There's a growing sense that the tables are turning at Elie Saab. For one thing, this supersuccessful Beirut designer is proving a quick study. Gone are the slit-to-the-groin sub-Cavalli looks that made him seem like such an outsider when he began showing his couture in Paris. In their place are many pretty, perfectly tasteful dresses. And his cleaned-up presentation, with its simple hair and makeup and absence of annoying doodads in the way of hats and jewelry, is starting to set an example for some far more revered Paris fixtures of how to make eveningwear look contemporary.
It's also increasingly obvious that, as Western designers look ever more hopefully to the burgeoning fashion market in the Middle East, Saab already has it sewn up. As the lights went down, an inner-circle couture watcher whispered authoritatively, "Every Saudi princess is in town. And they're buying." Saab's clothes are designed for women who dress up and have plenty of parties to go to, not just for celebrity red-carpet one-night stands. Many a design studio in Paris, Milan, and New York might have cause to envy that.
His pragmatic style may lack the traditional grandeur of couture, the willingness to take a highfalutin theme and run with it, but no matter. He has all the bases coveredfrom black or ivory guipure-lace cocktail wear to seemingly endless floor-length options, in nude with sparkle, silver and gold sequins, shot taffeta, and panne velvet. All he needs to realize now is that showing so many looks detracts from his best gowns, like the simple one-sleeved sequin wrap. Overvisibility of supply has a way of diluting perceived luxury-value, but season by season, Elie Saab is moving in the right direction.