Fashion Flashback: Alber Elbaz

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It is very sad when a genius departs this life. But it is even more sad when that genius leaves us before his time. There will always be nagging thoughts and frustrated conversations around how their talent could have continued to bless us. There will also be wistful thinking of what we will never experience again and how life ended the talent far too soon.

Still, there are the memories of all the flashes of genius, the explosions of brilliance, the exploration of a particular creativity, all housed within one individual. Alber Elbaz was one such genius. And we were so blessed that he chose fashion to display his many talents.

Born in Morocco, Alber Elbaz began sketching dresses as a young child, first sketching dresses for his mother and his teachers. “For me, the sketching of dresses was about fantasy and dreams,” Elbaz told the New York Observer.

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Elbaz moved to New York City in 1985 and landed a job early on with Geoffrey Beene. After seven years with Geoffrey Beene, Elbaz became the head of ready-to-wear design of Guy Laroche.

In 1998 Elbaz moved on to design the Yves Saint Laurent’s Rive Gauche ready-to-wear line which should have been a dream job for Elbaz. However, Elbaz tenure at YSL was only three seasons. Elbaz’s personality didn’t match with YSL after Gucci Group acquired the brand. Gucci Group wanted more of a media personality to helm YSL’s Rive Gauche ready-to-wear, and Elbaz was shy, retiring fashion genius that didn’t meld well with Gucci Group’s idea of the celebrity fashion designer.  “Alber wasn’t comfortable being famous … He just wanted to make women clothes,” explained Betty Halbreich, author and head of the Solutions personal-shopping department at Bergdorf Goodman in New York. Tom Ford replaced Elbaz at YSL.

Alber Elbaz is best known for resurrecting the oldest fashion house in Paris, Lanvin. Once the jewel of the couture world, Lanvin had become a dusty French fashion house that appealed mostly to an older consumer. Elbaz re-invented the brand in 2001 with playfully feminine clothes garnished with bows, grosgrain belts and outsize, often surreal costume jewelry by Elie Top.

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Under Elbaz’s helm Lanvin quickly found celebrity fans in Gwyneth Paltrow, Meryl Streep, Charlize Theron, Natalie Portman, Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone, Kim Kardashian, Dakota Fanning, Sienna Miller, and others. Lanvin was also heralded by critics and buyers. However, in 2015 Elbaz was fired after a much controversial dispute with Lanvin’s majority shareholder.

After a five-year absence from fashion, Elbaz launched his own brand AZ Factory in 2020, right before the COVID-19 pandemic. The launch of AZ Factory created an enormous buzz in fashion circles. “I felt that I cannot serve you a steak if you’re a vegetarian,” Mr. Elbaz told The Wall Street Journal, explaining that women want more than pretty, impractical clothes. “I had to give women what I believe they need in this moment. Fashion is a little bit like a fruit. It has to be fresh.”

Designer Alber Elbaz walks down the runway at the Spring 2004 Lanvin show in Paris. Image courtesy of

AZ Factory combined dramatic, sophisticated, and stylish fashion with comfort and accessibility. Unfortunately, Alber Elbaz didn’t live long enough for AZ factory to take off.

“He understood …what things would make you insecure and what he could do with his clothes to hide those things in your physique. [He knew] what you needed to feel super confident,” explained famed fashion photographer Inez van Lamsweerde.

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Alber Elbaz died from COVID-19 complications on Sunday, April 25. He was 59 years old.

William S. Gooch

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