He was the first Middle Eastern fashion designer to showcase a collection at Rome fashion week. Self-made and someone who has helped build the Arab fashion industry, Elie Saab is our guest in the Global Conversation.
“To be talented is not enough. What’s really important is how you manage that talent if you have it. This is as important as the talent itself.”
Daleen Hassan, Euronews: “Do you think fashion can create a dialogue between the Middle East and the West?
Elie Saab :“Elie Saab fashion has no borders, it is a universal language spoken by all people. It is a self-contained art, like cinema and its language is beauty.”
Euronews: “So, do you consider yourself to be the godfather of this dialogue?”
Elie Saab: “Of course. I have influenced people, especially the Arab youth. When I started to become known internationally, or even before then, the first day I started as a fashion designer I had a bigger goal. This profession is never easy and I’m certainly glad to be in the position I find myself today. Now, it is normal for me to be a bridge between the Middle East and the rest of the world. I want the Middle East to have its own say when it comes to international fashion. I see that young people in the region are talented, they just need opportunities.”
Euronews: “ I am quoting you, “talent alone is not enough to shape the designer but relentless work and determination”. Do you think that the new generation shares this view?”
Elie Saab:“To be talented is not enough. What’s really important is how you manage that talent if you have it. This is as important as the talent itself. Unfortunately, there are too many young people who get drunk with the first shot of success.
Actually, this is the enemy of any success one might achieve. I believe success is a collection of many things which are built step by step in order to reach a stage of continuous and permanent success.”
Euronews:“So it’s a accumulated process.”
Elie Saab:“Exactly, success is based on a series of achievements, I don’t believe in instant success.”
Euronews: “When you first started in Europe you faced many challenges. Today Europe is one of the most important centres for your brand. What have you taken from this experience?”
Elie Saab: “It was difficult. Entering the international market in the beginning was hard. When I first started in Europe, no one had ever heard of me,,,,,they didn’t know this person from the Middle East who was designing haute couture, bringing together collections. This was a challenge, especially when I started in Rome in 1996. While I was very well known in the Arab world, I had to start from scratch when I came to Europe. Now when I look back, I can see that I have opened the door for many young people entering this industry.”
Euronews: “In your opinion, how does Europe view the young Arab generation, especially after the recent refugee crisis? Are they seen today as a burden or another source of culture?”
Elie Saab: “Most young Arab people are talented and hard working. They can be a really positive asset, wherever they are. If Europe pays attention to this, it will really benefit from the presence of Arab refugees, most of whom are creative. Maybe now they are going through some difficulties, however, most of them are ready to learn and will be a real asset wherever they are”
Euronews: “How do you combine being a creative designer and an entrepreneur?”
Elie Saab: “From the very first day I started, business was in my blood. I do not like to design fashion items just for the purpose of design and creativity. I like to see my designs worn by the largest number of women in the world. Elie Saab is a very big group now. I do not believe we would be in this position if I hadn’t managed the company in a commercial way. The fashion industry creates a lot of job opportunities. It is a new industry here in the Middle East. There are a lot of investors putting money into fashion, not only in the Middle East, but all over the world – they are willing to finance it.”
Euronews: “We are seeing a lot of Asian investment in major European brands, such as Versace and Valentino, which were bought by Qatar and China? What do you think about this?”
Elie Saab: “Fashion firms are like banks. If we do not think about them this way, they will fail and disappear. For example, when the Qataris invested, they put a lot of money into Valentino. They took it to another level. They pumped a lot of money into the company quickly. That has resulted in Valentino finding itself in the position it is now.”
Euronews: “How do you make the balance between the artistic vision in your designs and specific cultural tendencies?”
Elie Saab: “I think that’s in the past. Today the beauty of a design is its ability to impress all cultures. What’s important is that the designer keeps his own line, identity and remains the same.”
Daleen Hassan: So, how would you define luxury?
Elie Saab: Luxury is everything which cannot be bought with money. We cannot buy everything we would wish. Just think about those things that people dream about having but they are unable to buy them even though money is no object.”
Euronews:“How would you like to be remembered?
Elie Saab:“Honestly I’d love to be remembered. In fact, I think the time you are remembered posthumously is much longer than the time when you were alive.”
Euronews: “Elie Saab Thank you very much for being with us.”
Elie Saab: “Thank you.”