When we meet in his Paris residence, in the coveted residential neighbourhood of the 16th arrondissement, Elie Saab, casually dressed in plain black jeans and a black top, exudes warmth and kindness paired with endearing shyness and dignity. With a polite welcome, Monsieur Saab, as his entourage calls him, immediately scans his surroundings with an observant gaze and adjusts the flowers on the dining room table.
The Parisian apartment seems to reflect the Saab aesthetic: classic luxury with a modern twist, all of it meticulously composed. High ceilings with 19th-century crown mouldings and parquet floors are juxtaposed throughout with elements of modern design and a dominant colour palette of black and gold. In the entrance, oversize custom-made floor lamps, created in collaboration with famed Lebanese architect Chakib Richani, light up the room. Marble tables with steel legs, also designed by Richani, set a modern tone.
The living room features an antique chandelier made of crystal and gilded chiselled bronze and 19th-century style Parisian crown molding throughout
In the majestic living room, an antique crystal and gilded bronze chandelier hang over a pair of black custom-made Italian cubic coffee tables and Italian black woven-leather sofas. The elegance and grandeur of the room are whimsically offset with an aluminium chair and decorative circular sculptures discovered in a flea market artfully positioned by the beautifully draped French windows. “I like the mix and match of this apartment,” says Elie. “Classic French and modern at the same time with ’70s influences. I like how the sunlight comes in the apartment. I feel very comfortable when I’m here.”
Elie Saab with his wife Claudine Saab in their living room furnished with custom-made Italian woven leather sofas and Italian cubic coffee tables. Claudine Saab wears a moonlight off-the-shoulder lace evening gown and black stilettos, both Elie Saab
Elie, along with Claudine, his wife of 27 years, and their three sons, Elie Jr., Selim, and Michel, divide their time between France and Lebanon, their country of origin. And while they consider Paris their home in many ways and certainly an important hub of the Elie Saab brand, Beirut seems to be where the heart of Elie belongs. “First and foremost, I am the Lebanese Saab,” he says. “My attachment to my country and my region is very important.”
Despite difficult childhood memories tainted by the Lebanese civil war, Beirut is where his fashion journey began. Confined to his home as bombs detonated outside, Elie started making patterns from newspapers and dresses from any materials he could find at the early age of nine. “I believe I was born to make dresses,” the designer says. “There was no school and with the war, there was nothing to do. I can’t explain why and how but I just felt normal when I started to cut fabric.”
Gradually Elie turned his hobby of making dresses for his sisters and friends into a source of revenue to help support his parents and younger siblings. It was an unexpected vocation with an adjustment period for the Saab family – his father, a timber merchant, would have liked him to be a doctor, lawyer, or engineer – but his country instantly embraced him. At 17, in the midst of the civil war, Elie founded his first atelier in Beirut, where he fulfilled orders for a growing list of clients from Lebanon and the Gulf region. “I presented my first collection in Beirut in 1982,” recalls Elie, “and it was immediately successful. It was received like a ray of sunlight during wartime. “
The foyer features marble tables with steel legs and custom-made floor lamps created in collaboration with Chakib Richani. 1970s style steel candle holders found in a flea market are displayed on the tables
His designs, ethereal and feminine and often adorned with embellishments and detailed embroidery, allowed a much-needed escape, and Elie quickly became a favourite in the circuit of Arab princesses and queens. He regularly dresses Queen Rania of Jordan, who wore a champagne-coloured dress-suit for her husband King Abdullah’s coronation in 1999, an Elie Saab design that she wore again 10 years later for the anniversary of the king’s coronation.
The reciprocal allegiance between Elie and his country was key to the brand’s recognition. For Elie, the conflict in the region pushed him to succeed. “It gave me a lot of courage and resilience,” he says. “I felt that nothing could stop me. In a way, this war gave me strength and forged who I am.”
For more pick up a copy of the November 2018 issue of Harper's Bazaar Arabia
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