Saab's Dh600m makeover in Dubai

Elie Saab will bring his modern and stylish designs to the Dubai project. (AFP)

In the hotel business it is the little differences that can have a long-lasting impact. With competition for guests intense, an establishment must ensure everything is perfect, or risk losing a guest to a rival. And world-renowned Lebanese designer Elie Saab believes he has what it takes to make The Tiger Woods Dubai the leading hotel and golf resort in the world.

During a short trip to the Emirates this week, Saab, 43, cemented his relationship with Tatweer – a member of Dubai Holdings – to design a lavish 360,000 sq ft boutique hotel, which will include 89 suites and 14 bungalows, a world-class spa and a 10,000 sq ft swimming pool.

"I want to create a very contemporary look and feel to the hotel. The interiors will be about quality, craftsmanship and innovation," says the suave designer dressed in a bespoke navy suit and crisp blue and white pinstripe shirt.

The Tiger Woods Dubai to be built in Dubailand is an exclusive golf community encompassing a professionally staffed golf academy, a 139,000 sq ft clubhouse with premium amenities, a high-end spa, 22 palaces, 75 mansions, and 100 luxury villas with community services. The 55 million sq ft resort will not only feature bespoke greens designed by the world number one, but also luxury and sophisticated interiors courtesy of Saab.

He believes the amazing development – costing in the region of Dh600 million – is going to be a huge success, not just for the UAE, but the region as a whole. Saab says: "Looking at what Dubai has planned for the future is incredible. The projects are enormous and the country will be watched to see how these visions are created.

"To have Tiger involved with the course goes to show the scale of the project and I am thrilled to be involved.

"My philosophy is to keep things modern and luxurious and I hope this will put the hotel on the map and make it a world-class destination for years to come."

But with a range of designers putting their names to hotel brands across Dubai, including Giorgio Armani at Burj Dubai, Versace at Dubai Creek and Missoni on The Palm, how is Saab going to standout? "It's not about just putting my name to something, I will be heavily involved in every aspect of the interiors from the bathrooms to the bedrooms, to the lobby to the walkways. It is not just the hotel using my name and brand, I am totally hands on," says Saab.

Surrounded by some of the materials he will use and computer-generated images of the rooms, Saab explains his style. "I want to keep things simple and modern, but without losing the Arabic influences of where it is being built. My key word for the project is innovation. I believe that simplicity plus luxury will create something totally different from what has been done before."

Although Saab believes expanding his brand is one of the most important things he can do in the next decade – he says he will never branch into the mass market for fear of losing quality.

"A lot of people put their names to projects without knowing how it might affect them, but with something like this I am proud to be associated with it and I look forward to putting my mark on it. It will allow me to develop my interior skills and create something unique for the region.

"I have grown beyond fashion and already incorporated my designs into cars, furniture and ready-to-wear, but The Tiger Woods Dubai is different because it is the first time I have worked on such a huge project. In the past I have been offered many different proposals but nothing caught my attention like this did, so I took the opportunity."

Saab – who once created a range of cakes for the Café de la Paix's in Paris' Intercontinental Hotel – says unlike other design collaborations, such as Roland Mouret for Gap and Roberto Cavalli for H&M, he will not be producing a concessions line for the high street. "I don't have anything against those who do it, but it is not my strategy or the way in which I want to develop the business at the moment," he explains.

Despite being catapulted to fame in 2002 when Oscar winner Halle Berry wore one of his couture gowns to the awards night, he does not believe in courting the famous. At the time he said: "It is no doubt an ultimate achievement for a fashion house to be part of such a glamourous event." Yet he doesn't chase after celebrity endorsement. "I am not interested in running after them [celebrities]. It is a pleasure when any woman wears one of my creations."

Saab knew from the early days that he wanted to be a designer. As a child he began to sew and taught himself the basics of design. During his teens he continued to learn and in 1981 he moved to Paris to study fashion, but ended up returning to Beirut where he opened a workshop and within a year launched his own label.

"I always believed I would be successful. I planned to make a living from clothing from an early age, it was not something that happened to me by chance, I worked hard for it. I believed in my dreams, I had ambition and that's how I got to where I am today," enthuses the designer who still has his main workshop in Lebanon, a country to which he remains deeply attached. In 1997 Saab was the first non-Italian designer to become a member of the Italian Camera Nazionale della Moda, and in 1997, showed his first collection outside Lebanon in Rome.

Alongside his flagship store in Beirut and a boutique in Paris there are also plans to increase worldwide retail presence in other major cities including Dubai. "It's something we are looking into."

As well as this he is a guest presenter and advisor on Mission Fashion – a reality Big Brother-style TV show trying to find the designers of the future, currently showing in the UAE. "I'm being kept pretty busy at the moment but it's when I work best," he says.

 

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