Alber Elbaz Shares His Thoughts on Design, Fame, and How to Fix the Fashion Cycle – Vogue.com
Alber Elbaz is here to make people happy. In the 15 years he helmed Lanvin, his self-imposed missive was âto make women feel better,â a project he undertook with an exacting and kind approach to design. (Show me a woman who still doesnât dream of his Spring â08 tropical-hued polyester dresses.) At Parsons last night, where he gave a talk with Julie Gilhart and Paperâs Kim Hastreiter, his approach to making people happy was a bit more direct: candy. Elbaz emerged onstage with a giant shopping bag of chocolates that he distributed to the audience for extra cheer. He also brought tissues, just in case a Facebook comment he read about a girl crying to meet him proved true.
If the candy and tissues set a jovial mood over the start of the conversation, the remainder of the evening was all business. Elbaz addressed his dismissal from Lanvin (âmy tragedy,â as he called it), the changing fashion cycle, and his ideas for how to fix relations between business people and designers, peppering the conversation with some of his famous quips and metaphors. âI always say that fashion is like a roast chicken. You donât have to think when youâre eating it,â one of his long-standing metaphors that got a lot of laughs. But the comment of the evening that drew the most applause was surely, âIf I was a producer in Hollywood, I think that James Bond will be a woman.â As for what Elbaz wouldnât say, there was one glaring omission: what his next job will be. The audience was asked to put forth ideas following the talk, some screaming âDior!â others âTV show!â and one more, âRun for president!â to which Elbaz laughed and said, âDonât take me there!â His poignancy goes beyond politics tooâread on for Elbazâs most relevant quotes about the world of fashion.
On the changing nature of fashion:
With all the changes that we are witnessing now, I think that itâs great. Even though itâs difficult on a daily basis, I think that something really good will happen, I think that something really fabulous will end up because people are questioning, and for too long we did not question. For too long we just did what we always did. . . Itâs a process; itâs not going to happen over night.
On the importance of designers:
Design and designers are the essence and the fuel and the foundation of fashion. Fashion, without designers, is like a home without a mother. Now you have to applaud! [crowd cheers] We need to celebrate design so we can celebrate fashion again. Thatâs why I took the time to come here to Parsons and meet students upstairs before I came here . . . I hear nowadays too often, young designer, old designer, young actress, old actress, older writer, younger writer, and Iâm like, Is it really about being young or old? Or is it about being good or bad? . . . When I read some of those articles when they say itâs maybe the end of the star system when it comes to designers, Iâm getting a rush from nerves because itâs not the end of the star system. You become what you become if you do a good job, and you work with passion, and compassion, and if you have experience. Then you may become famous, but youâre not working for being famous, youâre working to do a good job, and the end result is being a little bit known.
On being famous versus being good:
If you are famous you can just do anything you want, just anything, and thatâs why we need school today because we need to do two things in this great design school: We have to give the time [to be creative], and we have to strengthen the muscles. Because muscles and time are two things that you cannot buy in any luxury store. You have to work hard and you have to train, and this is what school, and this is what fashion, is all about.
On fast fashion versus couture:
I want to touch the two. I would love very, very much, on one hand, to work and to touch this world of high street because there is a beautiful energy going on, and next to it, I would love to make those clothes for women I love and I would love to do it only with people I love.
On finding inspiration in the past versus copying:
I think that the whole thing here is to get inspired, but then you have to manipulate. You have to take off; you have to add. You can take a dress from 1950 but make it in leather; take off the sleeve, and it becomes a jacket; add a snap of metal magnets, and it becomes a bit high tech. Take off the belt and put it with a T-shirt base, and, all of a sudden, it becomes conceptual, and at the end of the day, you know what it comes from, but nobody else will know the secret.
On the struggles of marrying business with fashion today:
I see those CEOs have to manage all of us. And you know what? If we would have a better communication, a better dialogue, with us and the management, that would be the only time when we could make beautiful fashion and a beautiful team. I think that if we inject a little bit more love into fashion and less fearâbecause today I feel itâs more about fear and less loveâwe would have a beautiful reason to wake up every morning.
His advice to students:
Donât try to be a fashion catwalk designer . . . because you make some noise, youâre being hired, and everybody loves you, youâre a real hero, and then you donât make the numbers because youâre all in extremes. I think that, in order to prevent that, maybe we need to dream but maybe we need to think. Fashion is not just thinking or not just dreaming, but is the mix of the two. Iâm also saying that not everything has to scream on the screen.
On his post-fashion life:
I believe that once youâre here, even for a short time, you leave a trace behindâand Iâm not talking about fingerprints because fashion is not a crime scene. Like life, you know we go through highs and lows, and I came here today without a private driver, without an assistant, without a secretary, without a PR with three phones that tells me where to sit and what to say and where to pose. I came with a friend, with Julie, who came to pick me up and we met Kim, who was waiting for us. So I thought there is something quite fabulous about being free. I was there 15 years, almost seven days a week, a tuna sandwich for lunch and a pizza for dinner because there were early mornings and long, long nightsâI see youâre all chewing the candies, I love it! One day, you are out, out of the system and you start a new life. But I love fashion; I love fashion people. I love them really a lot and I really adore this industry. I see it now from a different perspective because I am an outsider. But now, more than ever, I appreciate it.