Alber Elbaz, the designer best known for his star turn leading couture house Lanvin, died Saturday in Paris from Covid-19. He was 59 years old.
The news was confirmed by Swiss luxury group Richemont, with whom he launched a new label, AZ Factory, in January.
Elbaz, who was famous in the industry for his warm and approachable disposition, was instantly recognisable for his broad smile and distinctive personal uniform of bow ties and thick-rimmed glasses.
“Alber had a richly deserved reputation as one of the industry’s brightest and most beloved figures,” Richemont chairman Johann Rupert said.
Born in Morocco and educated in Israel, Elbaz climbed the ranks of the fashion industry from a small dressmaker’s shop in New York City, becoming designer Geoffrey Beene’s senior assistant. He moved to Paris in 1996 to take the reins of Guy Laroche, but soon left when offered the chance to succeed Yves Saint Laurent as designer of his hit YSL Rive Gauche ready-to-wear line. That stint ended quickly, too, as he was ousted from the label after three seasons amid a takeover by the Gucci Group and Tom Ford.
Elbaz landed at Lanvin, where as creative director he transformed France’s oldest couture house in continuous operation from an ailing artefact to one of fashion’s hottest names. At their peak, sales were as high as €235 million. His glamorous, playful cocktail dresses were an influential force during his 14-year tenure, and he was celebrated for a “woman-first” approach: his looks conveyed the style authority of the Paris catwalk while remaining easy for clients to understand and wear.
“[Fashion’s] essence is simple: to make the woman look beautiful, to make her fly,” Elbaz said in 2014.
Elbaz left Lanvin in 2015 over disputes with its then-owner, Shaw-Lan Wang, prompting a five-year hiatus from the industry.
He returned this year with the launch of AZ Factory. His goal was to create an inclusive label that eschewed fashion’s fast pace and financial pressures. His first collection shown during Paris Fashion Week’s Haute Couture season this winter was a mix of cocktail garb and athleisure silhouettes rendered in new technical fabrics.
”I don’t want to be about 400 SKUs, 600 SKUs. I couldn’t do that anymore,” Elbaz told BoF. “I’m not showing dresses with 50 metres of fabric — it’s more like 1.5 metres — but couture stands for a laboratory of experiments and individuality.”
Tributes poured in from across the industry following the announcement of the designer’s death. “He was a light like no other in the world,” fellow designer and friend Stella McCartney wrote.
“You made us dream, you made us think, and now you fly,” AZ Factory wrote on its website. “Love, trust and respect, always. ❤️Alber, We Love you Forever.”
Watch much-loved designer Alber Elbaz’s heartfelt performance on the state of the fashion system from Voices 2018.