On Saturday, April 24, it was confirmed that iconic designer Alber Elbaz, whose designs have been worn by everyone from Rihanna to Meryl Streep and Kate Moss, had died following a battle with Covid-19. The industry-wide outpouring of grief is a testament to the legacy of a man widely known as not only one of the most talented and singular figures in fashion, but also the warmest. Indeed, he was as popular with his peers and celebrity fans as he was with his fiercely loyal workforce, thanks to his wickedly self-deprecating sense of humor, generosity and openness. The intimacy and depth of emotion in the many tributes to Elbaz is striking; many speak of losing not only a design legend, but also a dear friend.
Born in Morocco but raised in Israel, where he went on to study at the Shenkar College of Textile Technology and Fashion, it was in the mid ’80s that Elbaz moved to New York in the hope of launching a serious career in fashion. He soon landed a role at Geoffrey Beene, where he honed his skills for the next seven years. It was in 1996, when he was head-hunted for the role of creative director at Parisian house Guy Laroche, that he became a prominent figure on the international scene – thanks, in no small part, to the fervid critical acclaim he garnered during this time at the house. Roles at Yves Saint Laurent and Krizia followed, before Elbaz took the top job at storied but dormant Parisian house Lanvin in 2001. He will forever be remembered for the innovative and attentive way he brought the house back to life with his exquisite designs and modern take on femininity. Despite Elbaz transforming the house into a force within the industry, he was ousted from the role in October 2015. Ever the gentleman, Elbaz declined a deluge of interview requests and processed his loss in private. Just a few months ago, in January 2021, he opened up about his acrimonious exit to NET-A-PORTER fashion director Kay Barron: “I felt loneliness and shame, and I started doubting myself. But when I left, I decided to be very, very quiet. I didn’t want to say anything about anyone. I was elegant,” said Elbaz.
The tragedy of Elbaz’s untimely death is underscored by the fact that he had only recently launched his latest venture, AZ Factory – a jubilant return to fashion that saw the industry rejoice. Rather than jumping straight into a high-profile role at another fashion juggernaut, Elbaz took time for himself after Lanvin to see the world and reconnect with his passions. “I started to dream. I went to schools, I taught, I traveled. After so many years of deadlines, I had the luxury to meet myself again. I had the luxury to think on a larger scale and I felt liberated to create my own new dreams,” he told PORTER recently.
It was during this time that Elbaz landed on the idea for a new label based on a more expansive view of fashion. Launched in January this year, AZ Factory comprises souped-up wardrobe staples designed for women of all shapes and sizes that can be worn and styled in myriad ways. While the label was conceived long before the pandemic, Elbaz saw how the global health emergency made clothing and self-expression more meaningful than ever. “I asked myself, ‘Is fashion important at all?’ I mean, who cares? But I realized that, for a lot of women I spoke with, if they were wearing an old sweatshirt, they didn’t want to look in a mirror. Then one day they might put on one of their favorite pieces and it cheers them up. So, I think fashion is more important now than ever before. I wanted to mix together the old way we have been dressing with the new. It was the start of optimism for me, and the hopeful return of life [beyond our homes],” said Elbaz.
AZ Factory released a statement this weekend in light of the devastating news, saying, “The world has lost a legend. We were all so lucky to have been a part of this adventure – Alber’s project to reset fashion to care. Alber, we will all carry your mission in our hearts, and your generosity in our lives.”
Richemont founder and chairman Johann Rupert added, “It was a great privilege watching Alber in his last endeavor as he worked to realize his dream of ‘smart fashion that cares’. 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.”