‘I walked the Cannes red car­pet’

Marie Claire (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - @kay­robert­son

CANNES IS NOT real. I mean, it ex­ists, in that it’s an im­pos­si­bly pic­turesque sea­side town on the French Riviera – so it’s real in the Google Maps sense of the word. But the re­al­ity ends there. For 12 days dur­ing May ev­ery year, Cannes is lled with celebri­ties at­tend­ing the lm fes­ti­val-whirl of pre­mieres and par­ties – and, no, these movie stars and mod­els are not just like us. I have proof…

I have own into Nice air­port and driven 40 min­utes west. It’s early – not even 10am – when I ar­rive in Cannes and, apart from the odd jog­ger cruis­ing along the La Croisette, the boule­vard that hugs the azure coast­line, the town is still wak­ing up from the night be­fore. In this sleepy, sub­dued state, Cannes feels like your av­er­age, beau­ti­ful French coastal town – al­beit one with an ex­traor­di­nar­ily high con­cen­tra­tion of ves­tar hotels and Lam­borgh­i­nis.

But as we drive up to the Hô­tel Martinez, my own ve-star abode, signs be­gin to emerge that Cannes is not quite as or­di­nary as it seems. There are the metal bar­ri­ers lin­ing the en­trance – to keep apart the fa­mous who exit the ho­tel (once they nally wake up), from the not-fa­mous ( who are armed with cam­eras). Then a man walks past my car win­dow with a fal­con perched on his arm. He’s non­cha­lant, as if tak­ing a bird of prey for a stroll is the most nat­u­ral thing in the world. I swivel my head and through the other car win­dow I see a tall, dark-haired man in a tai­lored suit and slip-on loafers walk by. His still shower-wet hair is tied up in a man bun and he is smok­ing a cig­a­rette and car­ry­ing a can of cola. It’s clearly the morn­ing af­ter the night be­fore. He is fol­lowed by a de­signer-clad oc­to­ge­nar­ian push­ing a Zim­mer frame. I start to get a sense that I’m watch­ing a per­for­mance: Guy With Fal­con, Mr Man Bun and Stylish Zim­mer-Gran are char­ac­ters and Cannes is their stage.

It’s all a dream

I’ve landed in this French fan­tasy world cour­tesy of Elie Saab, the Le­banese de­signer known for his ex­quis­ite red car­pet gowns beloved by stars who want to chan­nel his time­less, fem­i­nine beauty. Mr Saab (as I will soon learn to call him) is adding two new fra­grances (No. etiver and No.7 Neroli) to his high-end La Col­lec­tion line and so I am here to dip my toes into the de­signer’s care­fully con­structed dream world of glam­our and so­phis­ti­ca­tion.

The star­dust lters down through ev­ery­thing he touches, from his haute cou­ture col­lec­tions, to his ready-to-wear line and ac­ces­sories – shoes, hand­bags and per­fume. And sashay­ing straight through this dream is the red car­pet. Although al­ready a renowned de­signer in his na­tive Beirut, where he’d been dress­ing so­phis­ti­cated Le­banese ladies for decades, Elie Saab caught the world’s at­ten­tion in 2002 when Halle Berry wore one of his cre­ations to that year’s Academy Awards. Dressed in a bur­gundy oor-length silk gown, the trans­par­ent bodice aswirl with em­broi­dered orals, Halle went on to win the best ac­tress Os­car that night – and two stars were born.

Im­mers­ing my­self in his red car­pet uni­verse starts with a tour of the Elie Saab suite on the third oor of Hô­tel Martinez. The team sets up shop in the ho­tel many of the stars stay at in Cannes (hey’ve been do­ing so for 10 years). When an ac­tor or model de­cides at the last minute that she would like to wear Elie Saab to a photo-call, press jun­ket, lunch or red car­pet event, ev­ery sec­ond counts, says Em­i­lie Le­gen­dre, di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and Elie Saab’s right-hand woman. Pe­tite, blonde, so­phis­ti­cated, stylish and supremely pro­fes­sional, she is the em­bod­i­ment of the brand.


