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Fashion Remembers Alber Elbaz

This week, the industry will be discussing the loss of much-loved designer Alber Elbaz, the Academy Awards and sales results from Shopify.
Alber Elbaz acknowledges the audience at the end of the Lanvin 2015 Spring/Summer ready-to-wear collection fashion show. Patrick Kovarik/AFP via Getty Images.
Alber Elbaz acknowledges the audience at the end of the Lanvin 2015 Spring/Summer ready-to-wear collection fashion show. Patrick Kovarik/AFP via Getty Images. (PATRICK KOVARIK)

FASHION LOSES MUCH-LOVED STAR ALBER ELBAZ

  • The designer’s death at 59 from Covid-19 was confirmed by Swiss luxury group Richemont, with which Elbaz launched a new label in January.
  • The launch of AZ Factory this year marked Elbaz’s return to fashion after a five-year hiatus.
  • The much-loved designer was best known for his 14-year star-turn as creative director of Lanvin, where he revived the fortunes of the world’s oldest continuously running fashion house with spectacular effect.

Alber Elbaz wanted to reinvent fashion. His latest venture in partnership with Swiss luxury conglomerate Richemont took aim at some of the industry’s biggest challenges. His goal was to innovate with an inclusive vision that united traditional craft with new technology to deliver “smart fashion that cares.”

On Saturday, the designer died at the age of 59. His sudden death cut short a career that spanned decades. Known for his warm and approachable disposition, Elbaz rose from a small dressmaker’s shop in New York to serve at the helm of Guy Laroche and YSL Rive Gauche in Paris in the late 1990s. He spent 14 years as creative director at Lanvin, which became globally recognised for its woman-first ethos and impeccably chic cocktail dresses.

But he stepped out of the fashion spotlight in 2015, leaving the label after disagreements with its then owner Shaw-Lan Wang. Despite no shortage of industry speculation, Elbaz never took the helm of another major house. This year marked his return to the industry with his first collection for AZ Factory.

The Bottom Line: As tributes for the much-loved designer poured in from across the industry on Sunday, Elbaz’s death puts the future of AZ Factory into question. “Alber had a richly deserved reputation as one of the industry’s brightest and most beloved figures,” said Richemont chairman Johann Rupert in a statement.

WHERE PEOPLE ARE SHOPPING

  • Shopify’s first-quarter sales results will be a strong indication of whether and where a post-pandemic shopping boom is taking shape
  • Retail sales have soared in the US and UK as pandemic concerns and lockdown restrictions have eased
  • Several senior Shopify executives recently left the company

It’s safe to say at this point that last year’s asceticism is on its way out. Whether it’s camp jewellery or handbags, consumers are making up for lost time as they build their post-pandemic wardrobes. Surging US retail sales in March, and record sales from Primark and other newly reopened UK retailers are evidence enough for that. Upcoming corporate earnings releases should provide some additional colour.

Shopify was one of the pandemic’s biggest beneficiaries, as scores of its online retailer clients saw sales spike. The question is whether that boom will continue now that vaccination rates are topping 50 percent of eligible adults in some countries. The platform is built around small businesses, including scores founded during the pandemic lockdowns. The failure rate for new businesses is high, of course, and it’s uncertain whether the pandemic’s entrepreneurship boom will continue.

The Bottom Line: Shopify was on the upswing before the pandemic and is likely to continue that trajectory regardless of how post-Covid shopping patterns play out.

RETURN OF THE RED CARPET

  • On April 25, the Oscars will mark the first primarily live awards show, complete with a red carpet, since the pandemic
  • Viewership, already falling pre-Covid, is expected to be low
  • The red carpet remains a prime marketing tool even as brands turn to social media to promote their best looks

The Oscars on Sunday mark a triumphant return to the red carpet for luxury brands — and perhaps a last hurrah. The fashion industry is desperate for the return of live events, and there are few bigger opportunities than the Academy Awards.

Legions of stylists, hair and makeup artists and consultants are certainly relieved to have one of their biggest gigs back, but they may be in for a wicked hangover when the ratings for Sunday’s telecast come in this week. The Oscars has seen a steady decline in viewership, with ratings hitting a record low in 2020. Weak ratings for live sports and other events don’t bode well for this year’s audience tally.

Certainly, luxury brands care more about impressions on social media and press mentions when their stars strut the red carpet than how many people tune in once those A-listers are seated at Union Station. But falling viewership poses a long-term threat: the reason those red carpet looks gain traction in the first place is because of the Oscars’ position as the most important entertainment event of the year, and one of the few remaining must-watch cultural events. That status is looking shakier each year.

The Bottom Line: This year at least, the red carpet is likely to produce plenty of big moments for brands. Designers and stylists are promising some exuberant looks to match the hopeful tone of the event.

The Week Ahead wants to hear from you! Send tips, suggestions, complaints and compliments to brian.baskin@businessoffashion.com.

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