EXCLUSIVE: Elie Saab Launches Couture for Men as Post-pandemic Growth Accelerates

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PARIS — Think a bespoke tuxedo is good enough for your next red-carpet moment? Think again.

Elie Saab’s couture designs for men will be making their runway debut on Wednesday at his haute couture show in Paris.

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“I feel that men want to show themselves,” the couturier told WWD at a preview of a fall collection filled with blush, blues and rose gold tones inspired by “the moment the setting sun hits the sea, transforming its colors.”

“Even before COVID-19, men, just like women, had this desire to emancipate and express themselves,” the couturier said, noting how male consumers were increasingly in focus for the luxury segment and also in beauty.

If the 1970s are the decade that best embodies female freedom for Saab, he named “this present moment” as the one where men are breaking away from sartorial rules, a time where “male sophistication becomes more and more present on the market.”

“He’s a young royal, part of this new generation,” said the couturier by way of a description, noting that he’d wanted to play on the dichotomy between T-shirts, an item that “has taken a very important, central part in a masculine wardrobe,” and more formal layers like tuxedo-style jackets and capes.

While his menswear designs are newly present on the runway, Saab explained they were already widely requested by clients looking to dress their spouses and looking for “something spectacular.”

You could say that again, seeing the opulent embroideries climbing on the panes of jackets or the supremely dramatic sweep of a feathered cape.

Asked how he could delve into the field further from the creative side, the couturier demurred, joking it was “a start… with possible ulterior motives.”

The same sense of cautious optimism also came through in conversation with the brand’s chief executive officer Elie Saab Jr., as both considered the menswear segment to be under evaluation.

“For sure, [the menswear] universe speaks to us, especially since we are men ourselves, but it’s also what the market expects from Elie Saab. This shows we have a taste for it,” the executive continued.

Launching couture menswear designs comes as part of an overall strategic readjustment for Elie Saab, centered around the renewed focus on the house’s couture core and the development of lifestyle with the Elie Saab Maison line and residential projects.

The pandemic years had been “tough for any house of our size, especially independent [ones],” but 2022 was on-track to be a record year not only in terms of sales but also profitability, he said.

Looking further, Saab Jr. said the target was to at least double the business by 2025, especially given the 40 percent increase annually on 2020’s “rock bottom year,” which still amounted to a 25 to 30 percent increase on pre-pandemic yearly figures.

He credited this recovery to right-sizing of their retail footprint by keeping top-performing flagships rather than multiplying doors within a city, and by bringing core product manufacturing in-house to consolidate the brand’s overall supply chain.

The difficulties brought on by the Beirut blast in 2020 further cemented the company’s desire to “support further our country but most importantly support the craftsmanship that we have started [for the past] 40 years in Lebanon and [that] we have been pioneering there,” by growing this expertise “in a more industrial way,” Saab Jr. said.

To wit, the opening of a 200-strong factory, entirely dedicated to the evening and ceremonial sides of the brand’s ready-to-wear offering. Knitwear, suiting and leather goods are developed in Italy.

This allowed the brand to swiftly meet the uptick in demand, especially in the wholesale business, which had been most hit during the pandemic and was now back to its pre-pandemic level of 150 accounts, as of the 2022 resort collection.

In addition to this, Saab Jr. also outlined a retail rollout plan that includes an opening in Abu Dhabi’s luxury Galleria mall in the United Arab Emirates in June, Milan on Via Gesù in late August, a new address in Qatar ahead of the soccer World Cup in November and another in Saudi Arabia by the end of the year.

A shop in Saint-Tropez will also complement St. Barths, a winter destination that “did so well we made it permanent,” he added.

As for Elie Saab Maison, after a rocky first opening in 2020 in Milan to “zero traction” in the hard-hit by COVID[-19], it now has a retail footprint of three stand-alone stores in Paris, Beirut and Milan, as well as over 15 shops-in-shop corners around the world.

The rapid-fire Middle East openings were a natural step given that “everyone thinks Elie Saab is strong in [that market] but we didn’t have an important direct footprint,” he said, pointing out that these customers shopped in Paris or other destinations before the pandemic curtailed travel.

Meeting their customers wherever they now find themselves is particularly important in the post-pandemic configuration, he noted, as “clients want to shop as an experience and as entertainment, so if you’re not there, someone else will take your place.”

“One of our strengths is that since we’re an entrepreneurial business, we can take quick decisions [as] good opportunities arise. Especially post pandemic, where there was also a gap…in the market, when it comes to spaces and renters,” he continued.

This also extends to the brand’s digital footprint, especially through direct channels.

After joining Amazon’s Luxury Stores platform in September 2020 and joining forces with Farfetch in July 2021, the late 2021 launch of a directly managed online store has quickly garnered “revenue equivalent to a B-tier city,” amounting to a 10 to 15 percent share of the brand’s overall retail sales.

In this new configuration, while Europe still represents 35 percent of the overall business, with a further 30 percent coming from the Middle East, sales in the U.S. have had an uptick congruent with other luxury products.

Currently standing at a 25 percent share of the business, the brand has seen important growth in retail and wholesale business “in doors and value,” said Saab Jr., naming New York, Dallas, Miami, Los Angeles and San Francisco as the biggest shipping destinations.

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