The nominations haven’t been announced yet, but Lebanese designers are already busy making dresses that will likely appear on celebrities during next year’s award season.

"This is the time of year we start our [haute] couture collection for Paris fashion week in January," says George Chakra, who designed Helen Mirren’s dress when she won the 2007 Oscar for best actress. "It’s usually from these fashion shows that celebrities pick their dresses."

At the beginning of the year, Lebanese designers Elie Saab and Rabih Kayrouz participated in the semi-annual weeklong haute-couture fashion show in Paris as part of the prestigious Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. Zuhair Murad, Mr. Chakra and Georges Hobeika showed their collections on their own during the same week, making the total of Lebanese designers who debuted their work in Paris at least five. Mr. Chakra calls this phenomenon "the Lebanese invasion," similar to the 1980s when Japanese designers burst onto the scene.

Beirut’s emergence as a fashion city is relatively recent. When Halle Berry won for best actress in 2002, Elie Saab became the first Lebanese to dress an Oscar winner, making him an overnight sensation. Today, the clothes of Mr. Saab and other Lebanese designers are regularly spotted at red-carpet events.

Lebanese evening gowns vary in style, from clean and simple to fully studded. But what they seem to have in common is their "wearability" and the fact that they find inspiration from their cultural heritage, often long and flowing, and with intricate stitching.

"When you see an Arab dress on the red carpet, you know it," says Amine Jreissati, fashion editor for Marie Claire Arabia. "The culture is in the dress, in the cut and the shape, with layers and movement. And there’s also the embroidery. It’s these small details that make a difference."

The Lebanese have a long tradition of clothes-making and embroidery. In the old neighborhoods of Beirut one can still find small ready-to-wear clothing stores by local designers, textile shops sell materials for the country’s thriving custom-made suit business, and tailors on nearly every street repair clothes on-the-spot at their shops, often the size of a closet.

Designer Reem Acra has spent most of her life outside of her native Lebanon, but she remembers with nostalgia the Saturday afternoon shopping trips she took with her mother downtown at the souks of Beirut to buy fabric. Today, at her office in New York, she still has the first piece she designed at age seven, a white empire dress made of guipere lace. "I understood fashion at a young age," says Ms. Accra, crediting her upbringing in Beirut for her design savvy. "I would have designed the dress the same way today."

A walk through the streets of Beirut, which is a Mecca for people watching with its outdoor cafes and vibrant nightlife, shows how Lebanese styles are influenced by their country’s French connection and their own tradition as the most liberal city in the Arab world. It was in this setting that Mr. Saab was raised, during the pre-war, Lebanese golden era of the 1960s and 70s, in a city that inspired him to become a fashion designer, despite the fact that there were no prominent haute-couture designers at the time.

"I grew up surrounded by beautiful women. Lebanese women are always elegant, and they’re an example for the rest of the Arab world," says Mr. Saab, wide-eyed and smiling as he sketches a dress on a pad of paper at his boutique in downtown Beirut, the first neighborhood to be nearly fully restored following the end of the country’s civil war nearly 20 years ago. (During the 2006 summer war, downtown Beirut wasn’t hit.)

Today, across the street from Elie Saab is the showroom of Zuhair Murad, a relative newcomer, whose gowns have appeared on Miley Cyrus, among other celebrities. In a country that is known more for war than anything else, and where its most talented professionals tend to settle abroad, the presence of these fashion house headquarters in the middle of Beirut is significant.

Designer Rabih Kayrouz admits that he never expected to return to his home country after finishing his studies in Paris. "I came back to Beirut for an exhibition, and then decided to stay," recalls Mr. Kayrouz, who returned in 1990, the year Lebanon’s civil war ended. "It was the post-war period, and something amazing was happening. A lot of people were coming back, and everyone wanted to contribute."

His homecoming also coincided with the success of then up-and-coming Lebanese designer Elie Saab. "Elie Saab opened the door," says Mr. Kayrouz, at his boutique near downtown Beirut. "He really launched Lebanese fashion everywhere. When I say I’m from Lebanon, everyone answers ‘Elie Saab.’ I’m really happy that he paved the way for me and put Lebanon on the map."

Now, Mr. Kayrouz believes it is his turn to encourage a new generation of Lebanese fashion designers. Through a nonprofit organization called Starch that he established last year, young designers have a venue downtown to showcase their collections for six months, and then get support in launching their own brands. "I have experience, and I can share that with people getting started," says Mr. Kayrouz. "I believe this industry should evolve and rejuvenate."

Ronald Abdala, a young designer who graduated from St. Martin’s College in London in 2004, is grateful for the mentorship in his field, but would also like to see Lebanese designers take more risks. "Lebanese designers have done everything right. Now we’re in demand," says Mr. Abdala. "But we need to push the envelope."

Linda Selwood Choueiri, who launched Lebanon’s first BA in fashion design in 2006 at Notre Dame University in Louaize, agrees. She is hoping the course will encourage young designers to launch their careers in their home country and increase the atmosphere of creativity in Lebanon. She says, "Give us another five years, and there will be a real boom."

—Brooke Anderson is a writer based in Beirut.

Write to Brooke Anderson at