Opulence and Masculinity Merge in the Fashion Designer’s Paris Apartment
Elie Saab’s evening gowns evoke an updated 1940s glamour that attracts a high-profile clientele firmly anchored in Beirut, Paris and Hollywood. This is a clientele that absolutely wants to be seen. Therefore, one might naturally expect Saab’s Paris apartment to reflect the color and sumptuousness of his couture. Architect Chakib Richani, a longtime friend of Saab’s from Beirut, who designed his showroom, boutiques and residences, has a completely different aesthetic, however, and Saab has ceded to him.
The designer’s Paris residence, located near the border of the eighth and 16th arrondissements—the former known for high-end shopping, the latter more for grand-but-staid apartments—faces the Musée de la Mode et du Textile (Museum of Fashion and Textiles) and, beyond it, the achingly hip Palais de Tokyo art museum, both in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, the greatest Paris icon of them all.
“The interior was designed to have a soul of its own, free from the surroundings—a private refuge for Mr. Saab and his close friends,” Richani says, rejecting the notion of any Parisian influences. “The space itself inspired me to create objects for it,” he adds, referring to the oversize floor lights and cubic furniture he designed. “Each object was created for that specific space. Only after did it belong to the Chakib Richani Collection.”
Building restrictions required that the architectural elements of the apartment be unchanged, and Richani confined his work to the main rooms. One sees clearly the distinction between Richani’s clean, modern furnishings and the container—a traditional, high-ceilinged Parisian residence, gloriously detailed. Once the restoration of the extensive woodwork was complete, he found himself in a curious position. “I’m an architect, not a decorator, and I use very basic colors, earth tones or black and white, which are not really colors to me. I like the absence of colors in my interiors, always.”
In lieu of color, Richani employs rigorously geometric shapes to compose the stage set, the “scenography,” as he calls it, to accommodate Saab’s family, friends and clients. The result is at times a rather corporate-looking space, with furniture as architectural installations giving off a dark, masculine energy. Color is provided by a few stacks of books; scattered in a corner on the floor are CDs of the Lebanese diva Fairuz. Artworks are notable for their absence. The stage set is seductive, unfussy and unpretentious.
“It’s the universal values of minimalism: the purity of the geometry, the right proportion,” Richani says. “Traditional Lebanese houses are very detailed, and my work is not so detailed.”
All the furnishings in the apartment are luxurious in size and texture, and none more than the mirror-finished stainless-steel dining table. “It’s built in three pieces, and we got it inside with a crane,” Richani explains. “The harsh material complements the classical look around it,” he says of the dining room’s generous moldings and wood paneling. Rows of candles reflect in the table’s surface. In the hallway, and on either side of the living room fireplace, wall-size modular mirror “screens,” inspired by Eileen Gray’s screens, also bounce light liberally. They cause “fragmentation, disorientation and reflection of the space. Their light creates different moods depending on the time of day,” he remarks.
Though Saab works exclusively with the female form (menswear is on the horizon), Richani aspires to a symmetry unknown in nature. “Symmetry is the inspiration for poise and eternal beauty, and I love it,” he says. “We always attempt perfection, while we cannot reach it. The struggle to reach what we cannot attain is the total fight of our entire lives.”
The intersection of Richani’s aesthetic and Saab’s lies therein. Saab uses draping and luxurious materials to give an over-the-top glamour and sexiness, always moving toward an ideal of femininity. Richani, in contrast, works with cubic forms and right angles toward his vision of minimalism.
Given that many of his clients are princes and princesses of the Middle East, with palatial residences, one can’t help but wonder if their opulent tastes clash with Richani’s aesthetic. “I always try to attain what I want with a client and don’t really believe in compromise at this point. I just do what should be done with the space, respecting my minimalist legacy, if you want to call it that. A space inspires me, and I create objects for it.” MG