No dress, amongst all that Elie Saab has constructed, remains as important for the designer than that created for his wife: in 1990, Claudine Saab walked down the aisle in an exquisitely embroidered golden wedding gown, designed at the hands of her future husband.
July 4th, 2015, marked the 25th anniversary of the marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Saab and in celebration of this moment, the wedding gown of the latest Haute Couture collection paid homage to that of Claudine’s.
Twenty craftsmen worked on the creation of the gown that took over 600 hours to complete. With its voluminous full skirt embroidered with gold silk thread and floral appliqués, the final Autumn Winter 2015-2016 wedding gown was a vision of love.
There is a sense that now is Elie Saab’s moment. His exquisite couture dresses are adored not only by Hollywood starlets on the red carpet but also by the most persnickety of fashion insiders and, crucially, by actual paying customers. Far from arriving like a bolt from the blue, however, he has been quietly pursuing a distinctive vision for the past two decades. Meet the modern master.
In 2006, Mr. Saab became the first Arab to be admitted to Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, the industry’s governing body. He lives in a war torn country and on the day he was admitted in the Syndicale de la Haute Couture there was a conflict between Hesbollah and Israeli forces. He is well in formed and a true countryman of Beirut where he and his wife live. Now days they spend time between Beirut and in Paris. This is a man that inhabits a world of contrasts so extreme as to appear irreconcilable. It is a peculiar niche, but one in which he seems entirely at home, if not entirely comfortable.
He is a tortoise in an industry better known for it’s hares. He has sought and achieved success rather than celebrity. He is by no means a recluse or an oddball. He clearly has a gift for friendship, speaking affectionately and often of old friends. In person he is straight forward and down-to-earth. Nothing about his appearance or manner screams “fashion.” Although he scowls a lot , his face is gentle and guileless, especially when he grins, which he does frequently. He dresses well but unremarkably, in that universal blazer, jeans and loafers way.
He was Born in Damour, a village on the coast south of Beirut, in 1964, the eldest son of a middle-class Maronite timber merchant. Damour was desecrated and mostly destroyed by the P.L.O. in 1976, in one the early atrocities of the cvil war. Rather than moving abroad, as so many Lebanese did, the Saabs moved into central Beirut, to be nearer to his father’s family.
At the age of nine he started making patters from newspapers and dresses from any material he could get his hands on. His parents wished he would do something else: “Like all normal families, they would have like me be a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer.” But they relented when it became clear that dressmaking was the only thing he wanted to do, and that he was very good at it. Soon he was spending all of his spare time making dresses for his family and friends. He was, in a way, in business long before he was in business. Apart from a brief stint at a Paris design school when he was 17, he is self-taught.
His debut show, at the Casino du Liban, was well received. He made regular trips to Jeddah, Riyadh, and Dubai, taking orders for dresses that incorporated his signature bled of Western and Middle Eastern elements. Queen Rania of Jordan wore Elie Saab for her coronation. One of his dresses-somewhat less demure, presumably, than Queen Rani’s and thickly embroidered with emeralds and diamonds-was reportedly sold for $2.4 million
Recognition beyond the Middle East came overnight when Halle Berry wore Elie Saab to the 2002 Oscars. Saab smiles as he remembers that the star required some extra sequined foliage to cover what would otherwise have been a nearly naked left breast. Her tearful acceptance speech for the best-actress award was seen by tens of millions of viewers. The brand exposure was colossal, and Saab has been a red-carpet favorite ever since. He is a remarkable man for somehow managing to stay put while also moving forward, and for his ability to make clothes that make women feel beautiful.
By J. Smith, S. King