The Couture here in Lebanon always has something nice to show around. Before the war, the fashion reputation was more prominently lackluster, but it’s now coming back. How would you explain the relationship between design and Lebanon?
Before the war, Lebanon was the hub for international designers in the Middle East. And Couture was prominent here as well making it the destination for Arab women.
Some personalities told us that there was a big problem communicating this success to the rest of the world, there are challenges on the image of Lebanon and placing Lebanon as a hub for textile and Haute Couture. Why do you think that is or what can be done about that by the designers?
I don’t consider that communication is the problem. In our current times, the message can come across anywhere in the world. I believe you must produce first a good product to communicate; it will speak for itself. Each designer must develop their own style to establish an identity of their own. Once that is done, it will make more sense to bring together different creative minds.
Having an ever growing reputation, not only here in Lebanon but worldwide, how would you really define the ELIE SAAB brand?
When I started my career, I made a projection of setting the brand worldwide, nothing comes easily; you should work hard for it and believe in what you present. In 1997, I was the first foreign designer to present an Haute Couture collection at the Roma Alta Moda fashion week. Since then, the brand was positioned on an international scale.
What would you say is the reason that makes your designs so international? You were just talking about how designs are now a lot more international but what do you think makes your designs internationally likeable?
I believe it is my vision of women all over the world and how I see femininity makes the brand internationally recognized. I present what women need with the appropriate embellishment.
Do you think that you have more Middle East style or you have a more western style?
My style is more occidental even when I design for oriental women; there are rules to respect. Certainly, I was inspired by the Middle Eastern culture and the richness it offers, and having lived in Beirut has been a great asset and inspiration ; in general, this is reflected through the choice in fabrics, rich materials, and use of warm colors. In the present times, fashion speaks the same language and my style correspondents to all women from different part of the world.
We actually went to visit some of the old jewelries here and they have big jewels like the old oriental styles, heavy ones.
When offering a product you should answer your clients’ needs and respect each one’s taste.
You are now in an international market that has been long dominated by old brands like Chanel, Valentino, Jean Paul Gaultier etc…How would you say that you complement the market that it is already established? What do you add to the market?
I believe that creating your own identity is the first and most important thing to do. Perseverance, hard work and ambition are also very important to be able to overcome obstacles and succeed in the fashion field.I judge that having my own style and identity has contributed to my current position among other international designers.
What about reaching new growing markets? Not only the US but also markets like Asia or South America.
We have big development plans for the coming years and we are growing in different markets such as USA, Russia and China as well, it is the place to be; it is a booming country where women look for luxury.
How could you define the style and inspiration that you presented on March?
I was inspired by the French cinema in the 60’s. I wanted to present the essence of the Parisian chic.
We would like to ask you a personal question. You launched your first line when you were 18 years old. So, where did your passion for fashion come from?
My passion is not only fashion. It happened that I started with fashion with my mother’s curtains dressmaking my sisters and neighborhood clothes, but creativity has no limits. I have many ideas and dreams and my ambition is to carry them out.
What do you use as a source of inspiration?
Women are my main source of inspiration. I might be inspired by colors, art, but I mainly focus on the beauty of women. My priority is to get the right cut of the dress in order to highlight the woman’s figure at best.
How did you start so early in fashion?
I really cannot tell, I just felt that I can do it. With the situation that was prevailing in the country, I felt the need to do something different. My passion then developed into a career and I continued with the custom-making of high-end dresses, which I love doing.
And do you remember the first time you presented a collection?
Sure, I do. It was a very exciting and memorable experience. I sent invitations to all my entourage. During that period of time, the country was in crisis and what makes me feel really happy is the fact that I brought joy and enthusiasm to the people around me.
How would you compare ELIE SAAB when you first started with ELIE SAAB today?
I don’t do that cause I believe I am in continuous progress. There will always be and should be a difference between yesterday, today and tomorrow.
Fashion is a real hard work when it comes to Haute Couture. It’s not only design, it is marketing, it is a company, and it is a lot of things. How would you define your personal involvement in this process?
As I told you earlier, I am not only a fashion designer; I am a businessman as well. I get motivated after each achievement and this is my driving force to move ahead.
Talking about the source of inspiration, what other designers inspire you?
Every designer has its identity. I admire Valentino’s style; he respects women’s beauty and femininity.
To finish the interview out of fashion and design, we would like to ask you how you would define Lebanon in one sentence. We like to have your image of Lebanon.
Lebanon is its people; they have a very high standard of living; they love to live and know how to live!