Elie Saab… The mere mention of this Lebanese designer’s name evokes images of lavish and sophisticated couture creations, of romantic dresses elaborately accentuated with intricate and exotic embroidery…In short, of all that is feminine, yet sexy, stylish and majestic.
Born in Lebanon in 1964, Saab finished his school years and delved right into the world of fashion. In 1982, at the young age of 18, he opened his atelier in Beirut, which ultimately became a fashion haven for Arab princesses. “I just knew couture design was my talent and hobby,” said Saab in his interview with Today’s Outlook. “I never did anything else… I think I was born to be a designer.”
In line with his current reputation, it seems that everyone agrees. Saab has always had a unique style in fashion. His ultra feminine designs come in sumptuous fabrics and have intricate details that range from sequins to crystal embroidery and encrusted jewelry, making each gown original, exotic and unique. During the 1980’s and early 1990’s, Saab’s designs accommodated to the tastes of women of the Arab world. “I had to do a collection that suited them,” he said. When he launched himself in the international scene however, it was back to his original signature style: soft and delicate, the way he likes it. And today, “most women like this style,” he continued, “even the Arab taste has changed as women now prefer a cosmopolitan look.”
Saab’s signature style is a mixture of Eastern and Western cultures; a combination of European fashion and Middle Eastern details. This fusion is a result of his influence by his native culture and his deep interest in European fashion. Nonetheless, his inspiration has always been the woman.
The Saab woman
As Saab’s career expanded and his reputation grew, so did the list of celebrities he dressed. He is now one of the international designers whose stunning couture creations have been the red-carpet attire of celebrities and members of royal families all around the world at such prestigious events such as the Academy Awards, the Cannes Film Festival and the Golden Globes.
Shining in a stylish and elegant gown by Elie Saab Couture, Halle Berry was awarded Best Actress at the 2002 Academy Awards and was later named “Best Oscar Fashion Look from the past 75 years” in an ABC Oscar.com’s Night Fashion poll. Saab was thrilled with the poll results. “The dress was actually my favorite in the collection,” said Saab, “and I loved it even more when I saw it on Halle on the red carpet, as she was not only wearing it beautifully, but she was radiating joy.”
At the 55th Annual Emmy Awards, Debra Messing, star of the American sitcom "Will and Grace," was also wearing Elie Saab Couture when she received the Emmy Award for Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series. Last April, Ashanti and Jessica Simpson both selected gowns by Elie Saab Couture for their performances at VH1’s “Divas” concert, which took place in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand.
The list of Hollywood celebrities who choose to shine in Elie Saab Couture during their most momentous occasions doesn’t end here. Saab’s list of clients includes, among others, Elizabeth Hurley, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Rebecca Romjin-Stamos, Ashley Judd, Sharon Stone, Daryl Hannah, Courteney Cox-Arquette, Victoria Beckham, and Whitney Houston.
But before reaching fame in Hollywood, Saab has been a favorite couturier of society women in Lebanon and the Middle East as well as Arab royalties. Even Queen Rania of Jordan was dressed in Elie Saab the day she was crowned, and who could forget the princess from Qatar who instantly bought Saab’s $1 million wedding gown, encrusted with emeralds and diamonds, as it was being shown on the catwalk!
Saab finds that women who take joy in wearing his designs are refined, feminine and different in a sensitive way, regardless of their nationality. He admits that some may not like his work, but “I don’t think that any designer has all the styles that women may like,” he explained.
In 1997, Saab became the first non-Italian member of the National Chamber for Italian Fashion, and in July 2003, he became the first Lebanese designer to join the select Chambre Syndicale de la Couture in France. As such, the designer shows primarily his haute couture collections in Paris and his ready-to-wear line (launched in 1998) in Milan, where that collection is produced. This prestige was further highlighted in September 2003 when the designer was decorated with the Knight of the National Order of the Cedar medal by Lebanese President Emile Lahoud. In December 2003, Saab was named the Manager of the Year by the Hautes Etudes Commerciales Association in Lebanon in recognition of his leadership and contribution to placing Lebanon on the world fashion map.
Saab’s hard work, creativity and talent exhibited throughout the past 20 years are now bearing fruits in a variety of ways. Today, his career has grown to more than just women couture allowing Saab to cooperate with big names such as MAC Cosmetics, BMW and Johnny Walker. In collaboration with MAC, he created a makeup color palette so successful that he has continued doing so for three years now. His BMW experience was also a great one. Saab linked up with the brand to produce a special, limited-edition version of the award-winning BMW X5 by contributing to the car’s interior design. Saab’s interpretation of the X5’s character reflected a mixture of elegance, glamour, luxury and innovation. The limited edition of just 100 X5 vehicles was produced only for the Middle East region, and was dubbed a “perfect marriage of luxury and exclusivity”.
Most recently, Saab joined forces with Johnny Walker by creating an advertisement for the brand under the theme ‘Keep Walking’, which tells the story of Saab’s journey in the fashion world, making his name even more renowned. “I think the ad took a lot of success which I didn’t expect. My aim was simply to send a message to the young and I hope that that’s the way it was understood. This is not simply a commercial, it’s the story of a man’s life and his road to success,” explained Saab.
Elie Saab is fast becoming a household name, especially as he plans to start a line of perfumes and cosmetics, as well as a line of men’s clothing. The designer is working with other international names on new projects, but that is about all he would say. We’ll just have to wait until next year before we find out more. He did tell us however that after opening his first signature boutique in Beirut this year, he plans to open his second boutique in Paris next year and then in New York, London… making his way around the world.
Rooted in Lebanon
Though Elie Saab has witnessed quite a meteoric rise on the international fashion scene in the last four years, he stays deeply rooted in his Lebanese culture. In fact, it is in his atelier in Beirut where Saab creates over 250 wedding gowns and 400 evening dresses every year. Beirut, without a doubt, is at the heart of his inspiration, and the city that he, his wife Claudine, and their three children still call home.
Conquering the fashion world
The young and ambitious designer who began his journey in 1982 by designing evening dresses and wedding gowns for Lebanese women is today adorning the world’s elite with the most glamorous gowns. Today, Saab enjoys lavish new headquarters in fashionable Downtown Beirut and a company that employs over 250 people. Although 40 percent of Saab’s sales are in the Arab region, the designer is growing worldwide. Today, there are 70 Elie Saab points of sale around the world with 20 in the United States alone, including Miami, Beverly Hills, San Francisco, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, and Palm Beach.
So where does Saab dream to be ten years from today?
“I work tirelessly today hoping for a good future, but no one knows where he will be tomorrow, that’s in God’s hands,” he said.
And is Saab content with the magnitude of his success?
“I always want more. Believe me, I still consider myself to be at the beginning of a long road,” he concluded.
Halle Berry wearing Elie Saab Couture for her momentous 2002 Academy Awards Best Actress win