As editor-in-chief of Elle Oriental, Désirée Sadek deftly balances the values of a global magazine brand with a diverse array of readers across the Middle East. Launched in 2006 with Lagardère Group's Hachette Filipacchi Médias, the magazine's distribution spans Lebanon and the Levant, the Gulf and the Maghreb.
Born in Beirut, Lebanon in 1958, Sadek is a journalist and writer with over 30 years of experience. She has helmed a series of magazines prior to Elle Oriental, including Byzantium, an interior decoration title.
Produced in French and Arabic language editions, the two versions of Elle Oriental are distinct in that they target women with different interpretations of modesty in fashion. The former tends to cater for the more liberal taste of Lebanon and elsewhere, while the latter is for readers across the Arabic-speaking world who uphold more socially conservative traditions.
“We can mix the East and the West in fashion,” Sadek told The Wall Street Journal.
Sadek’s venture aims to address both ends of the spectrum but also bridge the gap, with a major focus on accessories and beauty products. Whereas some publishers have launched society magazines, fashion only comprised a small part of their content coverage. “We are opening up the market.”
Shortly after Elle Oriental’s launch, armed conflict broke out in Beirut and the region, forcing many publications to put out slimmer issues or shutter entirely as advertisers disappeared and reporters fled. Although the magazine had to cancel its special edition, Sadek and her staff hid “in a safe place,” as she told the US version editor Roberta Myers, and kept working.
“We write about beauty, fashion, hair ... But I cannot turn a blind eye and ignore what happened. I have to be in touch with everything that relates to the Orient. I want to emphasise that Elle is sensible but also intelligent. [The magazine's] heart is 100 percent Oriental and 300 percent Lebanese,” she told Lebanese newspaper Daily Star.