Elie Saab has always been a brand you could sum up in three words or less: pretty embellished eveningwear. In recent seasons, the designer has sought to widen that vocabulary, first with a play for Millennials, then with a growing focus on daywear. This season found Saab still searching for the right expression.
The opening looks vied to solidify his credentials in the daytime register, with outfits including a chic white blouse with a detachable bow, paired with flared pants. A laser-cut white leather shirt and a pair of sheer lace dresses with metallic studs — one white, one black — confirmed his knack for edgy romance.
The trouble began when he attempted the leap to “edgy” edgy. Working a dark palette with hallucinogenic overtones, Saab spliced solid and sheer floral patterns with floral-printed lace and floral embroidery. But the pile-‘em-high silhouettes lacked the cool factor of, say, a print specialist like Richard Quinn.
Ditto for the allover leopard looks, which seemed to hail straight from Cavalli-land. Conversely, a couple of ultra-minimal dresses seemed almost unfinished, as if they had sat in the atelier awaiting their final dusting of sequins. That embellished aesthetic, for better or for worse, is still where Saab appears most at home.
There were a couple of stunners in this collection: sheer black evening gowns with vibrant hand-painted motifs, reminiscent of the costume designs of Léon Bakst for the Ballets Russes, rendered in bands of shimmering paillettes.
Evidently, the brand needs to move beyond that eveningwear niche in order to grow to the next level, but it already has a strong identity. If it ain’t broke, why fix it?