Lebanese couturier Elie Saab has been creating ethereal gowns and memorable dresses for his devoted clientele (he sells more couture gowns than any other couture house) as well as Hollywood celebrities for the past 25 years. Who can forget the sheer-bodiced, burgundy gown with floral appliqué worn by Halle Berry in 2002 when she accepted her lead actress Oscar? Or more recently, the whisper-soft, lilac lace dress Mila Kunis wore to this year’s Oscars?
The Beirut-based designer is adding a beauty component to his couture house with his first fragrance, called simply Elie Saab Le Parfum (out in September). The scent was created by famed perfumer Francis Kurkdjian, whose other notable creations include Jean-Paul Gaultier’s Le Male, Narciso Rodriguez For Her as well as his eponymous collection of men’s and women’s fragrances, candles and home scents.
For Saab’s first scent, Kurkdjian said that he knew it was something he had to get absolutely right. “I had an intuition that it would change something within the fragrance market, or maybe something in my career,” said Kurkdjian, sitting in light-filled suite at the Sunset Tower Hotel. “This scent sums up what I think about femininity. It’s beautiful, approachable and easy to understand.”
With strong input from Saab, who was opposed to scents such as vanilla and heavy and cloying wood notes being used in the perfume, Kurkdjian set out to create something inspired by the lightness of the fabrics and fluidity found in Saab’s gowns. “The scent should leave a light trail, just like the trail of a gown,” Kurkdjian said.
Saab’s new scent smells primarily of orange blossom and jasmine, while patchouli and cedar wood give the fragrance a nice depth, without getting too heavy. “There’s a duality between the orange blossom and wood that mixes femininity with strength. It was a challenge to find the twist. It’s very simple, but very sophisticated.
Another challenge came in the form of the perfume’s color, which was customized to echo the delicate pastels Saab uses in his collection. The more rich and complex a fragrance is, the darker in color it will become. Kurkdjian extracted the color from the perfume without compromising the scent and then carefully added a hint of color back into the formula to achieve the right shade of rosy blush.
But regardless of the pressure and challenges a perfumer can face when creating a signature scent for a well-known designer, Kurkdjian said that making a scent for someone else is far easier than doing his own line.
“It’s much easier to deliver someone else’s vision,” he said. “The brand is already there. It’s like being an actor and the lighting and set is all ready. You’re given the script and you have to read your lines and deliver.” Speaking of acting, the Paris-based perfumer spends ample time in Los Angeles, where he said the people are nice and the lifestyle is easy. When asked if he ever finds inspiration in the flowers and landscape of L.A., Kurkdjian said he’s more inspired by the vibrations of people rather than literal smells. “I like L.A. I love the ocean and long stretches of beach, the way the air smells.... it reminds me of France.”
-- Melissa Magsaysay
Top: Elie Saab Le Parfum / Elie Saab
Left: Actress Halle Berry waves as she arrives at the 74th Academy Awards at Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, March 24, 2002. Lucy Nicholson /AFP/ Getty Images
Right: Actress Mila Kunis at the 83rd Academy Awards at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles on Feb. 27, 2011. Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times