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Sabah’s Beauty Guru Shares the Story Behind the Iconic Lebanese Star

Sabah and Joseph Gharib’s story of legendary devotion lasted a quarter of a century. Gharib remembers the joy of those years and recreates the iconic looks of the Lebanese diva in William Khoury designs

Sabah at one of her performances

On a balmy Beirut night in the early Nineties, a young beautician was out with friends when a Lebanese music legend entered the room. This chance meeting blossomed into one of the most iconic friendships the Arab world of entertainment has ever seen. This is the story of Joseph Gharib and Sabah. “I was enamored with Sabah from a very young age. I would cut out her pictures from magazines and stick them on my wall, and my father would get angry with me for ruining the paintwork,” recalls Gharib with a chuckle. It was this exposure to the great beauties of the Middle East’s Golden Age of cinema that fueled his love of aesthetics and drove him to consider a career as a cosmetic surgeon. “I studied medicine for a year, but I knew it wasn’t my passion, so I made the switch to hair and makeup and headed to Paris to study them professionally.” Upon completing his studies, the young Gharib returned to Lebanon where his father helped him open his first salon, in recognition of his budding talents. It was not long before local media personalities like Ferial Karim, Salwa Al Katrib, Maguy Farah, and even Sabah’s own daughter, Howayda Mansy, began frequenting the new beauty hotspot.

Joseph Gharib

On the evening of their first meeting, Sabah told Gharib that she was going to be on Studio Al Fan with Simone Asmar, the famed talent show that launched the illustrious careers of celebrities such as Wael Kfoury, Nawal Al Zoghbi, Elissa, and Myriam Fares. “She said that she wanted to test my skills. You either succeed with Al Sabooha or you don’t,” laughs Gharib. “I heard that and lost my mind! I couldn’t sleep all night. The next day, I was so nervous, my hands were shaking. I couldn’t believe what was happening. This was the Sabah. She was an icon; a queen.” Despite being a newbie on the beauty scene, he decided to take a gamble and create a look that completely transformed the legendary singer. He chose a winged smokey eye and coupled it with a metallic bronze lip to contrast with her sparkling, sky blue dress and jewel-encrusted headband. Much to his relief, everyone who viewed the episode was delighted with her new style. This served as a turning point in his career and was also the start of a journey of companionship that was to last 23 years, up until the day of Sabah’s passing.

From Cairo, Damascus, and Dubai to London, Paris, New York, and everywhere in between, Gharib traveled the world with Al Shahroora, the Arabic word for “blackbird” and the nickname bestowed upon Sabah due to the incomparable beauty of her voice and the proximity of her hometown to Wadi Shahroor in Lebanon. “Everywhere we went, people knew she was a star, even if they didn’t know who she was. We would walk down the Champs-Elysées and people would stop her to ask her who she was,” recalls Gharib. With her bold fashion choices, statement shock of fluffed, platinum blonde hair; heavily lined eyes; and bright crimson pout, her glamour and diva status were undeniable. “Sabah believed that every star should have a signature look and this was hers. Right up until her very last days, she would ask me to apply her favorite shade of red lipstick, Christian Dior No. 365, which I would buy for her in bulk every time I went to Paris.”

Inspired by the beauty of Sabah. Photo: Tarek Moukaddem

Born Jeannette Georges Feghali in 1927, in the Lebanese mountain village of Bdadoun, Sabah discovered her innate love for the arts from a young age. Her rich folkloric voice and magnetic personality soon caught the attention of the pioneering Lebanese film producer Assia Dagher, who offered her teenage protégée a three-film contract in Cairo. Despite her vocal and acting talents, Sabah’s early years were tainted by the trauma she suffered at the hands of her aggressive father who would take her earnings, and later her brother who murdered her beloved mother in cold blood because of her suspected infidelity.

Over the span of seven decades, Sabah would go on to make more than 90 films and record thousands of songs such as Zay El AsalYana Yana, Al Nadda, and Jeeb Al Mijwez Ya Aboud. She established herself as a cinematic giant, music legend, and fashion icon, familiarizing the Arab world with Lebanese culture, and uniting generations of people across the Middle East and the world in their love for her groundbreaking art and unabashed approach to womanhood. Despite her limitless talents, Sabah’s numerous tumultuous marriages, fractured relationship with her son, and her daughter’s rollercoaster life of narcotics dependency and failed cinematic endeavors meant that it was often her personal life that made the headlines. Frequently, she would recount that marrying and having children were some of her biggest regrets. In 2008, Gharib himself was embroiled in the rumor that he was husband number eight. “Because we were always together, everyone assumed that we must have been in a romantic relationship, but she was so much more to me than that, our friendship transcended everything,” says Gharib.

