The Lebanese billionaire and socialite Mouna Ayoub was first bitten by the couture bug over 20 years ago when she married Nasser Al-Rashid, a Saudi businessman and advisor to the late King Fahd of Saudi Arabia. On her wedding day in 1979 she wore a couture gown in ivory lace designed by Jean-Louis Scherrer. After 18 years in Riyadh, living in relative seclusion as a wife and mother of five, she divorced her husband in 1996 and left Saudi Arabia to live in Paris, where she made a fortune in real estate.
In 1997 she bought the mega yacht Phocéa, once owned by French businessman Bernard Tapie, for a cool 56.5 million Euros. Although this sprawling boat already boasted luxurious interiors and amenities, she sunk into it a further 18.25 million Euros in upgrades. To finance this undertaking she sold a portion of her jewels at Sotheby’s, which included the world’s largest yellow diamond, known as the Mouna diamond. Today the Phocéa has become her second home on which she travels around the world. The boat can often be found moored off the coast of many the world’s luxurious watering holes, including Cannes, Monte Carlo, and Marbella.
But Ms. Ayoub’s most lasting legacy may be her formidable haute couture collection which contains examples from every major couturier of the past 30 years. Numbering over 10,000 pieces, it is one of the largest haute couture collections in private hands today, and one which she continues to add pieces to each season (she is known to have bought 50 dresses in one year). From a fashion curator’s perspective what is impressive about her haul is that she is known to have collected only the most iconic pieces from a designer’s collection, regardless of their cost. These include Yves Saint Laurent’s famous 1988 dinner jacket covered in Van Gogh’s “Irises” by Lesage. The jacket, with its blue and green flower pattern traced in beads, had taken the Lesage studios 700 hours of handwork to complete. Even at the peak of their buying power in 1988, only ll haute couture customers purchased the completed “Irises” garment by Yves Saint Laurent, which was dubbed “the world’s most expensive cardigan.”Amongst Ayoub’s collection is also a stunning slender evening coat from Chanel’s autumn/winter 1996/1997 collection, which required 800 hours of work to entirely embroider it in the same pattern as the Chinese Coromandel screens found in Coco Chanel’s apartment.
What makes her collection even more exceptional is that Ayoub, unlike many regular clients, never alters a couturier’s original designs. Even if a dress came from a designer’s more “challenging” collections, you’re still able to see the couturier’s original concept in her pieces. She sites Jean Paul Gaultier as her current favorite couturier, although she makes it a point to frequent all the houses. One of her most impressive pieces from Gaultier is an evening gown from Spring 1999 that morphs from a denim bodice into a cascading fishtail of ostrich feathers, fading from indigo blue to a stonewashed white as they hit the floor.
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