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Alber Elbaz, who died aged 59 of Covid-19 over the weekend, was a revered and beloved figure in the fashion industry. The designer, famed for revitalising the fortunes of Lanvin before a dispute with his owner led to his abrupt departure, had just returned to fashion after a five-year hiatus.
He debuted his new venture, AZ Factory, during Paris Couture Week in January. The joint venture with Richemont was designed to reflect a better model for the fashion system, the pressures and strains of which Elbaz knew all too well.
In a heartfelt, funny, thoughtful and poignant address at BoF VOICES in November 2018, Elbaz shared a mix of personal anecdotes, observations and lessons for the fashion industry:
Fashion needs to pare back its unfettered production cycle to a level that’s manageable for young designers straining under the “speed of the system,” he said. Elbaz compared the industry’s constant demand for newness to an old recipe that uses too much fat: “Maybe [it’s time] to cut the butter out and make it healthier.”
Creative instinct and improvisation are far more valuable than the tech tools that might be available to designers. “Life is full of codes, formulas, databases and algorithms,” said Elbaz. “Overuse of all of those can kill intuition and intuition is the essence of creation. This is the essence of life itself.”
There’s more to fashion creation than just empty aspirational content. Long-time muse and client Meryl Streep “said that I never tried to transform her, but I helped her to be a better version of herself,” said Elbaz. “I believe that’s what fashion does best. It’s dreams, but it’s no longer just dreams. It’s also about solutions. It’s also about solving problems with a dream.”
Above all, celebrate your audience. “For years, I felt I was hugging people with my clothes,” he said. “I thought that every dress I make would be hugging the woman who is wearing it. Years later, I received all these hugs back from you fashion people.”