He’s already known as the “king of couture” due to his ethereal runway collections, but Elie Saab could soon be earning himself a new moniker: the king of carpentry.
The Lebanese designer, arguably one of – if not the most – prominent fashion powerhouses to emerge from the region in the last century, will no longer be curtailed to the catwalk. Although his portfolio already includes ready-to-wear, accessories and fragrances, the Damour-born talent reveals that his empire is “just starting”.
We are tucked away in an elegant room in the heart of Dubai Opera. Saab is in the UAE to unveil his latest project, a collaboration with Emaar, which will encapsulate the designer’s innate elegance and almost-otherworldly creativity within four walls. The Grand Bleu Tower, located in an under-development residential community in Dubai Harbour, is due to open in the autumn of 2023, and will allow apartment-owners to imbue their home with a touch of Saab’s signature poise.
With interiors entirely imagined by the couturier himself, Saab wanted to immortalise “how he likes to live” in the one- to four-bedroom luxury apartments, each of which offer Palm Jumeirah, Dubai skyline or Arabian Gulf views.
Saab has overseen every aspect of design for the tower, which has been crafted as a celebration of the Art Deco era. The ground level will house boutique fashion stores, galleries and cafes, as well as lobbies, all featuring the couturier’s expert touch. “It’s about a vision,” he tells me, minutes after the project is first announced. “It’s all about a lifestyle, rather than to inspire or to create.”
But, the designer also reveals, this is not the only grand project in the pipeline: we can expect an Elie Saab furniture line in the not-too-distant future. “Honestly, this relationship [with Emaar] came at the right time, because we are launching our furniture line. The launch will be the same time as when the Grand Bleu building opens,” he divulges.
“It’s about quality, about textile, about shape,” Saab adds of what we can expect from his debut interiors line. “What I have in mind, every item comes like a piece of art. It’s more about limited edition.”
The designer, who founded his eponymous label in 1982, has spent decades building the brand and attaining red-carpet prominence, dressing everyone from Beyoncé, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Angelina Jolie to Jennifer Lopez, Halle Berry and Mila Kunis. However, despite his seasons and seasons of tireless work, he’s not planning on slowing down any time soon. “Honestly, I feel it’s just the start,” he says of his hopes for his label, “because I like challenging myself, and am very ambitious also.”
Seeing his work on Hollywood’s greatest gives him satisfaction, but is certainly not Saab’s primary incentive. “I prefer the feeling when the woman comes to see me; this challenges me a lot,” he muses.
While admitting that it can be hard to stay creative, so many collections later, the prospect of transforming a woman into her most beautiful self is enough to motivate him for seasons to come. “I don’t work to show [that] I’m the best designer,” he explains. “No, for me, my challenge is to show the woman very beautiful, every time.”
One particular focus – of Saab’s past, present and future – is helping support the region’s emerging talent, particularly in his home country. In 2012, Beirut’s Lebanese American University created its Bachelor of Fine Arts in Fashion Design in collaboration with the designer, as well as the London College of Fashion, and it’s a cause that is still close to Saab’s heart. “I want to be a strong image for a young generation, and now I’m more in the education side of things,” he says. “I believe in my country, and I believe in our region.”
Despite his passion, dogged creativity and enduring runway presence, Saab does admit it’s not easy balancing so many proverbial spinning plates – though his perennial grin doesn’t slip for a second. “It’s not an easy life, honestly. I run eight collections a year, and a lot of projects,” he confesses. “The world of fashion, it’s very demanding. Imagine every 40 days you have a collection to design; you go crazy if you are not ready.”
Is it such feverishness, such a frenzied pace, that keeps driving Saab forward? He’s not sure. All he knows is that there’s “still so much more to do.”