In Brief

Alber Elbaz (1961-2021)

Paris

25 April 2021

The fashion designer Alber Elbaz has died after contracting Covid-19. He was 59.

The former fashion director of Lanvin, Elbaz was credited with revitalising the historic house during his tenure there between 2001 and 2015. More recently, he launched his own brand AZ Factory.

Born in Casablanca, Morocco, Elbaz grew up in Israel where he studied design at Tel Aviv's Shenkar College of Engineering, Design and Art. After a spell in the Israeli military, he moved to New York where he became the assistant designer of Geoffrey Beene.

In 1996, Elbaz moved to Paris where he became head of prêt-à-porter design at Guy Laroche. In 1998, he was selected by Yves Saint Laurent to design YSL's women’s Rive Gauche ready-to-wear collections.

Although Elbaz's tenure at YSL was short-lived – he was replaced in 1999 by Tom Ford when Gucci Group bought the brand – he returned to prominence in 2001 when he was hired to lead Lanvin, a 19th-century Maison that had recently been acquired by a consortium led by the Taiwanese media magnate Shaw-Lan Wang.

Elbaz's tenure at Lanvin was highly successful, revitalising the brand and forging connections with Hollywood. “The red carpet has gone from elitist to popular,” Elbaz said. “Everyone has access to it, even if only on the internet or through magazines. Since fashion is an integral part of celebrities’ lives, it’s become a kind of permanent red carpet despite itself.”

During his tenure with the brand, Elbaz became known for sending other designers flowers before their shows, as well as publicly commenting on his anxiety surrounding his weight. “I am overweight, so I am very, very aware of what to show and what not to show,” he told The Guardian in 2009, “and I am sure there is a huge link with being an overweight designer and the work I do.”

Elbaz's tenure with Lanvin came to a surprise end in 2014, following clashes with Wang. Over the subsequent five years, Elbaz advocated for reform of the fashion system.

In 2015, as he received the Fashion Group International award, he said. “We designers, we started as couturiers,” asking: ‘What do women want? What do women need? What can I do for a woman to make her life better and easier? How can I make a woman more beautiful?’”

Then, he said, “We became “creative directors, so we have to create, but mostly direct. And now we have to become image-makers, creating a buzz, making sure that it looks good in the pictures. The screen has to scream, baby. That’s the rule. Loudness is the new cool, and not only in fashion, you know. I prefer whispering.”

In 2019, however, Elbaz announced that he had signed a deal with Swiss luxury company Richemont to develop a new brand, AZ Factory.

“We are not going to do pre-collections, collections, post-collections,” he said. “It’s going to be about things I believe are relevant to make. We are just beginning now. And we are beginning really, really small. I like the idea of starting small today.”

AZ Factory launched in January 2021.

In a tribute to Elbaz, Richemont’s chairman Johann Rupert said: “His inclusive vision of fashion made women feel beautiful and comfortable by blending traditional craftsmanship with technology – highly innovative projects which sought to redefine the industry.”

Elbaz is survived by his brother and two sisters, as well as his partner, Alex Koo.