Alber Elbaz is back in fashion! Oh, how I missed his fabulous, perfectly imperfect dresses, joyous colour palettes and chic femininity he delivered at Lanvin. Five years after an abrupt exit from the Parisian maison, he returns with his own brand, which won’t be playing along the industry’s dusty rules. His debut AZ Factory collection, which is part spring-summer 2021 ready-to-wear (available now on Net-A-Porter, Farfetch and the label’s site), part couture, proves Elbaz truly reconsidered many things before starting his new venture. “I was doing a lot of observation,” he told Vogue. “I needed to run away. Somehow, I didn’t want to do any more pre-collections, post-collections. I had to question the present, and the future. I had so many questions: the world, women, technology, needs changed…so how is the industry going to change?” He’s embraced tech; he’s stepped up to environmental-responsibility, he’s taking on body-positivity – all things that seemed like far-off improbabilities in 2016, when he took a break from fashion. After taking a good look around – pending his time teaching, reading, visiting Silicon Valley, listening to women friends, researching new fabric technologies, he concluded there’s a place for a totally modernized approach to fashion. “I was thinking: What is the purpose of design today? Thinking, but not being intellectual. How can I help women? I wanted to work on new technology to develop some smart fabrics with factories [to make] beautiful, purposeful, and solution-driven fashion. That is for everyone.” The first offering from AZ Factory is “My Body,” a set of dresses engineered to consider the ergonomics of all shapes and sizes. Its implications are super-modern, practical, empathetic – and kind. “I saw for five years, women I met for lunch how much women were struggling with their weight, and sometimes that was hard to watch,” Elbaz said. “ Even in the ’50s, [fashion said:] ‘This is right, and this is wrong.’ I think that there is no wrong! I took a subject that is taboo, that you almost don’t want to talk about, but I said: Yes I will. We’re not here to transform women; we’re here to hug them.” His dream, he explained, was “to build a magical dress that was made of knitwear: an anatomical knit. There are areas that are a bit thicker, areas that are finer. I released the tension in the skirt, so you can walk faster, or dance if you wish.” AZ Factory has all the flourishes and colorful quirks his fans will easily recognize from his Lanvin days – the volumes and prints he so fluently dashes off from his pen. But this time, rather than going in the French haute couture party-gown direction, the ideas are sprung from athleticism and servicing real life. Developing his own bespoke fabric has made him break the wasteful old fashion-y habit of splurging on multiple options. “I said: Be strict with yourself!” he laughed. “I’ll do one jogging suit in seven colors and a few duchesse skirts in recycled nylon.” It can all be hand washed, too, thus eliminating dry cleaning impacts (and bills), while cutting down on washing machine water and electricity use. Just one thing I’m not sure of are the pointy-toe sneakers. But in overall, everything works really well. It adds up to a new way of doing things, that’s for sure: a far cry from catwalks and shows, a break with some of the bad old habits of fashion, and a leap to launch purely online. “And everything is 230 to 1,200 euros!” Elbaz concluded. A price point which is much, much lower than the one at Lanvin, for instance. It’s a new space in between, where something with design integrity and modern thinking is finally happening. Welcome back indeed, Alber.
“Live” collage by Edward Kanarecki.