Elie Saab

PARIS — Elie Saab is joining Amazon’s Luxury Stores, adding a high-profile designer and a layer of red-carpet glamour to the Seattle tech giant’s latest venture.

“Everyone finds this an intriguing subject — we saw that Amazon has done things well, developing in a lot of sectors,” remarked Elie Saab Jr., chief executive officer of the label, speaking to WWD over FaceTime.

Amazon unveiled its by-invitation Luxury Stores platform in September with virtual shops-in-shop from Oscar de la Renta and Roland Mouret, and plans to mould the project to suit consumer demands. Last week, accessories label Mark Cross announced it is joining as well, selling items ranging from small leather goods to home decor, priced between $175 and $2,990. Car Shoe and Clé de Peau Beauté are also on the platform.

For Elie Saab, the move reflects a deeper push into the digital realm, as well as the American market.

“We spoke a lot with key executives at Amazon — those associated with this project, in particular — discussing their vision and how they saw development of the activity, and integration in different markets,” recalled Saab. “This vision was aligned with ours.

“Everything we do will be focused around the digital realm,” he added. This is not the first digital partnership for Elie Saab — the label has been sold on Mytheresa and Net-a-porter, the executive noted.

The Lebanese fashion house was also attracted by the tech company’s focus on the U.S. market. “It’s a good first step — mutually,” he said.

The brand opened a store on Madison Avenue three years ago, and has worked with retailer partners in the U.S. over the years, including Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, as well as other specialty stores.

“These are historic partnerships that we really count on,” he said, confirming plans to continue with them.

The foray onto Amazon’s Luxury Stores will not eat into the label’s business with retail partners, he predicted, noting that many clients continue to count on department stores for the shopping experience and brand discovery.

The move is part of an overall strategy to reach new audiences that perhaps hadn’t considered the label so attainable, he suggested. His father, designer Elie Saab, is known for airy, pastel gowns embellished with elaborate beadwork and feathers — popular with brides in the Middle East and international celebrities seeking to stand out at red-carpet events.

“We expect to expand and reach a different clientele, perhaps a bit younger that might know the brand by name but think it’s maybe an unreachable haute couture brand — whereas we have done a lot to develop accessible products,” Saab said. “When people come into the stores, they are surprised to have products that they didn’t think they’d find at Elie Saab.”

New lines include children’s wear and a home collection. The latter, which spans decorative cushions and throws, as well as lighting and carpets, debuted last year under license with Swiss firm Corporate Brand Maison. Elie Saab also reinforced another unit of its business by signing a five-year license with OLG Onward Luxury Group for the production and distribution of its footwear and leather goods.

Saab stressed the importance of adapting to a changing environment in order to maintain relevance.

The executive sees a new worldwide model of digital marketplaces being developed, with actors like Farfetch pioneering the structure of bringing different brands together, noting they can operate in the online world much like concession models in retail.

With their eyes on China, Alibaba, Farfetch, Compagnie Financière Richemont and François-Henri Pinault, managing partner of Kering-owner Artemis, last month announced a partnership that is sure to accelerate the digitalization of the luxury market worldwide.

For Elie Saab, the Amazon partnership brings it a strong shop-in-shop presence in the U.S. market, and the label could forge similar arrangements with other partners, the executive hinted.

Although the brand does not have a physical presence in Asia, it is popular with Asian consumers, including Chinese, who have purchased its clothing in London and in Dubai, with a high level of loyal haute couture clients, according to Saab. It also enjoys a following on social networks in China, he added.

Describing the site on Amazon Luxury Stores, he said there will be links between editorial content and items for sale. “Consumers need to understand the brand, and immerse themselves in the brand content,” he said.

It has been a challenging year for Elie Saab. Red-carpet events and weddings were shut down by the coronavirus pandemic in the spring, and in August came a massive warehouse explosion in the port of Beirut that damaged the brand’s headquarters. The company has moved forward in the face of the difficulties, the executive said.

“Our priority was really to pick ourselves up and continue no matter what it takes, because this is how we have built our company, our organization, and this is the real meaning of resilience,” Saab said.

Now, efforts are focused on 2021, with a number of collections being prepared, as well as brand extensions including watches and eyewear. The brand recently opened a showroom in Milan for its home designs, which Saab said have been well received in various markets, despite the pandemic. There are plans for further spaces to showcase the home collections in Beirut, near the brand headquarters, in Dubai and a shop-in-shop in Harrods.

“The product speaks for itself — it’s not linked to the brand in a literal way, but portrays the universe of the brand,” he said.

Elie Saab boasts boutiques in Beirut, Dubai, London, Paris, New York, Doha and Istanbul and will proceed cautiously when it comes to international expansion.

“This doesn’t mean opening shops,” he said, explaining that the idea of expansion today means something different than it did a decade ago. Brands like Elie Saab can expand through product categories as well as their online presence, he said.

“In our case, we are an independent luxury brand. We have to have our own pace and in the end, the customer is the key so we have to do everything to keep on serving our customers in the way they expect to be served by us,” he said.

The family-owned label’s store presence will remain important in key capitals of the world, he added, noting that customers of such products will always want to experience the brand in a physical setting and meet the people behind it.

“We have fashion advisors, not sales associates,” he added. “After they leave the store, if they decide to buy it on Amazon or buy it on whichever platform, it’s fine — it’s serving the same purpose,” he said.

The project with Amazon moved quickly, the online store readied in less than two months, Saab said, noting he was happy to see the company improve its structure during the pandemic, both its operations and organization.

“To keep up with the constant change in the world, we need to be agile and dynamic and this project showed a lot of organizational effort,” he said, noting he was thankful to the company’s teams for laying the groundwork for 2021. “The world is changing — you have to be able to keep up.”