Alber Elbaz Obituary | Fashion
Of all the designers who resurrected a Parisian brand during 40 years of fashion necromancy, none was better than Alber Elbaz at the Lanvin house, where he was artistic director from 2001 to 2015.
Even Karl Lagerfeld channeling Gabrielle Chanel never had the connection or respect for his founder that Elbaz, who died at the age of 59 from Covid-19, did with Jeanne Lanvin. Founding her business in 1889, she had initial success when customers wanted the dresses she made for her daughter before the First World War for their own children; after the war, adult women wore similar easy clothes, and Lanvin’s were the prettiest and kindest.
Elbaz’s own tenderness came out of his avowed vulnerability. He was round in an environment of thinness, uncertain among the brash, preferring to listen and whisper as the fashion market screamed louder. What he offered women was not flattery, just friendly clothing like the protection he could understand they wanted, especially those who faced hostility on red carpets. “How can I make women feel hugged in our dresses?” he asked, dresses being the specialty of the house, especially cocktail dresses, an extension of the dressy but informal outfit of Madame Lanvin. style dresses.
He was so convinced of his compatibility with Lanvin (his label showed Madame playing with her daughter) that when a conglomerate run by a Chinese businesswoman, Shaw-Lan Wang, bought him from L’Oréal in 2001, he called her to be the creative director. She replied, “I would like you to wake up that Sleeping Beauty.”
Elbaz made the house a success for 14 years while maintaining her modest character as a seamstress. The dresses were draped over the body, with few seams and lots of hand stitching for softness and flexibility. Jeanne Lanvin had believed that the dresses should be simple enough to be put on without the help of a maid, and Elbaz modernized this to “zip, zip”; he had learned creativity with zippers, and clothes to move on the parade, from his first mentor, the American designer Geoffrey Beene. Elbaz’s movie star dresses (including for Oscar-winning Meryl Streep, Tilda Swinton presenting one, Helen Mirren and Nicole Kidman) either did not have armored bodices or presumed immaculate bodies underneath.
It strengthened the international reputation of the house while maintaining the behaviors of Madame Lanvin’s time. He personally organized the store windows, naming the models and imagining their stories; he picked his own booming playlist and designed lighting cues for each show, culminating in models in his dresses like a bouquet of flowers on slender stems. Elbaz said he relates to high life as a janitor in a tall building – happy to facilitate residents’ good times, but participating in them would spoil his dreams. Life in a sewing workshop was his pleasure.
He took a long way to join his own salon and become the couturier for whom the fashion world had no affection: the adorable Alber (he hit the “t” at the end of his name to clarify pronunciation. ). His Sephardic Jewish family moved from Casablanca, Morocco, to Holon, Israel when he was 10 – and were already designing dresses; there her father, Meyer, worked as a colorist in a hairdressing salon, while her mother, Alegria, was a painter. After compulsory military service and design studies at Shenkar College in Tel Aviv, he moved to New York in 1984, with $ 800 in his mother’s security in his pocket.
He worked there in a bridal business before his sympathy for women and his technical gifts persuaded a store manager to pair him with Beene as a design assistant, who trained for seven years. Elbaz migrated again, in 1996, invited to Paris to design ready-to-wear for Guy Laroche. Yves Saint Laurent named him heir to the Rive Gauche brand in 1998; The Saint-Laurent d’Elbaz were more lark than the originals, but it had no chance to grow there, as the Gucci group took over the business the following year and replaced it with the sex- Tom Ford’s tough appeal.
For Elbaz, Lanvin’s promise to do what women loved was such an accomplishment that he could have ignored the acceleration of contemporary fashion and stayed there for life, with new generations of women eager for his empathy. There, he recruited non-models of all ages for campaigns and made an affordable collection, fragile dress included, for H&M in 2010. But in 2015, after arguments he hated with Wang over the future from home he was fired.
It shook fashion, downgraded the house and crushed it. He described himself as homeless – Lanvin had been his home, his staff, his family. Quality companies, notably the shoemaker Tod’s, invited him to design special collections; he also disguised Natalie Portman for a 2016 period movie, A Tale of Love and Darkness (her clothes are nicer to her than the movie).
He visited Silicon Valley tech companies and production houses, taught at fashion schools, and heard how fashion for real people was now made and sold differently – online and through events. narrative in nature, such as high street / designer collaborations or his with Acne Studios in 2008, where he made their denim in shades of Celestial Blue by Madame Lanvin.
The result of the search was a new label, AZ Factory, launched this year – the company’s motto “fashion who cares” – with the first release being My Body dresses in stretch and knit for a tight fit. , made in all sizes from XXS to 4XL and available online. No parades, no stores and no couture prices, but comfortable and comforting like his Lanvin creations. The company seemed like a possible future for post-pandemic fashion.
Elbaz was knighted in the Legion of Honor in 2007 and an officer in 2016.
He is survived by his partner, Merchandising Manager Alex Koo, a brother and two sisters.