The saddest and most heart-breaking news on a Sunday. Alber Elbaz, who made his name at brands like Guy Laroche and Yves Saint Laurent, and spent a 14-year spell rejuvenating Lanvin, has died at the age of 59 at the American Hospital in Paris. “I have lost not only a colleague but a beloved friend,” Richemont (the conglomerate backing Elbaz’s latest venture, AZ Factory) founder and chairman Johann Rupert said in a statement published today. “Alber had a richly deserved reputation as one of the industry’s brightest and most beloved figures. I was always taken by his intelligence, sensitivity, generosity and unbridled creativity. He was a man of exceptional warmth and talent, and his singular vision, sense of beauty and empathy leave an indelible impression.” The Moroccan-born visionary is best known for Lanvin’s striking renaissance during his 2001 to 2015 tenure at the French house. There, he dressed women in the most chic, and at the same time always comfortable and body-friendly, day- and evening-wear. His abrupt split from the brand, which saw him forced to defend his work and leadership style, was well-documented, and Elbaz subsequently took a five-year hiatus. Returning to fashion with innovative AZ Factory on the spring/summer 2021 couture schedule with a fresh perspective and a modern brand proposition, the industry was overjoyed to welcome back one of its leading creatives, who always imbued his work with such joy and put the focus squarely on making individuals feel special. The legacy of this unique designer will forever stay alive in his timeless designs, and the Alber Elbaz woman will always feel her best self while wearing one of his all-time signature looks: a pyjama silk shirt printed with his frivolous illustations, a chiffon ball-skirt and layers, layers of pearls. His brilliant work and ebullient presence will be sorely missed.
Here are some of my favourite Alber Elbaz moments, from his most iconic looks at Yves Saint Laurent and Lanvin to my mum wearing one of his dress for New Year’s Eve few years ago…
“Live” collage by Edward Kanarecki. Front photo by Tim Walker. Ad campaigns by Steven Meisel and Tim Walker.
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.
All that holiday season is also a good time for induldging in the fashion archives. Many don’t know that (or simply don’t remember – or were barely born then!) Alber Elbaz worked as creative director of Yves Saint Laurent from 1998 until he was fired after three seasons when Gucci bought the company in 2000 and Tom Ford took over the creative direction. Autumn-winter 2000 was Elbaz’s last collection for the maison, but also his best. As Vogue’s Hamish Bowles recalls, “he finally hit the target with a controlled collection that proved a strong modern take on the house’s timeless chic. Elbaz elongated and chiseled the classic proportions of the trademark boxy jackets and pencil skirts, and showed them with black glove-leather shirts with matching narrow ties – a cool, modern spin for the classic YSL suit. With satin revers on an overscale man’s Crombie coat, he also gave a contemporary twist to ‘le Smoking.'” Looking at the collection now, it feels so relevant and distinctly YSL at the same time. Leaving ‘grand soir’ statements to the master Yves himself and the haute couture collection he continued to design at the time, Elbaz sent out a capsule of few, after-dark looks for his finale. Classic metallic lace looked chic again, in long-sleeved midi dresses styled with hip-slung crocodile belts and wrinkled ’70s cavalier boots. Great-looking tarnished brass lamé suits with black chiffon blouses, body-skimming cocktail dresses in black slipper-satin, and entrance-making flapper dresses were followed by a final stylish take on a YSL classic – the sheer black chiffon blouse with a skirt made entirely of ostrich feathers. No wonder why after this collection, Lanvin invited Elbaz to take over the brand… and he did wonders there for more than a decade!
Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
“At this time of my departure from Lanvin on the decision of the company’s majority shareholder,” he writes, “I wish to express my gratitude and warm thoughts to all those who have worked with me passionately on the revival of Lanvin over the last 14 years . . . together, we have met the creative challenge presented by Lanvin and have restored its radiance and have returned it to its rightful position among France’s absolute luxury houses.”
Alber Elbaz, one of the most loyal fashion designers, was officially fired from the house of Lanvin. After 14 years of beautiful, feminine collections, he was simply asked to leave, due to the fact he opposed to the unbelievable speed of fashion industry, which makes major designers feel frustration, and young designers struggle. Throughout his career, Alber presented and tried to prolifically approach the house of revolutionary Jeanne Lanvin – four collections a year for women, and two for men designed together with Lucas Ossendrijver. But still, the share-holders of the brand felt dissatisfied with Elbaz. And this causes a big problem in the fashion industry system – where is it heading to? To even bigger desire of consumerism? To more and more of beauty? Wait. Even the most couture-ish gown looses its beauty in this situation. The best example of that is a 500 euro jacket, that H&M will soon sell in collaboration with Balmain. Who cares that it’s beautifully embroidered, if it was produced in thousands of exemplars. This isn’t really on topic right now, but people who are planning to buy this jacket at H&M for such a price… well, then good-luck with completing your wardrobe with too expensive Made in China clothes.
But coming back to Alber Elbaz and his Lanvin history. When I have looked back at all of his collections this morning, I nearly cried. His signature, draped dresses. His opulent, yet simply cut tops. The ruffled details. The new definition of Parisian chic, that we all know understand thanks to Elbaz’ silhouettes and ways of dressing women. After those 14 years, it feels like Alber rebuilt the legacy of this French house, giving a lot of future references to the designer that will be soon announced. I just wonder who will be so desperate to work with such “demanding” and ignorant owners. Any guesses?