Saab, Elie (1964–)

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Saab, Elie

Elie Saab is a Lebanese designer best known for the sheer crimson gown that Halle Berry wore when she received an Academy Award for Best Actress in March of 2002. This was a monumental moment for both Berry and Saab. He became the first Lebanese designer to ever dress an Oscar winner. After that his fame expanded from Middle Eastern royalty and Arabian princesses to American celebrities. The Lebanese press nicknamed Saab "Precious Genius" after he debuted his first set of designs, and CNN described his style as "Arabian Nights' fantasy." His fame and power has risen in Lebanon, as well as in Europe, the United States, and rest of the world.


Saab was born on 4 July 1964 in Beirut, Lebanon. By six, he started his career in fashion. Saab is seen as a child prodigy by fashion experts because he is self-trained. A young Saab sewed and designed clothes, but his parents expected him to become a tailor. In 1981 Saab relocated to study fashion in Paris. After one year, however, he returned to Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War. At eighteen, Saab started his own design studio making wedding dresses and evening gowns with a blend of Western and Oriental styles. Saab soon debuted his first collection under his own label at the Casino du Liban. The triumphant event won him the attention of the press. He consequently obtained numerous clients including princesses because of his signature style of making clothing using lace, beading, gems, pearls, crystals, silk threads, rich fabrics like chiffon, and detailed embroidery. His client list grew even stronger in 1990 when Saab acquired a larger studio to handle orders from other countries, including Switzerland and France.

Saab became the first non-Italian designer to become a member of the Italian Camera Nazionale della Moda in 1997. While in Rome at Roma Alta Moda, he showed his first haute couture (a high fashion, exclusive, and trendsetting look) collection outside of Lebanon. The next year he held a fashion show in Monaco attended by Monaco's Princess Stephanie at the plaza of the Monte Carlo Casino. In Milan that year, he also debuted his prêt-a-porter (clothing produced for sale to the general public) collection as, at the time, the only featured non-Italian designer.

After 2000 Saab began doing off-list shows in Paris during the haute couture season, although not scheduled as a featured designer. He became a member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture in 2003, making him an invitee and part of the official schedule, a high honor within the design world. Saab showed his first haute couture collection in Paris in 2003, the home of his permanent prêt-a-porter runway.


The style, elegance, and beauty of his native Beirut, for which it is famous, deeply influenced Saab. He remained true to his culture by blending Middle Eastern cultural style with European styles, especially French and Italian, which in particular have influenced Lebanese fashion. He is recognized for his seductive yet elegant designs that could have been pulled directly from a fantasy. Critics describe his designs as international and modern. Saab's fashions fit women's curves and complement them with elaborate detailing. His main themes are romance and femininity. Saab's accomplishments may result from his bringing the fashion world together through his work. He blends many international styles, while remaining true to the historical and contemporary fashion trends of his native Lebanon.


Global perceptions of Saab have been overwhelmingly positive since his emergence on the international scene in 2002 as the first Lebanese to dress an Oscar winner when he designed Berry's gown. Since then he has designed fashions for many stars including singer Beyoncé Knowles, actresses Marcia Cross, Teri Hatcher, Nicolette Sheridan, Jessica Simpson, Salma Hayek, Patricia Heaton, Debra Messing, and Catherine Zeta-Jones; and Queen Rania of Jordan. Saab has used his design talents to bridge the gaps between East and West, bringing them closer together and reducing cultural misunderstandings.

Featuring elegant evening gowns, Saab has sixty retail outlets and boutiques around the globe. His label is also known as "ES." ES is headquartered in Beirut, with offices in New York, Paris, and Milan. Saab is known for dazzling clothing that is sexy yet classy. His creations include luxurious fabrics with flourishes and lines.

The international press and colleagues have praised his workmanship and choice of styles that render women beautiful. His fabrication is Middle Eastern, carried out by the one hundred artisans in the Beirut Atelier. His collections featuring rich fabrics and sumptuous embroidery—which have become indispensable to women seeking to show outward signs of prosperity—never cease to amaze.


Name: Elie Saab

Birth: 1964, Beirut, Lebanon

Family: Wife, Claudine; three children

Nationality: Lebanese

Education: Fashion studies in Paris, France


  • 1981: Moves to Paris to study fashion
  • 1982: Opens design studio producing wedding dresses and evening gowns in Beirut
  • Mid-1980s: Debuts first collection under his own label at the Casino du Liban
  • 1990: Acquires larger studio to handle growing business and orders from international clients
  • 1997: Becomes first non-Italian member of Camera Nazionale della Moda; shows first haute couture collection in Rome
  • 1998: Holds fashion show in Monaco attended by Monaco's Princess Stephanie; debuts prêt-a-porter collection in Milan
  • 2002: Dresses Halle Berry for her Best Actress Oscar win
  • 2003: Becomes member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture; shows first haute couture collection in Paris

Using glaciers of silver sequins sparkling on icy gowns, Saab has reached the peak of flashy fashion. No wonder Knowles followed in the high-heeled footsteps of Berry, also selecting Saab as her designer of choice. Having captured the attention of the public, the fashion press, and high-profile celebrities across the world, Saab's career likely will continue to flourish and inspire other Lebanese fashion designers.


Although it is too early to assess Saab's ultimate legacy, he has established himself as a capable and talented fashion designer, putting his native Lebanon on the fashion map for the first time. In light of his great achievements, more Lebanese are likely to follow in his footsteps and impact the global fashion industry.


"Elie Saab Collection Makes it to Paris Despite Protest." Ya Libnan. Updated 23 January 2007. Available from

Menkes, Suzy. "Elie Saab's flashy fashion." International Herald Tribune, 23 January 2007. Available from

Mower, Sarah. "Runway Review: Elie Saab." Updated 22 January 2007. Available from

Saab, Elie. Interview with the Scene. CNN. Updated 9 October 2006. Available from

                                         Khodr M. Zaarour


Abed Mahfouz (1956–) began his fashion career in the tailoring industry. Mahfouz earned a degree in electrical engineering in 1978, then fell into the garment world through the necessity of helping her sister with her tailoring business in 1985. He became fascinated with design and aspired to create his own fashions. In 1999, Mahfouz was propelled onto the fashion scene with his first collection of wedding dresses premiering at the Royal Plaza Hotel in Beirut. Like Saab, who also has an ongoing passion for creating unique and stunning wedding gowns, Mahfouz has broken into the haute couture world with his premiere collection in 2000.