All Elie Saab ever wanted was to see women looking constantly beautiful, and to continually be inspired by them. A couple of decades later, the celebrated designer is still dressing the world’s most beautiful women, becoming a favourite amongst royalty, Hollywood starlets, and happy few. Travelling to London to venture into the unparalleled world of Elie Saab, Azza Arif gained an insight into the life of the passionate man behind one of the world’s most sought-after fashion empires, catching him before his flight to Beirut, the city he calls home that has inspired him as a designer.
A picture of refinement and elegance, Elie Saab greeted us at his four-storey flagship boutique on 24 Bruton Street in the heart of the prestigious Mayfair London. Donning a long black coat, black sweater, black ankle boots and dark sunglasses, he had a distinctive air of elegance and charm about him as he took us on a tour around his luxurious flagship store that houses everything from ready-to wear to accessories, fragrances, bridal collection and his haute couture salon.
I walked into a universe that was inspired by the signature elements of the Elie Saab style; a fusion of femininity, luxury and modernity. The structure of his London boutique juxtaposes classically beautiful 18th century grandeur, maintaining details that reflect the residential usage of the space until the 1930s such as the decorative mouldings, fireplaces and hardwood floors with touches of modern interior design of sleek contemporary furniture in Portoro black marble, brass and bronze. As we walked up the dramatic stone stairway featuring wrought iron guardrails in geometric lines of gold aluminium to the first floor that housed cocktail and eveningwear, I couldn’t help but stare in awe the monumental chandelier that greeted us upon arrival.
How, I wondered, did he succeed in remaining so relevant over the years in a cut-throat industry? How does he ensure his every design exudes the same elegance, sophistication and glamour as they did when he started his label in the early 80s? “My vision for beautiful women has always been there,” he tells me. Everything runs so smoothly in Saab’s world that we felt fully at ease during the interview. He led us towards the Haute Couture salon that was tucked away on the second floor with its very own
private entrance, that was accessible directly from the street.
Born in Damour, a village on the coast south of Beirut in 1964, Saab’s interest in dressmaking started when he was only nine; he designed clothes for his sisters. “I was only a teenager when I began my career,” he said. “I already knew what i wanted from a very young age. I used to look at the world around me in a different way from other children, and spent my time watching people, from the way they walk or dress. I wouldn’t see them as they were, but as they could be if they were dressed differently. Working in fashion was more my destiny than anything else.” Starting in Beirut before rapidly expanding his business to the Gulf region, Saab opened his first atelier in 1982. His big recognition outgrew the Middle East region when Halle Berry wore his stunning gown to the 2002 Oscars. The gown was intricately designed with embroidered flowers on a sheer material. It was a big hit and the brand exposure made his creations a red-carpet favourite ever since. “My dresses are timeless, and I feel very happy when my customers come up to me and tell me, ‘Do you remember this dress? You made it for me 20 years ago!’”
Not a man to dwell in the past, Saab constantly looks forward. He always thinks ahead to see how else he can cater to his ever growing and ever-loyal clientele. And he is hands-on; he is involved in industrial design, has a hand in accessories, his nose in perfumery, his eyes on eyewear and his heart set on Haute Couture. “My DNA is everywhere. It’s in the shoes, in the bags, in the sunglasses, in the perfumes…in every little detail.” Saab has recently launched a bridal line, displayed lavishly at the ground floor dedicated solely to fulfilling every girl’s dream of becoming a princess on her wedding day. Before the interview, I recalled having seen an elegant young woman, poised and refined with a twinkle of excitement in her eyes, led down a stairwell of immaculate marble to do her fitting. A display of empire-style furniture and unique use of mirrored walls add a dream-like aura to the space. It is accessible by appointment only.
So what is next? “To maintain what we have!” he said with a laugh. “It is a big responsibility to maintain what we have, and we are in (the midst of) big developments all around the world. We are opening boutiques and there are a lot of new projects in the pipeline.” Will he be opening anything in Asia? “I adore Asia, especially Malaysia!” he said with a warm smile. “Asia is undoubtedly a crucial market and I am very happy that we already have an important Asian clientele interested in the brand. I hope to extend further our footprints in key cities around the world.” But does that mean he will open a business in Malaysia? Well, a girl can dream! We spoke about his star-spangled, disco-themed ready-to-wear SS17 collection. “I wanted this collection to be fun and happy.
The ‘70s is an important era for me; the cheerfulness of the people, the coolness of the era and the easy life makes me want to revisit this period,” he tells me, recalling the era he grew up in, a decade that brought about new thoughts and ideas; feminism, the antiwar movement, and environmentalism. But with it came the outlandish and unapologetic fun disco era. Saab took a spoonful of that nostalgic magic of disco fashion and gave us multicolored fit-and-flare mini dresses, some worn under swoosh cloak jackets; colourful printed taut mini dresses with capes; tulle flared mini worn over a bodysuit; collared blouse worn with a short, pleated mini; a shiny blue crisscross halter gown with a pleated skirt and a black satin leg-of-mutton-sleeve jacket over a gown with an embroidered bodice— and none of it was subtle. Every detail of his Spring 2017 show was star spangled, from the gold-glitter dusted runway to the embroideries and prints on the dresses, gowns and separates. Even his models were stocked with stars from Karlie Kloss to Gigi Hadid and
Full article in our December 2016 issue….