I saw Alber Elbaz walking on the Seine when I was in Paris a few months ago. He was wearing all black, had his glasses on, and was unmistakably…him. I stopped and just sort of slowly turned around with my dumb mouth open, as he walked passed me and my parents. He was in a hurry, and probably didn’t recognize me. I giggled the rest of the day.
Yesterday, after 14 years as the lead designer/creative director for the iconic French designer, Lanvin, Alber Elbaz has been dismissed.
I’m not a fashion critic, and I can’t claim to understand the inner-workings of the industry. It’s a gigantic, complicated beast and the details of what exactly happened aren’t exactly public information. But from what I can tell, this is pretty messed up. Elbaz seems like one of the good ones to me, and I have always followed his work. I confess that I often forge imaginary relationships with people I admire, and in the same way that I feel like I would be really good friends with Kristen Wiig, I think Elbaz and I could really vibe.
However it went down, it’s a damn shame. Elbaz created some of the most elegant, interesting, and innovative designs I have seen, and he’s been a constant force of inspiration in my life. In his time at Lanvin, he was dedicated to making clothes for actual women, and not just the size zeros of the world. He wanted to make fashion accessible without compromising taste and quality. He pumped new creative life into a brand running on fumes and brought Lanvin back into the mainstream with collaborations and humor. Maybe most importantly, he was kind. He would often send other designers flowers before their shows, and was constantly grateful for his life as a designer.
A lot of big houses are losing their leads; Raf Simons just left Dior, and Alexander Wang is out of Balenciaga. Everyone is being polite, and no one is publicly trashing their former employers, but it feels like the corporate, icky, money-grubbing side of fashion is pushing out the talent. This is from the NYT piece on Elbaz’s departure, and really resonated with me:
“That is, the current situation in which brands treat designers as “work for hire” — stewards that set a course for a style ship for a time, but who can be replaced as necessary while the ship itself sails on — and its inevitable corollary: that designers start to see themselves the same way. The result transforms the relationship from that of a marriage, where you pledge to love and care for each other through sickness and in health, into a dispassionate contract-to-contract arrangement.”
There many people who can write better than I can about this lovely man, and Sarah Mower, who I really respect, wrote a great piece for Vogue Runway. She has known him through his tenure at Lanvin, and it’s worth a read. I am sure he will go on to do more in the fashion world and he doesn’t honestly need a house like Lanvin to back him. He’ll be just fine.
Have some wine, sleep in, and plot your next amazing thing, sweet man. I can’t wait to see what you do.