“Now, during the pandemic I’m not seeing the pink hats and leopard skirts at the shows, I see sweaters and shirts- these are the women, this is the need, and I designed my first story with zero ego,” says Alber Elbaz…
The mere fact that Alber Elbaz isn’t a size zero has made him aware that collections cannot be made for one body type. Women know this, he gets this and then he creates this. He is a designer that truly has women in his heart and mind when creating collections, or as he rather likes to refer to them as ‘stories.’
The kind and humble Moroccan-born, but Israel raised fashion designer is a man of this age where he worked hard to get where he is. While doing his conscription service in the Israeli military, Elbaz studied at the Shenkar College of Engineering and Design and made his way to New York City with $800 in his pocket, given to him by his mother. Training under American fashion designer Geoffrey Beene, Elbaz went on to work for some of Paris’s most prestigious fashion houses like Guy Laroche, then onto Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche and then to Lanvin as creative director. In his time at Lanvin, a century plus-old French House, Elbaz is credited to transforming the brand, making it relevant and sought after on the world stage of luxury.
But then, he was let go. The life of fashion can be brutal like that. One minute you’re in and then you’re out, and these moments bring wounds that turn into scars and scars turn into stories. This is what happened with Elbaz as his scars led him to leave fashion for a little bit. But, he’s back and fashion has embraced him yet again. “There was a time when I thought who needs fashion, that’s why I left. Everything we do in life prepares us for the next thing. Scars are important also. I went through a lot but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I know it’s a cliché, when you go through moments and not everything is amazing, and you have no red phone to use, so you have to go on your own.”
But, in his time off he learned a few things, “boredom is such an amazing and an important element and is essential to every creative person. I would suggest to every designer to take some time off and go back to themselves, to meet themselves. It’s like the seed of a flower, that in order to grow and to flourish you have to be put deep down in the dark. That’s where I was. This was the moment I had to think of newness and innovation and creativity.”
And so, he has come back and now he sees the relevance of fashion. “We need fashion more than ever. It’s not about fantasy, dream and runway, all these things we are used to do. But we need to start to listen more to women, to what they need and what they’re all about.”
Elbaz has often said that what he does is “make women a better version of themselves.” “This is a line I heard from Meryl Streep when she presented me an award and she said that evening that I didn’t want to transform her, but that I wanted to make her a better version of herself.”
“My first thought is that I never want to transform women because I like them as they are and sometimes they tell me, ‘let’s do a makeover’ and I’ll say, ‘but if I do a makeover we have to change the brain,’ because I’m thinking of all these makeover shows where you become a different person afterwards. I never want to transform and now that I think about it, I don’t have to make women a better version of themselves. They are what they are. I’m just a talking mirror and I say, ‘here, see what’s good for you. Look at your body, look at yourself. What will make you feel comfortable?’”
AZ Factory? Why not name the brand Alber Elbaz?
And so Elbaz has created his own brand, not totally named after himself but a brand that represents the essence of women, for every woman’s shape.
“I needed a change. I thought that if I called it Alber Elbaz, it would be an extension of what I had done, and I would be expected to continue from the place I stopped. I took my name Alber Elbaz. It was A and Z, and I thought it would be very symbolic to start from A again, and to move to B and to C and to D, and that is the symbolism of Alber Elbaz. I could also call it AE but then it would be like Albert Einstein, which wouldn’t work.”
“Factory because we as designers have become couturiers- we became designers, we became creative directors and today we’re also producers. And if we produce we do it in factories. I like factories. I like the humbleness in factories, I like the fact that everyone is looking at you at eye level. There is no hierarchy. There is something simple, humble and truthful in factories. I thought factory is good. Factories always inspired me.”
“I thought the world changed. Today you don’t buy a perfume because you have an actress on the cover, you buy clothing because it is good for you, for your body for your lifestyle, for yourself. This is a different way of thinking. I don’t want to say I’m doing collections- summer, winter, spring, because I wear the same clothes all year round. I want to do different ‘stories’ around women”….
