Monday 5 October 2020

Elie Saab: A New Dawn Amid the Debris

A graceful, flowered dress with voluminous sleeves and a black and white waistband was a highlight of Elie Saab's new SS21 collection, photographed in the rugged hills of Mount Lebanon. See film below.

Elie Saab's designs for Spring/Summer 2021 were shot in the rugged, stony hills of Mount Lebanon for a short film, instead of being shown on a runway at this season's Paris Fashion Week. Although the couturier's atelier and home were badly damaged after an explosion in Beirut, he has created a beautiful, ready-to-wear collection Jeanne-Marie Cilento writes

Fluid, flowing gowns
that drape beautifully
are Saab's signature 

AMID the political and financial crises engulfing Lebanon and the explosion in Beirut earlier this year, fashion designer Elie Saab has tried to bring lightness and beauty to his new Spring 2021 collection. Due to Covid-19, most designers on the official Paris schedule, showed a video presentation instead of having a live runway show. 

The designer's short film shows models gamboling among the flinty hills near his country home in Mount Lebanon. The gossamer gowns and voluminous skirts float in the wind and yet there is also a sense of underlying disquiet. 

Both Elie Saab's home and his atelier in Beirut were damaged by the blast of ammonium nitrate stored in a warehouse, killing 200 people and injuring thousands more, in August. 

The explosion flattened neighborhoods and businesses already feeling the effects of Covid-19. Lebanon is having a second wave of infections plus escalating political and economic problems.

Even though Elie Saab's headquarters in the city were wrecked, he managed to get the atelier back and up and running within several weeks. He and his team created a couture collection and then the ready-to-wear range. He was also helped by his son and company chief executive officer, Elie Saab Jr. and his wife Christina Mourad. 

The designer wanted the film, created for this Paris Fashion Week in lieu of a catwalk show, to be a celebration of life, showing his lustrous clothes contrasted against the rugged hills. Called Hymne a la Vie (Ode to Life), the collection's sumptuousness was highlighted by Mount Lebanon's arid, mystical landscape that gave a great sense of freedom. 

Elie Saab's film shows models gamboling among the flinty hills of Mount Lebanon, gossamer gowns and voluminous skirts floating in the wind 

A long, flowing broderie anglaise
gown in sunny yello
Saab has used brilliant, vibrant colours to enliven the collection including buttery yellow, dark red, magenta pink, turquoise and emerald green. The designs were shown in clusters of different colours. The pinks were inspired by flowers, the rich greens by leaves, and the deep red represents blood and the loss of loved ones. The draped, pale turquoise gowns show the designer's ability to capture the glamour of Hollywood's heyday. 

Fluid evening dresses that drape beautifully on the body, like the one pictured above, are the designer's signature and why he is sought after for red carpet creations or for royal occasions. Kate Middleton wore an Elie Saab gown to Royal Ascot last year. The designer became well known in the United States after he became the first Lebanese designer to dress an Oscar winner, Halle Berry, in 2002. By 2010, Saab was dressing more than a 100 celebrities for different events and continues to be sought after for special occasions.  

One of the standouts of the new ready-to-wear collection is a full-sleeved, flowered dress with a black-and-white waistband that looks both elegant and comfortable (see main picture). A yellow, broderie anglaise gown with flared sleeves and a long, sweeping gathered skirt has the volume and ease of movement that would work equally for a garden party or music festival (see above). 

As a counterpoint to the vivid hues are a series of all-white looks with panels of lace or crochet that looked wonderful against the stony background of the mountains. The designer also wanted to add a note of "peace and serenity" with his white creations. There were also strikingly tailored outfits that had an Eighties glamour, including a white shirt with puff sleeves worn with a black skirt, and wide belt.  

Fluid evening gowns that drape beautifully on the body are Elie Saab's signature 

Sequined black pantsuit
with dramatic pleated sleeves
Another of Elie Saab's designs he likes to include in all of his collections are jumpsuits. This time there were versions in grass green, black embroidered and beaded translucent tulle, white with feathers and salmon-pink  sequins. Long caped sleeves, ruffles and trains added to the sense of drama that Saab gave to the collection. 

The designer also created a range of accessories, including a capsule of handbags with large colourful totes and cross-body designs. There are also large square-rimmed mirror framed sunglasses and gold-leather flats plus wide, flattering belts.   

Elie Saab's main headquarters, offices and workshop are all in Beirut but he also has an atelier in Paris and boutiques around the world, from Mayfair to Manhattan. For the past three years, his couture collections can be found in Paris, London, and his home city, while his ready-to-wear clothes are sold in 160 retailers and his own stores. 

The designer's passion for fashion started early, he was already interested in sewing as an eight-year-old boy, growing up in suburban Beirut. By the time he was seventeen, Saab had already left for Paris to study fashion. But he decided to return to his hometown to open his own fashion label in 1981. He first specialized in bridal couture using rich fabrics decorated with embroidery, lace, gemstones, crystals and pearls. 

By the 1990s, Saab had become the first non-Italian designer to be a member of the National Chamber of Italian Fashion, he also showed his first collection outside Lebanon in Rome and started his ready-to-wear line in Milan. In 2006, the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture inducted him as a membre correspondant and he showed his first ready-to-wear collection in Paris for that Spring-Summer season. Today, he has built a large following for his couture and ready-to-wear shows, full of romantic and dramatic gowns, which have become highlights of the official Paris schedule. Let's hope next season, we will be able to see them in person.

Elie Saab's Spring/Summer 2021 Ready-to-Wear Collection Filmed in Lebanon

Photographs of the highlights of Elie Saab's Spring/Summer 2021

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