Alber Elbaz, the Moroccan-born Israeli fashion designer, credited with reviving French fashion house Lanvin, has died yesterday at the age of 59. At the moment ge was the creative director of Paris-based Richemont’s AZ Factory, his much-awaited project-return to the fashion scene after being unceremoniously fired from Lanvin in 2015. A popular figure amongst his peers, Elbaz was also a favorite amongst Hollywood stars such as Cate Blanchett, Meryl Streep and Sienna Miller who trusted him with dressing them for their special events.
I wasn’t fortunate enough to interview him. His untimely death makes it feel like a terribly lost opportunity to ask my prepared list of questions: How did you feel when you had to leave Lanvin? How did Geoffrey Beene actually influence your work? And most importantly: Do you feel you represent everything the current fashion industry doesn’t well…tolerate?
In fact, Elbaz’s tenure at Lanvin and the way it ended illustrates everything the industry has seized to be-in a nutshell. Elbaz worked at Yves Saint Laurent before starting a14-year tenure as creative director at Lanvin. He took an ailing heritage house and transformed it into one of the most sought-after luxury brands of the world.He dived into the archive of Jeanne Lanvin and created a strong house DNA that was instantly recognizable, flirty while feminine couture-like yet fresh. His designs were youthful, elegant without looking vintage-and were selling. “Those were highly intuitive, designed clothes that didn’t need a ‘concept’ or a bunch of ‘pre show’ notes to shine. In his own words: “Design is really the true fuel of this industry. Without real design and true design and deep thinking, it is no longer luxury. I also think that intuition is a very important ingredient, especially in luxury, and I think that we have to go back and give place to intuition.”
14 years of creative and financial success news passed. Then news broke that Elbaz had been unceremoniously ousted from Lanvin. The fashion world, according to the New York Times was shocked. Then, the rumor mill started: it was due to continuing disagreements with the label’s private owner and CEO. Today, most insiders know the story. A story that would early enough showcase this: designers were gradually losing power over house executives.
Fast forward to today and Elbaz’s independent case is the norm of the industry. Designers come and go in an endless game of musical chairs that deprives talents of both the means and the time to formulate a coherent vision- let alone execute it over time. Just yesterday, the Paris-based fashion house said it would part ways with designer Felipe Oliveira Baptista after two-year collaboration. It is so short a time, it’s telling. Great design has to sell and sell fast. When it doesn’t, so much for the design.
My personal farewell to a designer many counted as “the true heir of Balenciaga’s talent”, is in his own words describing his vision of a post-pandemic reboot for Numero Magazine. Words that remind us that, at the end of the day, the greatest luxury is to be true to yourself and your vision :
”We were living crazy marathons of more, faster, bigger. Maybe this is the time for reflection. Time and beauty are my definitions of luxury.”
Thank you for everything.