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Claudine Saab on Her Definition of a Life Well-Lived as the Valiant Matriarch of the Elie Saab Family

Far from the glitter of the couture fashion world, Claudine Saab reveals her personal definition of a life well-lived as the valiant matriarch of the Elie Saab family

As told to Caterina Minthe

Claudine Saab

Claudine Saab. Supplied

“I don’t have a routine life; I never had. Together with my husband, Elie, we are always so busy with events, the fashion show, fashion weeks… Regularly on a plane, constantly traveling. I have always been supportive of Elie and when we got married, I tried to assist him in the different aspects of the business (excluding design). I was involved in the organization and communication and I am always present when needed. In our lives, plans are constantly changing. We’re always on the go, which makes it difficult to plan a vacation. Every time we’ve tried to organize a trip, something comes up and we have to cancel. I remember a trip to Mauritius that didn’t occur since plans never stopped changing. Now, we are both aware of how it is and we do arrange things differently.

Elie Saab, Claudine Saab

Elie and Claudine Saab. Supplied

Elie and I are opposites. I don’t live my life like one might expect of ‘Elie Saab’s wife.’ I don’t mind traveling alone with my carry-on. I don’t need to be surrounded by people to assist me. I am not after the spotlight and I’m not obsessed with fashion. I remember one of my son’s friends came to visit us for a week with two suitcases. I was triggered because I would have packed lighter. I can easily travel back and forth from Paris, Geneva, and London with only one carry-on. I’m a simple, down-to-earth woman.

Claudine Saab, Elie Saab, Elie Junior, Celio, and Michel

Claudine and Elie Saab with their sons Elie Junior, Celio, and Michel. Supplied

I moved to Switzerland with my sons Elie Junior, Celio, and Michel when the situation in Lebanon got bad. At the time, they were 13, 12 and 9 years old respectively. Elie and I had to take this decision when Michel, the youngest, was blocked in a summer camp and I had to cross borders in order to reach him in London. We grew up in a civil war and we did not want our children to have to experience the same childhood. Despite the fact that we are so attached to Lebanon, we did not want to risk the war getting out of hand and hence, the security of our children. So, we decided it would be in the best interest for our kids to move to another country to pursue their studies. Elie suggested we put the kids in boarding school but I did not want to live far away from them. We chose to move to Geneva, where it could provide them with unlimited opportunities and a strong education.

Claudine Saab, Elie Saab

Claudine and Elie Saab. Supplied

Elie was very busy at that time, working on developing the business and he used to visit us in Geneva from time to time. I went more often to Paris to meet him and I could spend a day there to be with him then return back at night. I can say that the children were used to their father’s punctual absence cause they understood early on the nature of his business.

Claudine Saab, Michel, Elie Saab

Claudine and her youngest son, Michel. Supplied

We stayed in Geneva for about 15 years. The children needed a lot of care and attention. I am a very dedicated mother. They had busy schedule of activities from skiing to swimming and I was always there with them. We lived the same lifestyle as in Beirut, inviting their friends, hosting dinners, cooking Lebanese food. For the children, nothing really changed. For me, it was a big responsibility, acting as a mother and playing the role of the father by taking care of teenagers  and making sure to solve all problems without involving Elie who was always busy and under a lot of pressure. Sometimes, I was frustrated and needed Elie to interfere but when I called him and felt he was overwhelmed with the business,  I didn’t want to make him worry so I took everything on me and tried to manage by myself. I believe all this made me the woman I am today.

Claudine and Elie Saab.

Claudine and Elie Saab. Supplied

I met Elie in 1987 when we went to choose gowns for my sister’s wedding. My mother was one of his first clients. He told me that when he saw me, he knew that I was the one. To get to know each other better, he invited me to his sister’s birthday. Naturally, as a protective father of five girls, my father was cynical of men who showed interest in his girls. But since my parents had known Elie for a while, they agreed to let him take me out for his sister’s birthday. That was the beginning of our beautiful relationship.

At this time, the war was worsening and the airports were going to close. Elie had to leave to Cyprus with his family. While he was away he wrote me letters since the phone lines didn’t work. We kept in touch and as soon as he returned, he proposed right way. At first I thought, ‘Are you serious?’ since we were both still young and Elie had lots of dreams to accomplish. But we loved each other and soon married in 1990. The next year, Elie Jr. was born. Soon after, Elie left Lebanon to take his business internationally to Paris.

Claudine and Elie Saab with Christina Mourad, wife of Elie Junior

From the first time I met Christina, Elie Junior’s wife, I just had this feeling that she would be a great addition to the family. We’re very close, we get along very well due to our similar characteristics and mindset. Being a mother was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had in this life. Now that my kids are grown, the next step in life I’m looking forward to is being a grandmother. I can’t wait to spoil my grandchildren. Family is one of the most important things in life and that’s what gives me purpose and drives me to be a dedicated mother, wife, and soon-to-be grandmother.”

Originally published in the March 2020 issue of Vogue Arabia

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