A series of creative director shuffles shook the fashion industry last fall, but perhaps none were as emotionally stirring as adored designer Alber Elbaz being ousted in October from Lanvin after an impressively long, 14-year stint as creative director at the French brand. The fashion industry has been eagerly awaiting the next adventure for this beloved talent, lauded for truly knowing how to dress a woman’s body, with an eye for comfortable, flattering draping.
Since parting ways with Lanvin, Elbaz has “traveled the world after the tragedy,” as he candidly described his departure from his old gig during a talk at the Parsons School of Design this week. (Oh, and he’s also joined Instagram, in case you missed it.) “I can’t really count to five the [number of designers] with the skill, imagination, ability to dream, the craft, the reference to the past but also an eye to the future as Alber,” Julie Gilhart, fashion consultant and Parsons board member, said during her introduction of the designer. Elbaz talked it out at the event with two of his good friends in the industry: Gilhart, who spent years as a buyer at Barneys, and Kim Hastreiter, cofounder and co-editor of Paper. Besides his immense talents as a designer, Elbaz is one of the most charismatic, self-effacing, and funny personalities in the business — so, unsurprisingly, this wasn’t a standard-issue Q&A. For starters, Elbaz brought a big brown shopping bag filled with boxes of tissues. Why? Because of a Facebook comment from one Parsons student about how she was excited to attend and expected to need tissues during the designer’s talk. Elbaz also handed out big bags of candy: “Nobody has sugar anymore!” he exclaimed. “I think sugar is very important for the brain, especially when you create.” Below, check out a dozen morsels of utter realness from Elbaz’s Q&A.
Life after Lanvin has been great in some ways… “There is something fabulous about being free. I was there almost 15 years, seven days a week, a tuna sandwich for lunch and a pizza for dinner, because there were early mornings and long, long nights.”
…And also painful. “[But] since I left, I can’t sketch anymore. I still have a huge scar on me.”
Rude people aren’t conducive to great designs. “I don’t work well with bitches. The minute I work with difficult people, I lose my creativity.”
Dramatic hijinks are not reflective of actually having talent. “People that are divas are usually not the best at what they do. Don’t play games.”
The pace of the fashion industry is just too much, and Alber isn’t afraid to call that out. “It’s a very, very hard calendar…we’re going through the ‘show now, wear now’ idea, and there are big, big changes — designers are leaving, designers are coming…I’m thinking, What is happening?”
Creativity isn’t available on-demand. “I don’t want to trash my industry, but something needs to change. Designers are not just machines; you can’t just push a button and say, ‘Okay, be creative.’”
He digs chaos (and stress) over calmness, and he’s been that way forever. “I was the nerd student who got stressed all the time. Everything stresses me out; when I do a collection, I’m stressed. When I don’t do a collection, I’m stressed — I’m not the easiest when it comes to being relaxed and Zen.”
For a very glamorous-looking industry, fashion has some seriously bummed-out people. “Being in fashion is the best job in the world; we’re doing the best thing, meeting the best people, we’re all about beauty, we’re all about fantasy — what is it that makes all of us so neurotic, and so unhappy?”
It’s not the end of the world when you have to pare down your routine a bit. “Like life, we go through highs and lows. I came here today without a private driver, without an assistant, without a PR with three phones to tell you where to sit and where to pose. Tonight, I came with a friend, Julie, who came to pick me up, and then we met Kim.”
Alber loves the Met’s new Costume Institute exhibit — because it reflects his whole subtle-is-best approach. “It was so much about whispering again. It was almost an exhibition that was done for designers…it was about workmanship, know-how, and time. The one thing that impressed me the most is the fact that it’s almost silent. I think maybe Anna [Wintour] and Andrew [Bolton] are pioneering something that is maybe less loud and more silent, and I loved it.”
Aspiring designers should be whimsical and imaginative (like Alber!) IRL, instead of just being plugged into technology. “Use Google, but dream and think afterward...[and] don’t be a ‘catwalk’ designer.”
Sometimes, being on the periphery is a good thing. “One day you are out, out of the system, and you start a new life. But I love fashion. I love fashion people. I love them, really, a lot. I really adore this industry. I see it now from a different perspective, because I am an outsider. Now, more than ever, I appreciate it more.”