Today, Elie Saab Junior heads up the Elie Saab Group as CEO, overseeing the running of the company from a business perspective.
Elie Saab Junior. Photographer: Carl Halal
We met Elie Junior in Paris ahead of the Spring/Summer 2023 Haute Couture show and it was clear that he has a strong vision for the company which comprises the heritage and DNA of the brand as well as what he believes the next generation of clients are looking for. Over the past few years, he has, alongside his father, been implementing a plan of restructuring within the company, taking the brand further to create an entire Elie Saab lifestyle that will captivate its consumers. Here we find out more about the future of the Elie Saab Group.
On a Group level, what is the vision and positioning of Elie Saab today and what’s the objective that you are working on for 2023?
For the past few years, we have been working on reorganizing the infrastructure of the group, preparing for the next phase of growth. In 2019, we initiated an action plan to secure the sustainability of the business as an independent company. We implemented that restructuring plan by end of 2020 and that has been constantly revisited to reach our status. Amid the pandemic, at a time when there was no visibility on how the world would turn out or how the business would pick up, we created a solid platform for a big comeback and we managed to set the records straight. Today I confidently say that 2022 was a lucrative year for Elie Saab when it comes to top-line or profitability, confirming that the plan we developed is on point and we are properly following the right track. From this, we can keep building towards our strategy granting positive results. It is a laborious effort, self-financed and strategically focused.
Did you have to compromise by closing certain boutiques around the world to make sure you focused on the repositioning or relaunching of others?
I would say we optimized our retail footprint differently. In 2019 we had ten boutiques around the world located in five countries. Our aim was to extend our presence geographically in key markets by dropping out five locations to focus on our flagships in these markets while cutting down some operating expenses and improving the use of our resources within the organisation. Building on our strategy in 2022, we opened in five new markets, ending the equation with ten locations in ten markets to diversify the demographic and geographic expansion. We live in a turbulent world so it’s important to balance this. We have projected by 2024, around five new doors in different markets, with a focus on The United States and Europe, this will increase the global footprint and reach of Elie Saab, and at the same time, allow us to push our new product offering. Our mission is dedicated to positioning ourselves as a luxury lifestyle brand. Elie Saab is a brand that has a lot to offer. We have all the components to present to a wider audience a luxurious lifestyle offering. Today there is a demand for Elie Saab Maison around the world which was proven by the market. As a business unit, it has grown by thirty-five per cent yearly since we launched.
Tell us about the Elie Saab Maison segment and where is it today.
Today, Elie Saab Maison has gained an important position in the marketplace and represents a strong pillar in the Elie Saab World. This new segment was developed and launched during the pandemic in Milan, a sceptical timing when the global situation was drastically unstable. But slowly as the world started opening again, we witnessed a lot of demand from distributors around the world as well as from private clients and developers. And by 2021, the demand grew bigger, and the projects have taken another proportion! This evolution has positioned Elie Saab Maison as key player in the branded furniture segment. The main showrooms are located in Milan, Beirut, Paris, Dubai and Qatar. Our main hub remains in Milan as it is the capital of design. The product is made in Italy under the driving team of Elie Saab Maison operating in Milan.
How challenging is it for you to maintain a coherent message and performance across the group and not drift from the DNA of the brand?
The formula is simple: positioning and product offering. From this point, you can derive many things – your marketing strategy, your distribution strategy etc. – while reflecting the DNA of the brand. And this is crucial in our approach with all parties or business stakeholders we deal with. And from there on, anything that does not fit this purpose will not see the light. We are very keen on protecting the DNA of the brand with the right balance and sense of perfection.
How would you describe Elie Saab Maison today?
A sophisticated luxury and high craftsmanship, carrying our style and aesthetics. It takes time to build this, yet it is executed in a refined and discreet way. We are working on building an identity for this entity that will gain its own place in the furniture world and reflect the brand’s essence.
What are the challenges you face today?
As a Group, we are one of the few brands that remains independent, and it is not an easy quest to sustain in this competitive marketplace with the big giants of the industry. So of course, this brings a lot of challenges, but we embrace them in a positive way with the main drive being our independence and ownership. So far, this has given us the leeway to improve and progress by breaking some of the traditional rules of doing things by taking prompt decisions at the right time. This is one of the operational strengths that we have and something I would like to maintain for a while.
