The day of the tragic Beirut blast is clearly etched in our minds and it is a day we won’t be able to forget any time soon. There were a number of fatalities, people lost their homes and business and the blast has put a huge dent in an already suffering economy. One such business is that of famed designer Elie Saab and his heritage building which now remains in ruins.
Two weeks after the blast, the world-renowned designer visited his home and picked his way through glass and damaged marble table tops. “Thank God everyone is okay,” Saab said while speaking to his team. Elie Saab is one of Lebanon’s most famous exports and has a long history in the industry. Not only are his designs renowned, but he has also dressed some of the biggest names including the likes of Kate Middleton, Halle Berry and Helen Mirren.
A number of celebrities visited the house which stood over the main street of Beirut’s trendy Gemmayzeh district. Now, marble columns lie in pieces. Windows and a balcony have been smashed. A chandelier has been reduced to chunks of glass hanging limply from a tangle of wire. Just like the whole area in the region, the fashion house was destroyed by the massive August 4 explosion that authorities have said was caused by a huge stock of ammonium nitrate stored at the nearby port. The blast disfigured huge swathes of the capital, killed 177 people, and injured 6,500 more.
The front of the renovated early 20th-century home was ripped open with the blast and exposed one of the very few examples of traditional Lebanese architecture left in the city after the 1975-1990 civil war. “This place was alive,” Saab’s long-time assistant Johnny Zeinoun told AFP. “To see it like this…” he trailed off, looking at the destruction around him. He went on to say that a few people were present in the building at the time of the blast. He recalled that during his call with Elie Saab after the blast he was asked if anyone was hurt. “He said, ‘I don’t want to hear that there’s any blood’.”
Elie Saab acquired the house back in 2006 and renovated it with Venezuela-born, Beirut-based architect Chakib Richani. “Saab wanted to protect the architectural identity and construction of the house,” with its traditional-style arched windows and high ceilings, said fashion journalist Ali Jaffal, who works with the designer. A graceful central hall can be seen partitioned by marble columns framing tall triptych windows in pictures published by Architectural Digest in 2009. And now, it is a scene of destruction. Through a gaping hole, wrecked homes can be seen across the street, their blown-out windows and doors leaving them equally exposed.