Thank you 2021 for already giving us at least one reason to be cheerful: Alber Elbaz is back.
It’s been five years since the designer was last in the fashion limelight, as creative director of Lanvin. Now he’s ready to sprinkle some magic again. This time, however, Elbaz is doing things on his own terms, with his new venture, AZ Factory.
Anticipation is high; he has been missed. ‘I look at what we’ve done [and] til the last moment I had no idea how it was going to be and if people would react to it. I almost wanted to show more the women than the clothes,’ he says via Zoom from his Paris HQ. ‘I’m not here to transform women, I’m not here to make a better version of you. I actually hate it when people say that. What do you mean a better version of you? A dress will make a version of you?’ Wearing all black, with a shock of bleached blonde hair, he’s clearly mastered the art of the video call. ‘I use the screen in such a way that it makes my wrinkles disappear,’ he laughs. ‘We are very transparent.’
Transparency and democracy are at the core of AZ Factory; the you-can-sit-with-us spirit feels right for now. It’s achieved not just via Elbaz (funny and charming, he is one of the industry’s most-loved figures), or the price points (prices start at €210 for a top), but through the clothes themselves.
Sizing is inclusive, running from a XXS to XXXXL. ‘I had time to observe, time to understand and digest, and go have dinner with women, friends of mine,’ he says of his time out. ‘And you see they’re having everything with sauce on the side, no gluten, allergic to chocolate. I saw the struggle and I see the struggle on social media where you have to look fantastic even when you go to throw out the garbage. You always have to be amazing. Women are giving birth and a week and a half later already they are in a bikini and everyone is applauding them. And I’m thinking what did they go through for 10 days to lose all this? That’s why instead of doing this magic dress to give you the body you dreamt of, I thought just to make a dress that can hug you.’
Although he admits that concept is ‘very abstract’, Elbaz pulls it off. The first drop, dubbed MyBody, comprises close-fitting dresses, bodies and leggings that are a bit sporty and a lot sexy. Function doesn’t play second fiddle to fashion; there’s a refreshing pragmatism to the designs (‘What can I do between a white T-shirt and a leopard cape?’ he asked himself when designing. ‘It’s about how to find the middle without being mediocre.’) Note the innovative AnatoKnit fabric which smooths and, yes, hugs the body without restriction, as well as thoughtful design details like zips with extra-long pullers so you can reach easily yourself, and boning at the back so you feel supported but not restricted.
One of the biggest shifts that Elbaz has seen since he left the epicenter of the industry is the rise of social media and livestreaming. He welcomes this opening of the doors. ‘Today we’re no longer showing to 200 people, we’re showing to millions,’ he says, adding that what a fashion critic is looking for in a collection doesn’t necessarily chime with what the woman who will wear the clothes does. It was liberating to think about the clothes in the real world: ‘I actually did a black dress that doesn’t photograph well – but, you know, they live well.’
Today Elbaz’s dreams are rooted in reality rather than fantasy – he wants to give women ‘solutions’. ‘I am listening to another audience and I’m trying to give them the dream,’ he says. ‘It’s the hardest thing is to take just two yards of fabric and make a dream out of it, it’s much easier to do it with 100m of tulle,’ he says. ‘[But], try to sit on 100m of tulle, or try to get out of the car! When we talk about solutions it doesn’t mean just beige.’
Given the fanfare surrounding his return, is he feeling optimistic? ‘I’m not an optimistic man, I’m a clown. And you know how clowns relax? They cry,’ he says. ‘They say the truth, in a funny way, but it’s always the truth. I’m feeling everybody that passes by me, I take every word, every look, I take it so personal. I’m so sensitive to everything and to everybody and all the time. It’s not always easy being me!’ Perhaps, but he should certainly be cheerful in knowing that he’s just made getting dressed easier for a lot of women.