Elie Saab - The 'Lebanese' Designer That is Turning Fairytales into Reality
By: Pamela Dimtirova/ Arab America Contributing Writer
“King of the Red Carpet”, “Designer to the Stars” and “World Conqueror” are just a few of the nicknames of Elie Saab, the Lebanese designer dresses celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, Beyonce, and Halle Berry, who wore one of his gowns while accepting 2002 Academy Award, and by royals like Queen Rania of Jordan, who wore a beautiful dress designed by him to her husband’s coronation ceremony in 1992. Since then he quickly earned his place among the most famous haute couture designers in the world, winning fans all over the world, particularly brides-to-be with his unique combinations of Western silhouettes and shapes with a Middle Eastern flair for ornamentation and embellishment.
Elie was born and raised in Damour, a village on the coast south of Beirut, in 1964. He began showing interest in fashion at very early age and at the age of nine he started making patterns from newspapers and dresses from any material he could get his hands on. His parents wished he would do something else: “Like all normal families, they would have liked me to be a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer.”. At the age of 11, he was already sewing dresses for his sisters using different fabrics he found in their mother’s closet. By 1982, at age 18, he had launched his own label in Beirut, after a brief stint at design school in Paris. Despite the civil war that broke out in Lebanon in 1975 that displaced many people, including Saab’s own family, he insisted on opening his dressmaking studio in his native country.
Saab has quickly risen household brand status in Beirut, and Saab has made repeated appearances as a judge on Project Runway’s middle eastern 2016 edition. Shortly after he expanded his brand to different fashion capitals, such as London, New York, and Paris. He also became the first non-Italian designer to be accepted into the Camera Nazionale Della Moda, the country’s governing body for Milan Fashion Week, where he debuted his ready-to-wear line. In 2003, he was invited by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture in Paris to be a member and still remains one of the few officially ordained haute couture labels in the world. Saab’s company is now based in Paris.
‘A Bridge between the West and the Middle East’
“Elie Saab fashion has no borders, it is a universal language spoken by all people. It is a self-contained art, like cinema and its language is beauty.”, he said in an interview with Euro News. “I have influenced people, especially Arab youth. When I started to become known internationally, or even before then, the first day I started as a fashion designer I had a bigger goal. This profession is never easy and I’m certainly glad to be in the position I find myself today. Now, it is normal for me to be a bridge between the Middle East and the rest of the world. I want the Middle East to have its own say when it comes to international fashion. I see that young people in the region are talented, they just need opportunities.”
Elie has been a symbol of hope in the Arab world for many years. Turning his dreams into reality thanks to his talent and hard work, he is an inspiration for the youth and he constantly invests in them. In 2013, he launched a pioneering four-year fashion design program in Beirut at the Lebanese American University, with the London College of Fashion. Here, students are offered international standards in design without having to travel outside their country.
Love for Lebanon
Despite living on the road between Lebanon, France, and Switzerland, Saab continues to be closely related to his roots. In an interview with Vogue, he stated: “Lebanon is an inspiration. I present my country in a way that I am proud of.”
Lebanon has always been famous as ‘the fashion center’ of the Middle East – Beirut’s tailors are known to be the best. Even the prêt-a-porter [ready to wear] produced in Beirut before the civil war was famous for being the best quality. What’s more, the Lebanese buyer is known for buying the best products from Europe. What Saab added to this already rich scene is ‘the contribution of a Lebanese fashion designer’.
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