Fashion Heroes: Elie Saab

Few can forget that iconic moment when Halle Berry waltz onto the red carpet at the 2002 Academy Awards ceremony wearing a burgundy peek-a-boo embroidered gown by Elie Saab. The Hollywood leading lady, who was nominated for the Best Actress category, went on to be the big winner of the night. But Berry did not just win the award that night for her role in Monster's Ball, she also topped every single 'Best Dressed' list around the world. 

That asymmetrical ball gown, with its semi-sheer top and rich burgundy taffeta skirt, have since gone down in red carpet history. The dress saw two firsts: the first woman of colour being named Best Actress and the first winner to ever wear a gown created by a Lebanese designer. Berry's win marked the starting point of an illustrious career for the Beirut-born couturier.

Red carpet darlings in Elie Saab creations include A-list Hollywood celebrities Gwyneth Paltrow, Halle Berry and Mila Kunis.

Elie Saab started his career as a young bridal gown designer who showed his first collection in Beirut, in Lebanon. That same year, the then-18 year old opened his first atelier. This, for the uninitiated, was in 1982 and seven years into the Lebanese civil war, when Israel invaded Lebanon and laid siege to Beirut. He is the eldest son of a middle-class Maronite timber merchant. At that time, Damour, a village on the coast south of Beirut where Saab was born, was desecrated and mostly destroyed in one of the early atrocities of the civil war. Rather than moving abroad, as so many Lebanese did, the Saabs moved into central Beirut, to be nearer his father’s family.

Despite the ensuing war, Saab's determination to build a name for himself in the fashion world gave light and hope to many Lebanese. His reputation quickly spread and his business grew, first in Lebanon, then across the Middle East, then around the rest of the world.

At first, his atelier was specialised in bridal couture making wedding dresses and gowns using rich fabrics, lace, detailed embroidery, pearls, crystals and silk threads. But his overtly feminine aesthetic and romantic crystal-encrusted gowns began attracting the Lebanese fashionable elites as well as other Middle-Eastern princesses. Soon, film stars were enamoured with his Middle Eastern detailing and European sensibility.

“I was born with this passion of creating and making dresses and was always surrounded by beautiful women, from my sisters to neighbours,” he has said, “so the desire to dress them and make them look elegant was my constant inspiration.”

In 1997 Saab was the first non-Italian designer to become a member of the Italian Camera Nazionale della Moda, and then showed his first collection outside Lebanon in Rome. The next year, he started his ready-to-wear collection in Milan, and later held a fashion show in Monaco which was attended by Princess Stéphanie of Monaco.

In 1999, an important event made him a household name amongst royalties. Queen Rania of Jordan wore an Elie Saab couture gown for her enthronement. At just 28 years old, the stylish Rania became the world's youngest queen – and, regarded by many as the most beautiful. With brains, beauty and poise on her side, she would go on to be praised as one of the most forward-thinking, progressive women in the Arab world. That moment was a coup for the Elie Saab brand. 

Today, Saab counts A-list celebrities, including Angelina Jolie, Beyonce, Gwyneth Paltrow, Charlize Theron, Catherine Zeta-Jones, as fans. He helms a global empire, with boutiques in Paris, London and Dubai. His designs are available in 22 countries and he has even expanded his business into bags, shoes, fragrance and jewellery.

He sells between 400 and 800 couture dresses a year, with a starting price of about US$35,000. 

Yes, the price tag is rather hefty. However, for those wanting to slip into an Elie Saab gown and get a feel of luxury without robbing the bank, THE FIFTH COLLECTION is definitely the place to visit. Check out what we have on our site below (such as the ruffled gown that our Curator picked as one of her favourites to wear for her birthday!).