Getting back into the game hasn’t seem to be overwhelming for Elbaz. His inaugural collection premiered on January 26 and he decided to premier the show the way he did with inspiration from Michelle Obama. “One of the reasons I did this story was because of Michelle Obama. I saw her Netflix film ‘Becoming.’ First of all, I love this word ‘Becoming,’ because she is the wife of Barack and she had to give up a little bit of her career in order to be where she is. In the movie I saw her wearing a sleeveless dress and I thought, ‘God, how chic.’ It was not about a need to show how creative I am, but for me, it was to show what I can do for women and how I can design a bit differently. And trust me, it was so hard to make a three-hold sleeveless dress.”
It took him a year just to create the fabric that hugs the woman who will wear his dresses. For him the message is simple. His first story was to create dresses that hug. He also created zippers that women can zip up and down on their own. So, you have a dress that hugs you in some parts of your body and I released the tension in other parts. It was important for me to unveil all the technology and the factories- and to not hide everything so that no one will copy.
Elbaz and his team decided not to do a runway show but a film. “I worked with a production company that is run by women because I knew for this project that I had to do it with women, and I wanted them to speak.” Making the whole film into reality was no small feat. “You know, it was such a long month. We started the film the 15th/16th of December and we were working on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. It was so difficult to find models and agents not on vacation, with Covid tests and sending nurses to people’s homes two days before and the morning of, that’s why at the beginning of the film it says, ‘everybody was tested for Covid.’
AZ Factory SS21, the inaugural story
“The whole project is that we’re not doing capsules, we’re doing stories. Stories for me are much easier to produce because without a story, I don’t have the fuel that takes my imagination forward.”
The story was actually supposed to launch in September 2020 but Elbaz wasn’t ready because of the pandemic. And so, the next fashion season would be January 2021. “I was questioning if I belong during couture week because I didn’t do a couture collection. And then, I thought about what does couture stand for and couture is not only red carpet, it’s not only 50,000 hours of embroidery. The essence of couture is about experiment in the atelier and creating individual looks. So, women of old that came to the couture house wanted to be unique. They didn’t want to have the same piece like everyone else. I thought that if couture stood for experiment and individuality I shouldn’t be ashamed. I called the Federation of Haute Couture and I asked them if they would host me and they were so proud and happy. As a startup everyone expects you to be a disruptor and I wanted to show respect to the industry.”
In all honesty, much of the fashion world was expecting Elbaz to create something that you see coming down a Saint Laurent or Lanvin runway. But for those who know his aestheic they knew he wouldn’t- and he didn’t. He created in his own way and he created very practical pieces for women of all shapes- red dresses, black dresses, cream dresses and then multi-colored dresses. AZ Factory’s inaugural collection has expressed itself as young, fun, and sexy. Sexy in attitude in how the AZ Factory woman will carry herself when wearing its designs. “I did multicolor pieces so that women could look good on Instagram. And when people ask if the looks are fancy, I tell them, ‘wear that black dress with black leggings and beautiful sneakers and you will see that that black dress is becoming your new t-shirt.’
After the film premiered Elbaz, being the unpretentious man that he is celebrated over McDonalds. “After the premier of the film, I had a press conference and my team asked me, ‘what do you want to eat?’ And I said, ‘just McDonalds.’ I needed only comfort food. I was not in the mood for a steamed vegetable dinner. And I was proud of it and I put it on Instagram.”
As our time together closed out, I just had to ask where he gets his humility from. “I always say that people need a definition of who they are. It’s not about young and old and skinny and fat, rich and poor. When you grow with love around you that’s what you project.
Looking forward to where he sees fashion going post pandemic, Elbaz’s answer is simple: the smart years. “After the Spanish Flu and WWI, we had in Paris the crazy years- the can-can and the parties, we had the Hemingways coming to Paris, the Charlie Chaplains, Josephine Baker, Cocteau, and the evolution of jazz. For myself, after the pandemic I’ll be living on an airplane and I will go and have a little bit of parties. But I think the post pandemic time will be the smart years.
Watch AZ Factory’s Inaugural “Show Fashion”