut’s notorious Roumieh prison.

Among the feature films that stand out and have won over audiences – and awards – around the world are Ziad Doueiri’s 1997 gem West Beirut, Nadine Labaki’s Caramel and also Where do We Go Now?

Set on the Lebanese-Israeli border, The Kite by Randa Chahhal Sabbagh, which stars famous musician and social commentator Ziad Rahbani, was awarded the Silver Lion in Venice. OK, Enough, Goodbye (Tayeb, Khalass, Yalla) is a quirky movie by Rania Attieh and Daniel Garcia that takes place in Tripoli. Josef Fares’ film heart-warming Zozo is partly set in war-torn Beirut and in Sweden, where a young orphan is reunited with his grandparents.

Stray Bullet, a 2010 drama was directed by George Hachem, and is set in 1976 Beirut. The lead character, played by Nadine Labaki is about to get married when she sets up a fateful rendezvous with her ex-lover…

The heart-warming Ghadi is carried by popular Lebanese actor George Khabbaz and set in the picturesque souks of Batroun.

Serious film buffs will be delighted to showcase an original, eye-catching Arabic Cinema poster in their lounge, foyer or office. Hands down the largest collection of these rare items can be found at Dar al Furat Publishing based in Manara, near the Chatila Mosque. Publisher and collector Abboudi Abou Jaoude’s treasure trove is a bit tricky to find but so worth it! His rare stock is situated in the base of a building where the publishing business has its warehouse. Whether you are looking for Omar Sharif or Sabah or Hind Rustom – he will have posters featuring them. Just don’t ask him for Twenty-Four Hours to Kill in Beirut near the door – that one is not for sale.

Virgin Megastore as well as Metropolis Sofil both stock a good selection of local titles and the relevant, accompanying literature.

Good buys for a good cause

Established in 2012, to help refugees from Syria in Lebanon, Basmeh and Zeitooneh’s Women Workshop was set up to empower women and offer them them an opportunity to support their families. Their embroidery workshops make beautiful hand-made pieces. The project was awarded the Women, Sowers of Development Prize 2015.

In a similar vein, Tatreez promotes the making of handcrafted products based on the recovery of the techniques and colours of traditional Palestinian embroidery. Their products include cushions, to shawls, scarves, bags, clutches, pouches accessories and belts.

Besides being home to a fine Armenian restaurant, Badguer promotes local Armenian arts and crafts.

This Article is a 3 part report on Lebanese Souvenirs - Subscribe to Secrets of Beirut to receive more updates.

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