The beauty of a woman has always been a source of inspiration to exquisite creations; from the melodies composed by musicians to the songs written by poets, to the works of art by famous artists across history. But when it comes to couture and beautiful dresses there are the creative hands of Lebanese designer Elie Saab working to produce something quite special.
In Dubai during the launch of his latest fragrance “Le Parfum Essentiel”, we had the pleasure to meet the designer and enjoy a profound chat from the heart that was full of hope, humility and love. We travel with him on a journey into the world of couture, the successes, challenges, memories of childhood and his gratitude towards the Arab women who supported him from the beginning.
We are in Dubai for the launch of the new fragrance … Why did you choose Dubai, and tell us more about the fragrance ?
We took the main picture in Marrakech, and we wanted to capture the light around the fragrance. When you smell the fragrance for the first time you will feel that it’s surrounded by light, therefore we chose Dubai, because it is the only Arab country that has the exact amount of light that we want, and we saw that we are surrounded by a contemporary mix of vocabulary here and that we are only 5 minutes away from the desert, so we can see the light from elsewhere too. We tried to design a trip and a memorable experience for journalists where the significance was to witness the light of sunrise at dawn in the desert and the sunset and to see the difference between the contemporary city and the desert.
Perfumes are often associated with feelings and childhood memories, what is the first perfume that remains in your memory, and how do these memories reflect on the perfume compositions that you create?
Since we started the project of creating fragrances, there was a unique scent that was always attached to my memory. I still remember the days when we were children and our house in Damour in Lebanon was surrounded by stretches of orange blossom trees and on the balcony of our spacious house we had lots of Jasmine shrubs. It was that unforgettable combined scent that reminds me of spring and that is still completely stuck in my mind, and now when we create any new perfume, there are two main scents that are at the heart of our fragrance: the jasmine and orange blossom.
Who do you dedicate this fragrance to?
I dedicate it to every woman who loves Elie Saab and I know that not all women are able to buy the fashion of Elie Saab, so we want them to try this perfume, which has one of my touches.
You just showed your Haute Couture collection last month, tell us more about it.
It was the Mexican Empire that reigned at the end of the eighteenth century that inspired the collection. Women then were distinguished by dresses decorated with hearts and large sleeves, and this time was the first that I have used large sleeves of that size. Honestly apart of the colours that we used, we did not want to use black, we went for calm shades instead but with Mexican details especially when it comes to the craftsmanship of using the thread and the surrounding with Payette and lustre.
What are the challenges you face as a couturier today as the market is becoming more competitive?
To be honest, I do not face any difficulties, as Haute Couture will remain as long as women remain. There is a demand for this type of dressing especially on important occasions for every woman, so as long as there is a demand for haute couture, this craft will continue.
The issue of competition has always been around for many years. Yet the craftsmanship of making haute couture at the Elie Saab workshop still preserves and guards its customs and traditions, although some other fashion houses have diverted from craftsmanship and manual work in the creation and savoir-faire of couture.
I still recall the echoes that we heard after showing the collection where some said that Elie Saab was able to return the concept of couture and high fashion to Paris again because some of the rest presented fashion that felt like ready-to-wear.
Getting back to the dream! What is it that you haven’t achieved yet?
There is a long list! There are a lot of things we want to do this year, such as partnering with Simonetta for children’s fashion, furniture projects that we want to launch at the Salone del Mobile in Milan in June. We also have new hotel projects that we will announce soon. This year will be busy with new launches.
They say artists create when they are in a certain mood. What is the state of mind you’re in when you’re inspired to design?
Thinking of the beauty of women!
Forget the stories that we tell when we launch a new collection each season, these are stories we draw the inspiration from to change the colours, shapes and cuts of the pieces and in a way to print them in the memory, but the main concern for me is that the beauty of women should always be the pillar and focal point of any collection that I design.
These psychological states experienced by some talented artists were from the past. Elie Saab is a person who has to balance between creativity and business management. I have more than 25 people working at the Atelier after me, so if I was in a certain psychological state, we wouldn’t know how to work. At Elie Saab the error is forbidden, that is why I have to personally validate all at the end of the day. The designer is not like a poet, a musician or an artist, where they work on and create on their own. For us, we create and operate in a different way surrounded by a big team.
What do you say No to?
Frankly, I never used to say no, but now I say it a lot.
First, I say no because I have to maintain the status that I earned. Maintaining and guarding success is something that I never compromise.
There are times where you get people coming to you with new concepts and ideas that are not relevant, and here I say No.
Saying No is difficult sometimes, but with experience, the word now comes out naturally, and when I am responsible for the result and I know it will be a failed result, I reject the idea from the beginning. Eventually, people will know that I was right.
What are the life lessons you want to share with us?
Life teaches us lessons every day! A person dies while learning, and if anyone says otherwise, he is not an ambitious person. No one is greater than life.
How do you encourage yourself to work every day, even on dif cult days when you feel like you want to stop?
At one point, you just reach a stage where you feel the necessity of continuing to succeed; this matter keeps you under great pressure and a daily challenge striving for the better and to achieve more. This sometimes becomes addictive.
How do you motivate yourself to stay persistent?
Now I think a lot more about others than I think about myself, I feel that there are a lot of responsibilities towards the team that work at the atelier. No one is exempted from making mistakes, and even with all the precautions that we take, we still make mistakes but we should always make sure that our mistakes are minor or this will affect the thousands of employees who work for Elie Saab.
How do you disconnect, and when is your best time to do that?
On weekends if I don’t meet with the whole family, I feel that the days are too long. I feel that since I was young, my life was designed and programmed for work. It is very rare to have “disconnection” days, it’s more like having the luxury of sleeping two extra hours sometimes or having breakfast and going back to sleep again. In general, I am a person who loves to work.
Tell us about the project you collaborated with Emaar on in Dubai?
The project is still under construction. My team visited the site, and they found that the buildings are shaping up and starting to look beautiful, most likely in the next year the project will ready. So far more than 70% is sold, and I am very happy with this project, it is a beautiful partnership.
We know that currently you are working on your upcoming AW20/21 collection. What can we expect?
The truth is that we have been presenting the same woman on the ready-to-wear runway for 8 seasons. This season we decided to present a new woman, a woman who works, who is fun and free. When you see the collection you will know exactly what I mean!
I know how Beirut is very precious to you. Do you have hope that it will go back to its glory?
Of course, I have hope!
What message would you like to tell the Arab women in the region?
Elie Saab owes a lot to the Arab woman in general, since she is the first woman who believed in him, worked with him, and invested with him. I say that our Arab women are women who have no equal. My weakness is the Arab woman, I have accompanied her from the renaissance to the present day. What Elie Saab gave to the Arab women made the rest of the fashion houses look at the Arab women in a completely different way, where they now know her value and are working hard to enter the Arab region after Elie Saab opened the way and was the pioneer to do so.