‘I walked the Cannes red carpet’
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.
‘IF THE DRESS HAS BEEN WORN ONCE, IT’S OVER.’ I FEEL UNBEARABLY SAD AT THIS THOUGHT
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
RIGHT FROM TOP
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
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