Elie Saab has decided to drop out of Paris Couture Week after Lebanon imposed a strict lockdown to combat a spike in coronavirus cases.
Saab has decided to postpone the presentation of the collection until conditions improve, in the interests of protecting its team of more than 400 people, said Elie Saab Jr., chief executive officer of the label founded by his father.
“The haute couture collection is ready, but there’s the whole shooting logistic, which is quite complicated. We decided to take a small break and wait for the right time to shoot it and to present it to the public,” he told WWD.
Lebanon has barred residents even from grocery shopping in a bid to stem the rise in new cases, which has pushed its hospital system to breaking point.
“What we’ve seen in recent weeks in Lebanon is an important escalation of cases and an important scarcity in hospital beds and hospital tools such as respirators. Things are really getting out of control, so we have to be cautious, we have to be responsible,” said Saab.
“Honestly, the risk is too high, and for us, regardless of what we are doing, safety comes first, especially the safety of our employees and everyone that’s working on the collection,” he added.
Lebanese designers had their headquarters badly damaged in a devastating explosion in Beirut on Aug. 4, compounding their lockdown woes.
A spokeswoman for Zuhair Murad said he would not be able to present a full collection this season, but would likely show a teaser during the French couture shows, while Maison Rabih Kayrouz is absent from the schedule.
The Jean Paul Gaultier maison opted to sit out the season after Paris police mandated that the men’s and couture displays in the French capital — taking place from Jan. 19 to 28 — must be audience-free to curb the spread of infection.
Saab completed repairs to its Beirut headquarters at the beginning of this year. It has finalized its pre-fall ready-to-wear collection, which will be presented in Paris this week, and although its haute couture order books have thinned out, there has been enough demand to keep its workshops busy.
“Our key priority was to get the business back on track and to get back up on our feet to be a good example for the youth and for other businesses that have maybe lost hope. We wanted to show there is hope and we still believe in the country,” said Saab.
“We had a good year as a whole, considering the situation. It was not an easy year, but we managed through it,” he said, noting that smaller-scale weddings took place as far afield as the Middle East, South America, the United States, Eastern Europe and Asia.
He credited the company’s new business model, introduced in 2019, with helping it weather the crisis. Saab has reduced its reliance on retail, with just seven directly operated stores worldwide, expanded onto new platforms like Amazon’s Luxury Stores and launched product categories like homewares and children’s wear.
“When this pandemic hit, it accelerated all our plans to create a company that is more agile,” said Saab. “We have managed to ensure all this is in place and we are prepared to face 2021.”