Designer Elie Saab a red carpet standout

Los Angeles Times Fashion Critic

In the history of red carpet fashion, it was monumental. In 2002, Halle Berry became the first African American woman to win a Best Actress Oscar, and Lebanese designer Elie Saab went from emerging talent to international fashion superstar in an instant. It was the perfect marriage of celebrity and dress, in this case a burgundy taffeta creation with a sheer embroidered tulle bodice that will go down in the annals as one of the best Oscar gowns of all time.

Elie Saab’s dresses graced more than 700 celebrities from 1990 to 2013, according to “Elie Saab,” the 9 1/2 lb. Assouline tome published last year that chronicles his career. And more than any other designer, he has put the Middle East on the global fashion map.

Saab started making dresses when was a kid, growing up in war-torn Beirut and launched his fashion label in 1982 at the tender age of 18.


His designs were so thoroughly embraced by the local social set in Lebanon, that he took his act on the road, presenting his first international runway shows in Rome, then Paris, where he held his first couture presentation in 2000, paving the way for a generation of Lebanese designers on the runways and red carpet, including Zuhair Murad and Georges Chakra.

Saab visited Los Angeles last week for a flurry of events geared toward growing his ready-to-wear business in the U.S., including his first public appareance at Neiman Marcus, a lunch and fashion show hosted by Neiman and the Blue Ribbon members of the Music Center and a private dinner with his Hollywood fans at the glittering Il Cielo restaurant in Beverly Hills.

Emily Blunt, Lily Collins, Hailee Steinfeld, Jaime King, Ellen Pompeo, Ashley Madekwe and Ahna O’Reilly came out Thursday night, along with a who’s who of celebrity stylists including Joseph Cassell (who works wit Taylor Swift), Karla Welch (Olivia Wilde) and Jen Rade (Angelina Jolie).

“I’ve worn Elie’s clothes a lot,” said Blunt, in a black lace jumpsuit from the Resort collection. “He understands romanticism.”

“He loves women,” said Rade. “His clothes always fit amazingly well, they have the right amount of lace, and the quality of the beading is sick.”

Saab was “never one to change his silhouette every season on the grounds that designs must surprise in order to appeal,” Janie Samet writes in the book. Instead, the designer appeals to a classic sense of femininty, creating “gowns as living jewels.”

The designer, who has ateliers in Paris and Beirut, has had quite a year on the red carpet, from Angelina Jolie’s smoky gray sheer Oscar gown with embroidery that appeared to be melting on her body, to the fiery-looking, caped ball gown Elizabeth Banks wore to world premiere of “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1" in London last week.

“I love Los Angeles,” Saab said, between posing with the Hollywood lovelies dressed in his designs at the party last week. “I have to come here more often.”