Picture it: Paris, 1920. At the dimly-lit La Revue Nègre, Josephine Baker appears before a boisterous crowd wearing nothing but a single flamingo feather, and nearly causes a riot. Over on the Left Bank, the greatest creative minds of a generation gather at Gertrude Stein’s legendary home at 27 rue de Fleurus to sketch, paint, debate, and scribble screenplays. On any given night, you might meet Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, or Henri Matisse at Le Dôme Café, the favored spot for artistes of a certain caliber. On the Right Bank, the post-impressionists gather at the tiny cafés of Montparnasse.
The whole city is caught up in “Années folles” or the post-World War I “crazy years” which swept through the entire Western World. Known in America as the “Roaring 20s” and in Germany as the “Golden Years”, each country mourned the loss of millions of young people who fought in the war by throwing caution to the wind. Giving themselves over nightly to debauchery and excess, a “Lost Generation” was formed, and out of it, came the art, design, and literary movement known as modernism.
Cyclically, we have arrived again at the same place, beginning with America’s War on Terror and carrying through to Trump’s Nuclear Age. There is a generation lost to excess, desperate to look the other way as the powers that be rend the globe in two. It’s only human, as for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Therefore, war and strife are processed into an excuse to live life to the fullest – to seek joy where one may find it – because, in the words of Raymond Radiguet, “tomorrow may belong to somebody else.”
Saab always finds the light; it is his most extraordinary gift.
It is necessary to paint the picture in order to understand why Elie Saab’s ode to Paris in the 1920s for Spring 2018 Couture feels so apt today. Saab, tapping the vein of distraction that gave way to the excess of the 20s, asks us to wrap ourselves in gilded gowns and feathered capes so that we may suspend ourselves in fantasy, if only for a brief moment. It is escapism at its finest.
That is to say, yes, this couture show clearly radiates Elie Saab’s signatures: gowns shot through with acres of crystal beading, high/low hemlines, feathery accents. This time around, the flapper feel is at the forefront, as is a strong Art Deco motif found in the delicate shapes traced onto gowns by way of glittering embellishment.
His spectacular oeuvre has contained this theme since the beginning, which is fitting when you consider the war and turmoil that Saab has endured as a Lebanese citizen. It must feel quite familiar to confront a world in chaos, and to respond to it with the utmost beauty. Saab always finds the light; it is his most extraordinary gift.