Alber’s thoughts perhaps reflected his roiling disagreements with Mrs. Wang over the future direction for the brand that he had so powerfully reinvented. In 2015, soon after Alber received his Superstar award, his 14-year association with Lanvin came to a shockingly abrupt end. There was stupefaction in the fashion industry when he wasn’t snapped up by another powerful brand, but perhaps a wounded Alber was biding his time.
He collaborated on a fragrance with Frederic Malle; Alber wanted to replicate “the smell or perfume of a dress.” When I met with him to discuss it Alber had just returned from his legion d’honneur ceremony: his second, in fact he was getting an “upgrade” (he was now an Officier de la Legion D’Honneur).
“I’m taking the time,” Alber explained when I asked him his thoughts about reentering the fashion fray, “I’m really thinking about what it is that I want to do next time, and how do I want to work, and what is it that I’m lacking, and what is it that we’re lacking in fashion? And how can we make it better? I’m questioning many things. I’m questioning the system. I mean, is it right to do all these shows? Is it right to do six seasons a year? What do women want? How do women dress?”
“You know, I really miss fashion,” he told me, “I needed to maybe get away from fashion to feel that I wanted to be back, but on my own terms … it’s not about a continuing and existing system, it’s about changing something in the system that doesn’t work. You know, my dream was to be a doctor so it’s all about finding the diagnosis of what doesn’t work and then giving some solution.”
Meanwhile, as Alber bided his time a new generation of fashion consumers in the fast moving game had grown up not knowing his name or understanding his legacy. A trip to Silicon Valley, however, proved to be an epiphany for Alber. Can tradition and technology co-exist? he asked himself after that visit. Is fashion still relevant today? And you know what? The answer is Yes, a big, big YES.
At the 2020 Forces of Fashion summit, I joined Alber for high tea at the Paris Ritz to discuss his new creative idea for the brand backed by the Swiss luxury group Richemont. We sat at the end of a long table (Alber was maniacal about health protocols), with empty places set for the dream tea party: Michelle Obama, Lady Gaga, Greta Thunberg, Jane Bomb (the female James Bond) et al. Alber revealed the name of the brand—AZ Factory, taking the first and last letter of his name and suggesting a comprehensive laboratory of ideas and new concepts. During our tea Alber promised “not a revolution, not an evolution—a reset.”