Elie Saab was born in 1964, into a family with no links to fashion. In interviews he told that right from the beginning, ‘he dreamed only of escaping to fantastic faraway lands’. His first dress was created at the age of nine, for a younger sister; he spent all his spare time designing (and I’m not quite sure how his mother must have felt about her son taking his scissors to her curtains and tablecloths…). Word of his talent spread, and by the time he was a teenager, the most elegant women in the area were beating a path to this self-taught designer’s door. Astonishingly, at just 18, Elie Saab opened his own couture house with more than a dozen accomplished seamstresses!
Elie Saab Haute Couture dress (Click photo to enlarge).
Until he launched his debut fragrance, Elie Saab Le Parfum, this Lebanese designer was a well-kept secret shared by some of the world’s most elegant and best-dressed women: a creator of beautiful, often bejewelled and richly-embroidered couture gowns which often reference his Lebanese background, yet look so perfect on that glamorous red carpet.
The designer: Elie Saab
The luxury and detail of Elie Saab‘s designs soon won over the Middle East; today, he is the personal designer for many princesses: Lebanon’s ‘golden boy’, and that team of a dozen seamstresses has grown to over 100, producing between 800 and 1000 made-to-measure gowns. His inspiration might be 1950s Hollywood glamour, or the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright or Le Corbusier. And his philosophy? ‘I like “womanly women”,’ he explains. ‘Women who twirl their dresses with desire and pride. Ever since my childhood in Lebanon, I’ve examined the way they dress. I’ve always wanted to please them by flattering their curves.’ And his sole ambition, he adds, ‘is to inject beauty into the lives of women.’ Today, he splits his time between the Middle East and Paris, where he was invited by the French Federation of Couture to show his collections on the official calendar.
A secret like Elie Saab can’t be kept for long, of course, and the East-meets-West nature of his gowns have been sought out by women from around the world for those moments when they long to shine and stand out: a wedding, a gala event, an Oscars ceremony… It was Halle Berry who put Elie Saab on the map when she wore a dress to the 2002 Acadamy Awards. Catherine Zeta-Jones, Beyoncé, Dita Von Teese and Christina Aguiliera have all worn his dresses, which are nicknamed the ‘stars’ lucky charm’. For the rest of us, there’s the ready-to-wear and accessories, and his perfumes…
Halle Berry, one of the most beautiful women, wore a rare red diamond bracelet by Harry Winston to match her amazing elegant Elie Saab couture dress.at the Acadamy Awards, 2002 (Click photo to enlarge)
It’s fair to say that nobody quite expected the phenomenal success of this (then) little-known designer’s debut fragrance. It was perfume maestro Francis Kurkdjian who was chosen to interpret the richness of the designer’s work alive with fragrant notes and harmonies. As Francis Kurkdjian comments: ‘What I found fascinating in working for Elie Saab was the idea of interpreting light; I didn’t have any specific images in mind, just sensations: the whiteness of the sun at its zenith, radiant femininity, a modern interpretation of voluptuousness…’ This floral solar woody fragrance was actually created as an ‘ode to light’: armfuls of orange blossom (a memory from Elie Saab‘s Mediterranean childhood), sumptuous absolutes from grandiflorum and sambac jasmine, sensually underpinned by patchouli heart. And in the base, a cedar woody accord, drizzled with rose honey for a touch of sweetness’.
Elie Saab ‘Le Parfum’, 2011
Launched in 2011, in its very first year Elie Saab Le Parfum scooped the coveted ‘Fragrance Foundation Award (FiFi)’ for Best New Fragrance in the UK, the US and France, a phenomenal hat trick. Now it’s been joined by Elie Saab L’Eau Couture, also ‘signed’ by Francis Kurkdjian, in which ‘the green theme is given a delicately gourmand twist, based on the faint whiff of fresh almond from budding orange blossoms, Saab’s signature note’, and with ‘a fresh, radiant vanilla’, in its lingering finale.
Elie Saab is, as Vanity Fair observed, ‘remarkable for his ability to make clothes that make women feel beautiful’. To which we’d add: and now, for making fragrances which make women feel gorgeous, too. And with no time-consuming couture fittings required…
by Jean Amr