Inspired by the beauty of Sabah. Photo: Tarek Moukaddem

For the April 2008 edition of Qamar Magazine, Lebanese journalist Tony Khalife published a cover story with Sabah and Gharib, with the pair dressed as a bride and groom. “The world went crazy when the magazine came out,” exclaims Gharib. “Sabooha had such a fantastic sense of humor, and she thought it was absolutely hilarious. The following week, we went on Tony’s television show to let everyone know that it was just an April Fool’s Day joke, but no one believed us. To this day, when I visit Cairo, people shout, ‘There’s Sabah’s husband!’ when they see me.”

In 2011, the television series Al Shahroora was made depicting Sabah’s life story. It was directed by Egypt’s Ahmed Shafik and starred Lebanese singer Carole Samaha. Despite the personal interviews that Sabah gave the team before production started, she and her family hated the final cut and attempted to take legal action against the production company for defamation. “It was all wrong!” says Gharib. “It was so shallow. They made out like she was just some actress who sang the odd song here and there. The focus was all on her marriages and dramatic stories of domestic violence. That’s not true. Sabah was a strong woman respected by everyone around her and that wasn’t reflected in the production. The true greatness of her success was downplayed. Where were her monumental concerts? Where was her international success? It wasn’t accurate at all.”

Inspired by the beauty of Sabah. Photo: Tarek Moukaddem

In the final decade of her life, Gharib was not only the guardian of Sabah’s hair and makeup, but he was also her unfaltering companion. She often spoke of her adoration for him on public platforms. In an interview with talk show host Zaven Kouyoumdjian, she called him her “oxygen” and her “greatest love.” “She had complete confidence in me because I was honest and transparent with her from the start, and I think that’s why there was that instant connection. Throughout her life, her art was her one true love and she suffered privately because of that. She was a superstar in every sense of the word and when she was on stage, her God-given charisma glowed, and she was a total professional, punctual, and respectful. But what you saw on stage was also the real Jeannette Feghali; a joyful, funny, kind, loving, and generous human being that kept her sadness and heartbreak hidden within.”

Sabah lived out her final years at the Brazilia Suites Hotel in Beirut, with Gharib working during the day while she slept, and spending the evenings by her side, applying her favorite rouge, and perfuming her with her Elizabeth Arden Rêve d’or fragrance. As her health deteriorated and in the absence of her own children, her attachment to Gharib intensified. He in turn often prioritized her above all else. Alone on the day of Gharib’s mother’s funeral, Sabah called him crying in pain. He cut his grieving short and went to give her the medication she so desperately needed. In a cruel turn of events, Gharib was on a work trip to Paris when he received the call that he had dreaded for so long. His beloved Sabooha was gone. On November 26, 2014, she passed away peacefully in her sleep at the age of 87.

Sabah on the cover of an undated Lebanese magazine

Rumors still hound Gharib, claiming he inherited millions of dollars from Sabah and sold her dresses to the highest bidders in the Gulf. “After she passed, I was offered blank cheques by the media to tell them stories about Sabah. But I always rejected the offers because I don’t care about fame. I know things that even her family are unaware of, but I decided that I’ll keep her secrets until the day I die.” In her final moments, Sabah requested that her loyal companion write a book on their time together, which he assures is in production. “She gave me the green light to share my story with the world but as always with her delightful sense of humor she said, ‘Don’t be too harsh on me though!’ While the book is about my life with her, it’s going to be something deserving of her legendary greatness. A loving dedication to the magic and joy she brought to this world.”

“Sabah was a second mother to me. People know my name because of her, and I owe everything I have to her. To me, she was happiness, hope, and love, and I lost so much when she died.” Gharib’s voice is wistful as he recalls Sabah’s final words of advice to him. “Nothing in this world is worth being sad about. Enjoy yourself, have fun, and don’t let anyone upset you. Most importantly, no matter what happens or who stands in your way, hold your head high and keep going.”

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