Lebanese designer Elie Saab sells the most couture fashion in the world (yes, more than Chanel!) and is beloved by red carpet regulars and royals alike. He designed that dress that Halle Bery wore when she won her Oscar and Katy Perry's wedding gown. But when a Saab creation costs thousands (the starting price of one of his couture dresses starts at 35,000 euros. A wedding gown is 300,000 euros!), wearing an Elie Saab creation is out of the price range of most—until now.
This self-taught designer has teamed up with legendary perfumer Francis Kurkdjian (the creator of bestselling scents Gaultier Le Male and Narciso Rodriguez for Her) to debut his first fragrance, an orange blossom-meets-patchouli masterpiece that's sure to inspire many future fragrances. "Having copycats is good. It's proof that you're bringing something new to the market," says Francis Kurkdjian. Elie Saab Le Parfum will be available in September at Bloomingdale's, Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. At $60 for one ounce eau de parfum, almost every woman can now afford an Elie Saab.
Q & Afrancis kurkdjian
Q: How would you describe Elie Saab Le Parfum and what was your inspiration?
This is a solar floral. I wanted to capture the light that shines out of Elie Saab dresses. There are always sequins in his gowns. The material can be beige or pale pink, but there's always a glow. I wanted to create a scent with a yumminess. I call it the nuzzly effect—something that you want more of at some point.
Q: Yumminess? Like a sweet gourmand scent?
This is a step beyond gourmand. Thierry Mugler's Angel set up a new standard and after that there were many scents that had a gourmand twist—Coco Mademoiselle was a floral gourmand. Elie Saab closes this chapter. It's very refined and timeless, not trendy. I wanted to capture the feeling of a bright shiny day. When you stare at the sun and close your eyes, you'll still see a warm yellow orange light. This is a universal idea. There's sensuality and warmth, but not vanilla stickiness. Jasmine and orange flowers can be very heavy, so it's all about how you mix together the ingredients. It's like the difference between a chocolate cake and chocolate mousse. It's all in the twist of the ingredients.
Q: Your Gaultier and Narciso fragrances are still top sellers. How do you know if you've got a hit?
There are 500 fragrance launches a year, so you must have something to say when you launch something new. You don't just want to be the first to mix dog shit and caviar because marketing tells you to. When you want to do a hit, you have to get rid of clichés. Otherwise it's like trying to create a blockbuster just by hiring A-list actors, but having a boring movie.
There's something I call the secretary or taxicab effect. When you're developing a fragrance, you have to put it on skin at some point. I work with a few women in my office and I'll test the perfumes on them. I know it'll be a hit if my secretary asks for a sample of the fragrance to take with her for the weekend. It's also a good sign when I go in a cab and the taxi driver asks what scent I have on. It must smell damn good for other people ask what you're wearing.
Q: Is there anything a scent must have in order to be successful?
Fragrance must have a trail. People won't buy it if the scent dies two or three hours after you put it on the skin. The message is on the neck, so you have to still smell it. People don't know what they want, but they know what they don't want. If you try to please everyone, you'll seduce no one. That's what Oscar Wilde said.
Q: Have you always known you would be a perfumer?
I fell into many different things. At first I studied to be a ballet dancer. And my grandfather was a men's tailor—I wanted to be a fashion designer, but I didn't know how to draw. So when I was 15, I decided to become a perfumer. It's the closest job I could find that was in the fashion scene and allowed me to work closely with designers. Now I'm a teacher at the same perfumery school I attended in Versailles.