Alber Elbaz Didn’t Let Fashion Steal His Joy

Alber Elbaz Didn't Let Fashion Steal His Joy

The last time I heard Alber Elbaz speak he sounded upbeat. For the launch of his AZ Factory line on Net-a-Porter, he was speaking to editors via Zoom. It was shortly after the inauguration, and he explained that President Biden (or, as he put it, Bee-DEN) gave him hope that you didn’t have to be a spring chicken to be successful.
Given his good mood that day, it was particularly disturbing to learn of his passing from COVID-19 over the weekend. Elbaz seemed to have an endless ability to reinvent himself, to get up and dust himself off with a smile and a self-deprecating joke, no matter what fad threw him. It never seemed to develop the tough outer shell that most people who have worked for a long time in the company make a need to adapt.
My first idea that he wasn’t a diva maker came as a modest assistant in another magazine, when I had to write him a note apologizing for the paint that had found its way onto his glasses. oversized during a photoshoot. (Long story.) He couldn’t have been nicer, and when the decade of his tenure at Lanvin drew near, he gave me an interview. Later, I got to see him dine in the Hearst Cafeteria, grab his tray on the bus like the rest of us and revel in the sushi station, and see him talking to Parsons, where he handed out candy. in a paper bag to the public. (“Nobody’s got any more sugar!”) His fellow creators loved him too and commemorated the generosity and kindness he had shown them.
He designed as he did everything else: with enthusiasm. When he was at Lanvin, his bright, feminine aesthetic quickly spread into the mainstream of fashion, a softer counterpoint to the sexier Y2K look. Whether you wore jewel tones or preferred a statement necklace at some point during mid-August, you might have Elbaz to thank, even if you’ve never purchased one of his pieces. His commercials (most notably one with Karen Elson and Raquel Zimmerman dancing on Pitbull) were as silly, fun, and accessible as the man himself. They may have showcased costly clothes, but they didn’t hide behind a false front of pretension. (“I like first class, but I don’t like first class people,” he once joked.) And they created an opening for the fashion ads to be looser, funnier. and viral. With his Lanvin x H&M 2010 collaboration, which would have sold out in 22 minutes, he welcomed even more people to the Alber verse, and in 2012, long before the true model trend reached critical mass, he threw in ordinary people, including an 80-year-old former showgirl, in her ad campaign.
While it may have had a Larry David type neurotic effect, its working principle was joy. It manifested in his personality and in his designs. Happy clothes may not have the credibility of serious intellectual clothes, but maybe we should take them and their mood-swelling powers seriously as well. As a post-pandemic summer approaches and we prepare to face it in whatever frills and arc we can find, Elbaz will be there in the spirit.

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