The death of Alber Elbaz, one of the most renowned designers shook the fashion world. On March 26, Elbaz died of COVID-19 in Paris at the age of 59. The Israeli-American designer was best known for his leadership at Lanvin and Yves Saint Laurent. Celebrities like Naomi Campbell, Bette Midler, Kim Kardashian, Carla Bruni Sarkozy, Katie Holmes, Sarah Jessica Parker, Stella McCartney, and many more took to social media to pay tribute to the designer and his uncontested talent with pictures of Elbaz and his designs.
As a fashion director at Lanvin from 2001 to 2015, Elbaz is credited with rejuvenating the old French brand and placing it at the center of international fashion. His modern and innovative creations were worn by celebrities including Michelle Obama, Harry Styles, and Beyoncé. Before taking the reign at Lanvin, Elbaz was the head of prêt-à-porter design at Guy Laroche from 1996 to 1998 and was then took over for Yves Saint Laurent womenswear from 1998 to 2000.
After his sudden exit from Lanvin following disagreements between the designer and Lanvin’s owner Shaw-Lan Wang and chief executive Michèle Huiban, the designer took on a new project. Recently, Elbaz had started his own brand, AZ Factory, backed by Richemont, with the goal to “solve problems and create joy for everyone.”
Elbaz’s career was always centered around helping people – especially women. Elbaz took the most pleasure in being in the store and in the dressing room, helping women find pieces that fit them – not in terms of size, but rather by understanding who they truly were and what they wanted.
“I think that when you do the red carpet and all you see is a dress with a bag with a necklace and with a pair of earrings and extensions and eyelashes – you’re missing the point,” Elbaz said in a 2013 Vogue interview. “I want to see the women. I want to understand who they are. I respect them for the work they have done. I respect them for months and months and months of anxiety, and hard work and fear not to have another job and fear not to be loved and fear not to be good.”
He concluded his interview by saying it was time to bring back instinct, intuition, and joy into fashion. Elbaz’s celebrated career as a fashion designer might have begun very early on in his childhood home. Born in Casablanca, Morocco in 1961, Elbaz and his parents moved to Israel before he was a year old. His mother was a painter, and his father a hair colorist. With barely any toys in the house, Elbaz’ spent most of his time playing with a chess set. “I took my father’s silver foil and started to make dresses for all the chess pieces — I made up characters for them and played with them for hours,” Elbaz recalled.
The designer’s creativity and unique take on luxury and haute couture earned him a slew of awards throughout his career. In 2005, he received the CFDA International Designer award and Most Influential Designer at the inaugural World Fashion Awards. In 2013, THE designer was announced as the winner of the Geoffrey Beene Fashion Impact Award at the YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund dinner. In 2009, he was awarded the Grande Médaille de Vermeil de la Ville de Paris by mayor Bertrand Delanoë, for his positive impact on the city, and in 2016, he was presented with the prestigious French Legion of Honour, according to Business of Fashion.
Johann Rupert, Chairman of Richemont paid tribute to his colleague and friend in a statement:
“It was with shock and enormous sadness that I heard of Alber’s sudden passing. Alber had a richly deserved reputation as one of the industry’s brightest and most beloved figures. I was always taken by his intelligence, sensitivity, generosity, and unbridled creativity. He was a man of exceptional warmth and talent, and his singular vision, sense of beauty, and empathy leave an indelible impression. It was a great privilege watching Alber in his last endeavor as he worked to realize his dreams 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.”
Elbaz leaves behind him his family, friends, and Alex Koo, his life partner.
“When you walk, look into five different directions: Look straight because you have to look forward. Look back because you have to remember where you’re coming from. Look to the sides to see who are the people that are going to be next to you if you need them. Look down to make sure you don’t step on anyone. And look up because you have to remember that someone protects us. This is, maybe, what my life is all about,” Elbaz said as the best advice he ever received.