A true visionary, an influential fashion icon, a silhouette alchemist… a true artist. At the helm of Lanvin since 2001, Alber Elbaz revived the world’s oldest couture fashion house, a sleeping beauty until his arrival. His down-to-earth creations ooze timeless elegance… with a touch of fun, the Alber way. Lanvin knows no age barrier and translates easily across the generations. Meryl Streep, Charlize Theron, Emma Stone, Natalie Portman, Jessica Alba, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Kardashian, Helen Mirren… The French fashion house has become a red-carpet favorite. How can it not? Lanvin stirs emotions, from its logo, a mother and daughter holding hands, to its designs crafted in the ateliers of brand in the heart of Paris. In his Parisian office clad in black, Alber Elbaz talks to Prestige about his idea of happiness, the essence of design, industrial couture and the importance of having an atelier in-house. His piercing eyes, his sense of humor and his candidness are as compelling as his love for women. These same women he wants to protect and empower with his impeccably tailored suits and dresses.
Lanvin celebrated 125 years… And yourself are celebrating 12 years at the helm of the oldest fashion house in the industry. What would you like people to wish you? More happiness! I think happiness is a very important word, it can take us to good places. I always believe that unhappy people are creating unhappy products, and happy people are creating happy products. My mother used to say that love brings love and I think that she’s right… I think that happiness brings happiness.
Happiness or the mood in general can affect perception and creation? We were working on this project of an exhibition in Palais Galliera (Jeanne Lanvin exhibition from March 8th till August 23rd 2015, ed.). So we sent some things by email and the return was «we don’t like it at all»… And today we saw the people, and they loved it. So what made the difference between I love and I don’t love? What made the difference between not liking it yesterday and adoring it today? I think it’s the human touch. We are living in a society where the internet is changing the world, almost as much as the wheel changed the world at a time and the industrial revolution changed the world a hundred years ago… The internet was invented to help people communicate… But more and more we see that it’s not really helping communication because it’s just one way, and everything you say, no matter what you say, always has a bit of a harsh feel to it. But the moment you look at the person, and you see their eyes, and you touch and you smile and you hear the voice, everything passes through different channels and it’s so much easier…
So are you «connected»? I don’t really have an email address, I don’t send 150 emails a day, I don’t receive them. I don’t communicate that way. I’m still using a pen and a paper. I think it’s important to keep the intuition and the feeling towards things. A lot of things are very formula oriented. In other words, if you have a store, you have to do this, if you’re doing a collection it has to be that. If you’re doing a red carpet dress it should be like this, etc… I think that in luxury, in our domain, the one thing that is most important is to keep the intuition, to keep that moment that has no reason and you cannot explain why but it’s there. This is what made creativity go on. Because the moment you put creativity and you put it into a formula, and into a system, it can make creativity lose its individuality… For me, a big part of the luxury industry is individuality, is to be unique, to be different, to buy one bag that you are the one person that has it, to have that dress that was done for you. That’s for me the essence.
But we have seen a lot of this individuality disappear with the globalization of luxury. The same items are available anywhere in the world. Jeanne Lanvin used to create specific collections to a country… The moment our client will see another client, and will say «I know this dress, I know what season it is from, I have the same…», then I know that I didn’t do a good job. The collections we do are almost if they are industrial couture. Almost everything we do is like one of a kind. The way we put it together, all the workmanship, the atelier, the finishing, the fabric… it all comes from the couture tradition, but we industrialize it. So in order to make it relevant to women of today, you don’t need to go with five fittings, you just come one time and you buy couture of the rack. I love that, I think this is what makes life easier for women.
«I would love to come to Lebanon, I hear it’s a dream country combining tradition and newness…»
Do you judge a book by its cover? Yes, I’m in the design business. It’s the same thing with music, with movies and sometimes with an exhibition. We are trapped with façade and with packaging. This is life, we cannot fight it. It’s normal.
You never go out without? Shoes! (laughs)
If you could walk in someone else’s shoes for one day, who would that be? Georges Clooney. (laughs)
You were born in Morocco, do you still have memories of your time there? I was born in Morocco but I left really early afterwards. It’s only at the age of 35 or 36 that I came back. And now it’s a place I go to twice a year. My parents used to talk a lot about Morocco so when I came back so many years later, for a moment it didn’t feel new to me or strange… I feel very comfortable there, it’s like India, there is a certain energy, a certain light. You are emerged in a new world, with new values. I love the generosity of Morocco, its people. I love the food, I love the smell. Even though I was not there for many years, I feel that I own Morocco and Morocco owns me and I love it. It’s very much my culture. When I travel, I either like it or don’t like it… It only takes a minute, I feel it or I don’t. And I adore Morocco. I’ve never been to Lebanon yet unfortunately.
You have to come and visit Lebanon. You would love it. I would love to come! I hear so many good things about Lebanon. I hear it’s fantastic, a dream country that is full of tradition, full of culture, newness and energy. You know, my first job ever when I moved to New York was with a company that designed mother-of-the-bride clothing. It was owned by a Lebanese-American family…So my first experience in the US was actually lebanese!