Frankly, I don’t envy the stars (of the human kind). All that media scrutiny and having-to-look-perfect-everyday is totally contrary to my happy-in-track-pants-and-Fit-Flops aesthetic. But if there is one thing I wouldn’t mind borrowing from them, it’s the chance to play Cinderella on the red carpet once in a while. Like at the 2-week extravaganza of Cannes, where the glitz and the gowns often outshine the films themselves.
And if there is one designer name that routinely comes up on the Cannes red carpet (or any red carpet for that matter) it’s Elie Saab. The long list of celebrities dressed by the teenager-in-war-torn Beirut-turned-couturier at this year’s Cannes film festival includes Aishwarya Rai, Dita Von Teese, Paz Vega, Rosario Dawson and Ludivine Sagnier, just to name a few. But even that’s besides the point. Because what I really, really fell in love with – even more than the glittering gowns in ice blue lace and emerald sequins – was the Elie Saab private showroom suite at the Hotel Martinez, Ground Zero for Cannes glamour. A fantasy of shimmer and sparkles and cloud-like taffetas, it was the prettiest and most gorgeous and most glam version of Wonderland that I have ever seen. Even Lewis Caroll would be hard pressed to better this one.
Spanning 110m², the Elie Saab private suite was decorated specially for the Cannes film festival by a set designer. And its sparkling, romantic decor perfectly echoed Saab’s dreamlike designs, which fuse a myriad cultural influences with the central themes of femininity and romanticism, creating sensuous dresses that are cut-to-the-curve. This is luxury at its zenith: all soft edges and exquisite detailing, complete with hand embroidery, beading and the use of sumptuous fabrics such as mousseline and silk.
Here, actresses are able to choose between the haute couture, ready-to-wear and accessories collections for their red carpet appearances. However, if the set-up sounds inviting, it’s also very exclusive. The stars flock to Elie Saab, rather than the other way round. “Mr Saab has a real policy of never chasing actresses,” says Louise Kahrmann, PR manager for the House. “We never, ever pay anybody to wear our dresses or attend our events.”
And yet there are so many dressing commitments that it requires impeccable agenda-juggling. In fact, the only event that compares in terms of scale of preparation is the Oscars, and that’s just one night – Cannes lasts for 12. So, one week before the festival, the Elie Saab team arrives in Cannes with nearly 100 pieces – including both ready-to-wear and haute couture gowns for red carpet events, shorter looks for photo calls, plus shoes, handbags, jewellery, a steamer and a sewing machine.
And since all dresses are samples, sewn to fit tall, thin runway models rather than actresses, one of the most indispensable elements is an expert seamstress – one who can raise the hems, narrow the sleeves and magically extend the waistlines. In the case of vintage gowns, one ingenious trick is to dismantle matching dresses from the same collection to carve out extra fabric. I’ve got to remember this one for future endeavors of the vintage kind.
And then there are the accessories. And the fragrance – Elie Saab’s eponymously titled eau de parfum went to the top of the bestseller charts after its launch last year. This year, it won best new female fragrance at the FiFis (the Oscars of the fragrance industry). Mr Saab, as he is referred to by his staff, was involved in every part of the process – right from the selection of the scent to the complex design of the bottle, which mirrors both his love of squares and the flowing cut of his dresses. Even the box is designed in his signature ‘Elie Saab beige’, accompanied by a flash of gold to evoke a ‘touch of Lebanon’. Perfect for the red carpet.
And therein lies the allure: that little glass bottle that makes a Cinderella dream seem a smidgen closer, a bit more attainable and wearable, whether you’re sashaying down the red carpet or walking to work. Even more so in the case of Elie Saab because even a simple knee-length from the couturier will set you back upwards of £1,600. Which is why this is my favourite part of the Elie Saab style suite fantasy – the little bit of magic that now sits on my dressing table and reminds me of a magical wonderland that once existed amidst the glitz and the glamour of Cannes, in a fantasy far, far away.