On one side of the light- lled room hang cou­ture dresses – unique hand­made pieces from the last spring/sum­mer col­lec­tion. On the other, the ready-to-wear col­lec­tion – a mix of re­sort and spring/sum­mer and a bit of win­ter too. The weather in Cannes a ects the ac­tors’ choice of cloth­ing, Em­i­lie tells me – be­cause it’s been so balmy this year, ac­tors have gone for bright colours in­stead of darker, heav­ier fab­rics. Ac­ces­sories are dis­played on glass shelves like con­fec­tions in a Parisian patis­serie: stilet­tos, box clutches, watches, neck­laces, stylish ats…

I ask Em­i­lie about the at­gate con­tro­versy, which made head­lines around the world when a group of women were turned away from the red car­pet ap­par­ently for wear­ing ats rather than heels. ‘No such thing!’ says Em­i­lie, who says she’s worn ats on the red car­pet be­fore. The is­sue, she says, is about ap­pro­pri­ate cloth­ing. The rules are there to em­pha­sise the pur­pose of the event – Cannes is a lm fes­ti­val, a place to pay homage to the art of lm. Be­ing ap­pro­pri­ately dressed is a sign of re­spect, Em­i­lie says.

As Em­i­lie talks in her French-in ected English, I soak in my sur­round­ings – I feel as though I’m in­side a gi­ant glass jew­ellery box. Mir­rors on the walls re ect the Mediter­ranean light, which streams in through the win­dows and set­tles on…

The Naomi Watts dress

The dress worn by Naomi Watts on the open­ing night of the lm fes­ti­val is dis­played on a man­nequin in the cen­tre of the room. The gown is all blue-grey feath­ers, or are they sil­ver? It’s hard to de­scribe the colour be­cause, as Em­i­lie tells me, Mr Saab works in shades and nu­ances rather than speci c colours. It has pock­ets – per­fect for red car­pet pos­ing – and a train, the length of which is pitch-per­fect. The back of the beaded bodice is deeply scooped and the neck­line takes a dar­ing plunge to­wards the midri . I am ren­dered speech­less by its beauty. And then Em­i­lie de­liv­ers her blow: this dress, she says, is ka­put. ‘If the dress has been worn once, it’s over. That’s why Naomi’s dress is not on a hanger.’ I feel un­bear­ably sad at this thought. To brighten my mood, I ask how it felt see­ing Naomi wear­ing Mr Saab’s creation. ‘It’s so re­ward­ing,’ Em­i­lie says. ‘Un­like their Euro­pean coun­ter­parts, Amer­i­can ac­tors pre­pare well in ad­vance. They have three backup op­tions but we never know which one they’re go­ing to wear. It’s a bit of a lot­tery.’

Naomi tried on the Elie Saab dress in New York. But she wasn’t con­vinced. She’d never worn some­thing so dar­ing and was wor­ried that the gown would wear her. ‘But her stylist was con dent,’ says Em­i­lie. The ac­tor trav­elled with it to Cannes – a very good sign. But they still didn’t know for sure when Naomi would wear it: on the night of the open­ing cer­e­mony? The pre­miere of her movie Sea of Trees? Ap­pear­ing for L’Oréal, for whom she’s a spokesper­son? ‘We were very lucky that she de­cided to wear it on the open­ing night,’ Em­i­lie says. ‘Those are mag­i­cal mo­ments be­cause it’s the right per­son in the right dress on a good red car­pet.’

How to dress an Elie Saab celebrity

This idea of the ‘right per­son in the right dress’ is cru­cial to the Elie Saab brand. It’s part of how the magic is cre­ated. But, says Em­i­lie, ‘we can never ap­proach a celebrity.’ Ever. ‘Even if I’m dream­ing of a celebrity, I can­not,’ she says.

Rule #1: Let the celebrity come to you

Who would be her dream celebrity? I ask. ‘ Tilda Swin­ton,’ says Em­i­lie with a smile. ‘It would be my big­gest chal­lenge be­cause I think that no one on earth would ex­pect her to wear Elie Saab – it would just be won­der­ful.’

How­ever, were Em­i­lie to meet Tilda, she could not ask the award-win­ning ac­tor to wear an Elie Saab gown. ‘A woman needs to have a de­sire to wear the brand.’ The rea­son is sim­ple: ‘On the red car­pet you


Karen on the red car­pet; Halle Berry wear­ing Elie Saab on Os­car night in 2002; Elie Saab fra­grances on dis­play; Karen snap­ping a fi­nal selfie in her Klûk

CGDT dress



Bump­ing into fash­ion edi­tor Carine Roit­feld; the hand-made creation worn by Naomi

Watts; ar­riv­ing at the lux­u­ri­ous Hô­tel du Cap

Eden-Roc by speed­boat

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