PARIS — Elie Saab is out to widen perceptions of his fashion house.
This story first appeared in the September 8, 2016 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
And his new London flagship at 24 Bruton Street gets right down to business the moment customers cross the threshold of the 18th-century town house and alight on a floor dedicated to accessories, leather goods and daywear.
They must climb a grand stone staircase to reach cocktail and eveningwear, the mainstays of the Lebanese couturier, and his debut bridal collection.
“When customers come into the store, they feel there is a full universe of Elie Saab,” the designer said in an interview at his Paris atelier.
Except, perhaps, couture clients, who can reach the third-floor couture salons directly via a private entrance and make themselves at home across three sumptuous rooms, one with chandeliers worthy of Versailles.
The London boutique, which opened quietly in August, won’t get its official inauguration until later this fall.
But it reflects a faster pace to retail development, with flagships also under construction in New York City, on Madison Avenue at 70th Street, and in Geneva on Rue Robert Ceard. Both are expected to open in early 2017.
Saab also operates freestanding boutiques in Dubai, Beirut, Hong Kong and Paris, where he has shown his couture since 2000 and ready-to-wear since 2005.
And he said he’s looking at additional options in Asia and the U.S., with retail already accounting for about half of the rtw business.
“We would like to have about 20 flagships,” Saab said, arms folded on the giant marble table that dominates his spare office with views of the Haussmann buildings on the Avenue Raymond-Poincaré.
His son, Elie Jr., joined him for the interview, and stressed that the company takes a “cautious” approach as it plants stores in new markets.
“If we don’t tick all the boxes, we don’t move. Location is important, the kind of space we get,” he explained. “The brand needs to be in a space that’s important, where you can showcase the globality of the collection and the lines.”
Accessories, including an array of silk scarves introduced two years ago, accounted for about 7 percent of Saab’s rtw business in 2015.
Set in a listed building, the London store unfurls across 10,800 square feet and exalts such residential features as molded ceilings, parquet floors, fireplaces and wrought iron balustrades.
Interjected are futuristic touches, including a lattice of golden bars in cube formations that climbs up the stairwell, interjected here and there with light boxes.
Saab collaborated with Paris-based architecture firm RDAI, founded by the late Rena Dumas, to reflect such brand attributes as luxury, femininity and modernity.
The London store arrives a heady time for the privately held firm, which has been tracking an average growth rate of 35 percent in recent years, far outpacing the moderate pace logged by most of Europe’s major luxury players.
Asked if he thought he could sustain such figures this year amid geopolitical gyrations and multiple economic woes, Saab replied: “I hope so. The year is not finished, but we hope we will be able to finish at that rate.”
Father and son stressed that couture remains the backbone of the business, accounting for a quarter of its revenues.
The company employs 400 seamstresses in Beirut, about half of them dedicated to couture and based in the headquarters. Other ateliers are dedicated to rtw, beaded pieces and eveningwear. Production of daywear and cocktail is done mostly in Italy.
The U.S. government recently warned its citizens to avoid travel to Lebanon “because of the threats of terrorism, armed clashes, kidnapping, and outbreaks of violence near Lebanon’s borders with Syria and Israel.”
Saab said “production and retail demand have not been impacted as our business is located far from any tension. The energy of the city and the people have not been affected and you would be surprised by how radiant the city is and optimistic people are.”