It’s no surprise that fashion people are generally accepted as some of the most difficult personalities out there. It’s not necessarily a bad thing — they just have very specific visions of their objectives and how to reach them. You can’t write off an entire demographic, of course, because there are always exceptions, even if they aren’t technically the rule. There’s no better paradigm of this aberration from the norm than Alber Elbaz, the Israeli fashion designer who has headed the house of Lanvin since 2001. In telltale form, model Lily Donaldson calls him “a magical man,” and I would be inclined to agree. With his self-deprecating, humble wit, frank honesty, and tenderhearted approach to women’s fashion, Elbaz isn’t just one of the nicest people in fashion — I think he may very well be one of the nicest people, period.
The designer granted Style.com/print unprecedented access to document the evolution of his 10th anniversary show, offering a window into the design, styling, and fitting process required before the show can run. What the magazine, the tangible incarnation of Style.com, found in Elbaz was an overriding sense of integrity and goodness with a dash of self-effacing anxiety without a single drop of the borderline-bully hauteur that makes the fashion industry so unpalatable. He confides that, despite the rave reviews his collection received in the press, “I do not believe in myself … I hated everything,” but he continues, “If I did love it all, I wouldn’t go anywhere. … I can only see the mistakes, how it could be better, that is the only reason I go into the studio the next day.”
On Friday, the designer gave a special presentation of his 10th anniversary collection to a small group of VIP customers at Barney’s. Says Leah Chernikoff of Fashionista, who was in attendance, “It felt a bit more personal and emotional than most fashion events, and that’s all thanks to Elbaz.” He’s conditioned himself as a true inspiration for any aspiring designer, or really, any aspiring anything — his enthusiasm and determination are unmatchable. Following the show, Elbaz took the mike once again (though, Chernikoff notes, he wasn’t supposed to) to discuss his initial rejection. When he presented his first Lanvin collection to Barneys, they very nearly didn’t buy it. “They said to me that they won’t be able to buy Lanvin because we weren’t prepared, we didn’t have the prices and dresses weren’t finished.” It was his undeniable charm that redeemed them from uncertain fate: “I ran after them with a bouquet of flowers that was on my table and I asked them to ‘Please come back I’m so sorry we’re not prepared but it’s the first show!’ and since then … Barneys was family.”
Credited for breathing new life into the peplum, which has been inescapable on the runways for the past couple of seasons, Elbaz divulged how it was brought about: he saw much too many women staring in the mirror and covering their stomachs. “I created the peplum so you can eat in it,” he said. “You can have a dessert, you can have another sandwich.” Finally: a man, a designer no less, who understands. There’s a time and a place for a Hervé Léger, of course, but the beauty of the confections Alber dreams up for Lanvin is that they’re anytime, any height, any shape, any weight dresses that truly flatter and transform all women, from zaftig to waif. The most important part is that his designs come from a place of love: “I always say I work only with people I love and I can make only things I love … I get very itchy. It is like being fat — and I am — and wearing clothes that don’t fit. I need to have this comfort with clothes and I need this comfort with people.”
Elbaz, now famously, ended his Autumn/Winter show by standing on stage, in front of his audience, and treating them to a song: “I have never sang in my life and I will never sing again … I wanted to dedicate this song to all of the designers in the world and their mothers, to their dreams. Then I wanted to dedicate it to all of the people in the audience, to all of the people who helped me realize my dream. So que sera, sera and what will be will be …” You can watch a snippet of his performance here from the Lanvin After Party Les 10 Ans — I dare you not to smile. [Fashionista (1), Fashionista (2), image via Vanity Fair]