By Christopher Turner
Alber Elbaz, the Moroccan-born Israeli fashion designer who rejuvenated Lanvin and had recently launched his own venture, AZ Factory, died on Saturday, April 24 in Paris. He was 59.
The cause was Covid-19, Richemont, the Swiss luxury company backing Elbaz’s latest project, said in a statement.
“It was with shock and enormous sadness that I heard of Alber’s sudden passing,” Richemont chairman Johann Rupert said. “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.”
Elbaz had recently launched AZ Factory after a five-year hiatus following his abrupt firing from Lanvin, where he was fashion director from 2001 to 2015. During his time there, he turned Lanvin, the oldest surviving but dusty French fashion house, into a more modern and prominent brand thanks to the elegance and extravagance he brought to his creations.
He was one of the biggest names in modern-day fashion and was instantly recognizable with his oversized round glasses and his penchant for bow ties. He also earned countless fans with his friendly and cheerful demeanour, something that set him apart in an industry known for prickly personalities.
In celebration of the life and career of Alber Elbaz, here are ten things that you might not have known about the famed fashion designer.
1. Albert Elbaz was born on June 12, 1961, in Casablanca, Morocco, and grew up in Israel. After studying fashion design at Shenkar College of Engineering, Design and Art in Tel Aviv in the mid-1980s, he was determined to pursue a career in fashion. His mother gave him $800 dollars and encouraged him to move to New York. When he arrived in New York at the age of 24, he immediately removed the T from his first name so that it would not be mispronounced.
2. In New York, Elba landed at Geoffrey Beene, after a brief stint at a bridal firm. After seven years with the American fashion house, he then moved to Paris in 1996 to become the head of prêt-à-porter design at the French house of Guy Laroche. In 1998 he was appointed creative director of Yves Saint Laurent by co-founder Pierre Bergé and won rave reviews for his ready-to-wear collections for the French master.
3. In 1999, after three seasons, Elbaz was unexpectedly fired in the wake of Gucci Group’s takeover of Yves Saint Laurent. He was in the midst of designing the upcoming ready-to-wear collection when Tom Ford decided to pick up the design reins. Elbaz subsequently did one season with Krizia in Milan before sitting on the sidelines for one year where he considered leaving the fashion industry. “YSL was like a death somehow,” the designer revealed to BoF. “At the time, the YSL affair affected me deeply and I was very depressed. I decided to have a year and a half without work and it gave me time to think about my life and my career.”
4. In 2001 he was hired by Lanvin shortly after its acquisition by a group of investors led by the Chinese billionaire Shaw-Lan Wang. Under Elbaz’s guidance, the storied brand re-found its lost glamour with elegant, feminine designs and pulse-pounding runway shows. Lanvin was almost instantly catapulted back to a top Paris fashion house and Elbaz himself became one of the fashion world’s most respected figures. During his 14 years with the brand he was renowned for draping fabrics directly on the body and made headlines around the world with his cheap-chic collection for H&M in 2010, as well as countless celebrity red carpet moments. Meryl Streep famously accepted her Oscar for best actress in 2012 for The Iron Lady wearing a draped, gold lame gown by Elbaz.
5. Elbaz was very conscious of his weight throughout his life, which he said influenced his designs. “I do things without décolleté, nothing is transparent,” He said to the New Yorker in 2009. “I am overweight, so I am very, very aware of what to show and what not to show, and I am sure there is a huge link with being an overweight designer and the work I do. My fantasy is to be skinny, you see? I bring that fantasy into the lightness — I take off the corset and I bring comfort and all these things that I don’t have.What I bring is everything that I don’t have. This is the fantasy.” Ariel Levy wrote in the same article: “Elbaz thinks it’s a very big deal that he is overweight. Asked what he imagines life would be like if he were thin, he replied, ‘Amazing,’ with real conviction.”
6. The designer was very superstitious. In fact, he claimed to have never placed his bag on the floor. “I was told that if we put money on the floor we lose money. I like to spend money, but I don’t like to lose money. So I’m trying it on the little bench just here in the back.”
7. Elbaz was known for his self-deprecating humour and his insecurities, but he was also considered one of the kindest figures in the fashion industry. The designer was an old-fashioned guy who preferred handwritten notes to emails and text messages and sent flowers to other designers before their shows.
8. After being ousted from Lanvin in October 2015 and before partnering with Richemont, Elbaz busied himself with speaking engagements and small design projects at various price points, including a collaboration with Tod’s; a Converse sneaker; a limited-edition makeup line with Lancôme; a range of travel bags and accessories with LeSportsac, and a fragrance with French perfumer Frédéric Malle.
9. In 2005 he received the International Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America, in 2016 he became an Officier of the Légion d’Honneur, and in 2007 was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People.
10. Elbaz launched his own label, AZ Factory, backed by Swiss luxury company Richemontin early 2021. His goal was to make clothes that solved women’s problems, at a more accessible price, sold directly to them, without heed of season or size. “I asked myself, ‘If I was a woman, what would I want?’” Elbaz told The New York Times in January. “Something that is first comfortable. Something fun. Something that lets me eat a big piece of cake.”