It is very difficult to keep a calm voice in the midst of a drama, but how is it that Alber Elbaz—one of the most loved, most prolifically creative, most hardworking and loyally long-serving designers—has actually been dismissed?
This scarcely believable bombshell came in a letter to the press sent directly from Elbaz this afternoon. “At this time of my departure from Lanvin on the decision of the company’s majority shareholder,” he writes, “I wish to express my gratitude and warm thoughts to all those who have worked with me passionately on the revival of Lanvin over the last 14 years . . . together, we have met the creative challenge presented by Lanvin and have restored its radiance and have returned it to its rightful position among France’s absolute luxury houses.”
Again, we are pitched back into the unavoidable question that has been roiling in the atmosphere since Raf Simons quit Dior only last week: Exactly what place of strife has today’s fashion industry become? What illness has taken hold at the very top of fashion that is pitting the best and most visionary talents of our times against the management of the companies who hired them? And how do we, the audience of women who buy clothes, reconcile that with what we know of the leaders we look up to, whose shows we enthusiastically attend and whose narratives we carefully analyze and appreciate every season? And who are, in one way or another, dropping like flies?
I can’t answer that. As of this time, I can only speak as someone who has known Alber Elbaz since he stepped into this house. Witnessing over many years how he respected and cared for everyone who worked for him—the infinitely skilled seamstresses, whom he was well aware were supporting their families daily; the young team of designers he nurtured; the friendly press people who were integral to his world—I find it painful to imagine the scene at Lanvin headquarters on the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. Alber, clearing his desk. Fired.
I last saw Alber in his studio days before his immensely powerful and well-received Spring 2016 show. I sat across the desk from him as he calmly explained how he was processing the multiple realities of addressing women—and the processes of commerce today. He was asking rhetorical questions, not complaining, not judging, but trying to come up with creative answers to the challenges thrown up by the Internet-accelerated speed of fashion, the shift in expectations on a designer not to be a developer and “maker” but a “creative director,” and the need to make dresses that look great on a red carpet.
Alber was also concerned—and show me the designer who is, these days—about how real women might be able to translate skimpy, semi-naked “event” dresses for themselves. “Come in, Olga,” he said, beckoning to a model who was standing in his doorway. Olga was wearing a nude corseted bodysuit over which was draped an emerald green satin “event” gown. Olga looked me in the eye. She knew how good it was. As a genius construct. As a witty comment. As something considerately meant.
The Lanvin Spring show—Alber’s unexpected last—covered this entire waterfront (or is it a cliff’s edge?) with a vast lineup of proposals from severe black and white tailoring, to faux-sexy eveningwear, to brilliantly louche glittery sequins and sarcastically funny Lanvin-logo prints of shoes and bags. Drawing back a bit, I think it was his attempt to square all the circles of the commercial needs of a globally selling company while still being himself, a man who, above all, tries to empathize with what women want. Though, apparently, even that wasn’t enough to keep his bosses happy.
Skimming back through Alber’s Lanvin collections, I am struck by how much he has innovated, how much he owned, and how relevant his clothes still are through time. If you were lucky enough to have bought something from one of his early collections, you were the first to have gotten your hands on dresses with tulle jewels suspended in the neckline, the first to have invested in his fluid one-shouldered goddess dresses, the first to appreciate the pretty-fierce eroticism he invented with his ribbon-implanted zippers. And through practice—if you are like me—you’ll now realize that you’ll probably be wearing them, on and off, for the rest of your life.
When all’s said and done, that timeless hot-yet-elegant relevance is Alber Elbaz’s permanent calling card. Should anyone be approaching him with a job proposal right now, they’d be lucky to get him. And for all of us who have Lanvin in our wardrobes, let it be known: We want more. But only if whoever snaps up Alber next takes care to make him happy.
Alber Elbaz talks creativity, street fashion, and more:
The post Alber Elbaz Was Pushed Out at Lanvin; Vogue’s Sarah Mower Reflects on His Legacy appeared first on Vogue.
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