News & Runway

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Designer Alber Elbaz

Alber Elbaz

image: Imaxtree

He may be known as being one of the masters of the party dress, but Lanvin’s Alber Elbaz is actually a shy man. Born in Morocco, he and his family moved to Israel when he was 8 months old. Encouraged by his mother, who gave him 800 dollars when he left home for New York City at the age of 24, he pursued a career in fashion. Unlike many other designers, however, Elbaz has been vocal about his insecurities both as they relate to himself and his work. Here’s a look at 10 surprising things about one of the biggest names in modern-day fashion.

  1. “Elbaz thinks it’s a very big deal that he is overweight,” writes Ariel Levy in The New Yorker. “Asked what he imagines life would be like if he were thin, he replied, ‘Amazing,’ with real conviction.” Levy goes on to describe Elbaz as more “round” than “big” and as having “the kind of face you want to squish in your hands.” She also notes that “Elbaz worries constantly and openly, and there seems to be something fundamental about him in need of comforting.”
  2. Despite his insecurities, the designer has a balanced and solid big picture view of the industry. “I had a little press conference yesterday. I opened the speech talking about Heidi Klum, who does Project Runway. At the beginning of the show she says, ‘In fashion, one day you’re in, and the next day you’re out.’ Every time I hear that, I die. I love the show and I like her, but I am not sure I agree with her on that. If you’re not Miss America, if you’re not the girl of the moment, then you don’t fall into the trap of being in and then being out. I think fashion is about longevity and doing your work. It isn’t about winning or losing. It’s about process—keeping it going,” he told Interview magazine.
  3. In a nod to how much his weight and life in general influence his design, in 2014 Elbaz changed all his collection’s fabrics into stretch and the colors in his collection to beige after consulting a psychiatrist about his weight. The doctor asked the designer, “If, today, women, can buy a new body [through cosmetic surgery], why do they buy a dress? Isn’t the body the new dress? What is your job as a designer? To unveil the body or to cover it?” Elbaz later said that he left the meeting thinking that he was going to be “a fashion surgeon, like a plastic surgeon” and the changes to his collection ensued.
  4. The designer had a moment where he considered leaving the fashion industry. In 1999 he was designing YSL’s ready-to-wear collections when Tom Ford unexpectedly fired Elbaz and decided to do the designing himself. “YSL was like a death somehow,” the designer revealed to BoF. “At the time, the YSL affair affected me deeply and I was very depressed. I decided to have a year and a half without work and it gave me time to think about my life and my career.”
  5. In almost every interview, the affable designer peppers his answers with food references. When asked by Dr. Sanjay Gupta if he craves getting out of the fashion world, for example, he replied, “I’m not craving anything like that. I’m craving a sandwich if you ask me what I’m really craving!”
  6. His down-to-earth demeanor is readily evident. When discussing the luxury fashion industry, he told The Independent that “everybody thinks that because it’s luxury it should be very intimidating; you go into the store and it should look like a pharmacy. But guess what? We’re not buying Tylenol! We’re buying a red bag, and a diamond shoe, and a printed dress, so I think we should have a little bit of lightness and be a little less strict about everything. Because if you come to a pharmacy and everything is so arranged then you don’t want to touch it. I don’t want people to be intimidated. I’m trying to take this kind of façade of glossiness out and to show that there are other angles to luxury.”
  7. We often hear about fashion industry bigwigs being technology averse, but not so with Elbaz who at the Condé Nast Luxury Conference in Florence explained, “We should not be afraid of changes. We have to look forward to the future with no fear. We should celebrate tradition and heritage. The job of the designer today is maybe to combine yesterday and tomorrow, tradition and newness. And when you mix between yesterday and tomorrow, you create … a strong product.”
  8. Despite his awareness that he needs to move with the times, at heart the designer is an old-fashioned guy who prefers handwritten notes over emails and text messages. “I know that now with Facebook, some people tell me, ‘Oh, I have 700 friends.’ Another person tells me, ‘I have 3,000 friends.’ And I tell them I have only two friends. So now who has more friends? They do or I do? And how do you actually value it, by number or quality? I believe that we have to go forward and I believe that we have to go with change, but there are certain things that are beautiful to leave as they are. And fashion is not always about what’s new, it’s also about what’s good.”
  9. The designer is very superstitious. In fact, he never places his bag on the floor. “I was told that if we put money on the floor we lose money. I like to spend money, but I don’t like to lose money. So I’m trying it on the little bench just here in the back.”
  10. Just when you think you can’t love the charming designer any more, he tells a reporter, “At 10 o’clock at night, all I want to do is come home and watch Kim Kardashian get a haircut.”