We have seen several recent openings in the Middle East in all sectors of the business – tell us about Elie Saab in the region and what’s in the pipeline.
First, the main strategy-driven development plan is to increase the Elie Saab footprint globally. During the restructuring phase, the idea was to focus on the region with the highest brand equity. Maintaining stores in the key capitals of the world while looking for tactical opportunities. At that time, we didn’t have clear visibility mainly due to the global crisis. Post-COVID however, we encountered great opportunities on the market with unexpected potential locations, we then took the step forward to expand and enter Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Milan, Riyadh, St Barts and St Tropez at the right time and today we strongly believe that they are valuables assets in our portfolio.
The Middle East is definitely one of the markets where we want to consolidate our presence because of the importance of the brand and the equity there. Seeing the development in the region today makes us so proud and we’re so happy to be part of that wave and put in place the operation of the brand in this area with the new generation, which is in fact my generation. In any case, Elie Saab’s strong presence in the region is a natural and organic practice. Today, our mission to drive the expansion is a priority for us. Owning full operation in Dubai, we extended our development into Abu Dhabi and opened at the Galleria Al Maryah Island followed by Qatar in Katara Island where we present the whole universe of the brand. Recently in KSA in VIA Riyadh a new and promising Mall, and we are very excited about that. So, we went from having one location in the Middle East to four, which is an important increase in such a short period.
At the same time, in Europe, we opened a new store in Milan. It’s a key capital and a good addition to our ecosystem along with Paris and London. We also increased our presence from an operational standpoint, opening new headquarters in Switzerland where we house the business development, the commercial operations, a distribution hub and a main warehouse for Ready to Wear. We also opened stores in St Tropez and St Bart, our first seasonal locations that we intend to develop on.
Do you believe in pop-up stores?
I definitely believe in pop-us, but it is important to have the time, resources and the right plan for these models. Our current strategy is to focus more on seasonal locations that will remain permanently.
What about the presence of Elie Saab in Asia, is this something you are looking at?
We are studying the market carefully, and understanding the dynamics but at the same time, we still have a lot of opportunities to develop the brand in the regions where we are already in. Having the presence of Elie Saab in Asia is something that we’re looking at very seriously, but in due time.
Today, you are the group CEO, tell us how it came about and how it functions today.
As far back as I can remember, I always had the vision and ambition to see the business grow. It was a no-brainer for me to be part of the organisation from day one and of course, I grew within. I witnessed the ups and downs and today, in my role and my responsibility, I am heading towards fulfilling and completing the vision of my father, while opening new perspectives and driving the business forward. What Mr Saab has created over 40 years has built a legacy that aims to maintain its growth and expansion around the world and this mission as much as it may seem easy to lead, it makes it harder in some ways.
What would you like to achieve that you haven’t achieved yet?
Well, I don’t believe I have achieved anything yet! There is still a lot more to go, if I were to identify my target, we are still climbing up the cliff and there is so much more to do. Slowly but surely, we will get there.
What is your personal motto?
To keep the drive, I cannot follow one motto because we face challenges every day and you must have a certain mindset to adapt. But I would say “never give up”, “always keep aspiring towards perfection” and “don’t let anything bring you down” are key mottos. Any challenge that you face should be looked at as a learning curve. The challenges will never stop no matter what you achieve so if you overcome them with poise and insight it will help move into the next phase. That’s how we manage to get through tough times, and this is what I learnt from my father; as many challenges as I’ve faced, he came across much more in forty years!
What is a lesson you have learned from your father that you will pass on to your own children?
Keeping your head on your shoulders. I think that is the biggest lesson I’ve seen throughout my life and assimilated quite well. It may not be easy to understand and assess for the new generation, who can be easily carried away by moments of success. I have seen this in real-time and my father has been a great example and mentor. Seeing him grow through his career to the point he’s at today, without changing one bit, is something that marked us all deeply and strongly. It is one of the many lessons I’ve learnt from my father, but I do believe it is a genuine message for generations to come.