by Sarah Maisey - thenational.ae
A fashion juggernaut rolled into Muscat for Condé Nast’s
third annual International Luxury Conference, with renowned designers
including Elie Saab, from Lebanon, as part of it. Founded and hosted by Vogue’s
international editor, Suzy Menkes, the event brought the leading lights
of the luxury industry together for a gathering featuring presentations
from chief executives, designers and bloggers. Alber Elbaz
(formerly of fashion house Lanvin), Indian fashion designer Manish Arora
and blogger Hudda Kattan (recently named the third-most influential
beauty blogger in the world by Forbes) were among them, along with the bosses at Jimmy Choo.
Saab took time out to talk about his rise to haute couture fame. "Breaking
into Paris was very hard for me, it took a long time," he says. "I
started as a designer alone and didn’t know much about the industry. I
had to learn it all." He opened his atelier in Beirut in 1982,
with the Lebanese civil war raging around him. Inspired by the style and
elegance of his city in its heyday, the 18-year-old Saab launched his
label, drawing on the experience of those around him. "When
I started there were no fashion designers in the region, but ... in
Beirut there were high- quality dressmakers and tailors," he says. "I
went to them with a clear vision of what I wanted."
designs soon gained attention and international acclaim slowly
followed. In 1997, he was the only non-Italian invited to join the
National Chamber of Italian Fashion (Camera Nazionale della Moda
Italiana) in Italy and went on to launch his first ready-to-wear
collection in 1998. Saab’s true passion lay in haute couture, so it was
with pride that he accepted an invitation in 2000 to join the Chambre
Syndicale de la Haute Couture in Paris. "We have our prêt-à-porter [ready-to-wear] studio in Paris, but our base for haute couture is in Beirut," he says."Some of my team members have been with me since the beginning and we have come up together. It is beautiful."
it comes to remaining true to his roots, he says: "I am happy I set the
example. I have opened the door for lots of other fashion designers
from the whole of this region, [giving them access to] the international
stage. I have a social responsibility now."
is fiercely proud of his Arab heritage and in 2013 helped launch the
region’s first fashion degree course at the Lebanese American University
in Beirut. Four years later, the first batch of graduates are about to
"We would like to do this all over the region. I can help
with exposure, because the level of design intelligence is already
here," he adds. He also feels proud to have been involved with the
hugely popular Project Runway reality-TV series on MBC.
wanted to get involved with this, to help all the young people sitting
at home," he says. "If a girl from a small city can still make good
work, what can she achieve if we open the door for her?"
He stresses, however, success does not come easy.
fashion industry is very hard, very competitive ... I have really
suffered to get here," he says. "For everything we do in this life,
there is struggle ... I don’t want my struggle to have been for
having global appeal and being stocked in more than 170 outlets
worldwide, Saab has relatively few stand-alone stores compared with his
He is due to open another store in a few months in
Geneva, which will add to outlets in Beirut, London, Paris, Dubai and