Fashion

Alber Elbaz's wit and wisdom

As the fashion industry mourns the passing of a great, we look back at some of the designer's best quotes

26.04.2021

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On Saturday, Alber Elbaz, one of fashion's most adored men, died aged 59 in Paris of Covid-19. The news elicited a flood of heart-wrenching tributes. To his spirit, his warmth, his quirks and forgivable foibles. Although he helmed Guy Laroche and Yves Saint Laurent, Elbaz was perhaps best known for his tenure at Lanvin, from 2001 to 2015, from which he was unceremoniously fired. After a five year hiatus, Elbaz returned to fashion in January, with new label AZ Factory. Inclusive, it sold figure-flattering dresses and trainers. “I am overweight, so I am very, very aware of what to show and what not to show,” he said, “and I am sure there is a huge link with being an overweight designer and the work I do,” he told The Guardian in 2009.

A generous speaker, Elbaz always gave journalists and students (he adored lectures, Q&As and masterclasses) time and honesty. A hearty eater and a man of humour, he loved a metaphor, especially one about about food. Here, a rundown of some of his best lines and most cherished thoughts.

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ON FASHION:

“Fashion is the factory of dreams. A factory without a dream is a factory without a future. And a dream without a factory is a dream without substance.”

“It's our job as designers to make women smile; to bring them the chocolate without the calories.”

“I've always said fashion is like roast chicken: You don't have to think about it to know it's delicious.”

“Fashion was always a family business. This is the nature of fashion. There was a logic to it. When you are with your family, even if you do not have great legs, you can still wear a bikini. It allows you to do things and to experiment. Those experiments are the drive of innovation.”

“Our job as designers is not just to create fashion shows, but to work around needs and then to bring the dream, and combine somehow function and fashion. More than that, I remember what Meryl Streep told me, that I always helped her to be a better version of her, and not to transform her. I think this is my job, I’m not trying to transform anyone, I’m just trying to make everyone, as much as I can, a better version of themselves.”

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ON HIS CLOTHES:

“If it’s not edible, it’s not food. If it’s not wearable, it’s not fashion.”

“I want to make clothes that hug people.”

“My clothes don’t scream, they whisper. When you hear it, it goes deeper.”

“One woman told me that every time she wears Lanvin, men fall in love with her. Another told me she wore Lanvin to face her husband's lawyer because she felt protected. If I can make men fall in love with women and if I can protect women, I think I can die peacefully.”

ON WORK ETHIC:

“Run away from laziness; work hard. Touch intuition and listen to the heart, not marketing directors. Dream.”

“I prefer being relevant to being cool, because if you’re cool, you’re also cold the next day. So it’s more about being relevant. The one thing that always scares me is to be like the Miss America of the moment, because next year there is a new Miss America.”

ON HUMILITY:

"As my mother told me: be big and small. I asked her what she meant by this; whether she was saying I should be skinny or not skinny. “No,” she replied. “Be big at your work, at what you do, but be humble and simple in your everyday life.” I grew up with very little and I think this is the best heritage, because you have values.”

“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.”

ON FRIENDSHIP, HIMSELF AND OTHERS

"I believe in friendship; I believe it gives you comfort. There is nothing that can kill me more as a creative person than politics... I don't deal well with bitches.”

“I like the authenticity of people. If I was a producer in Hollywood, James Bond would be a Jane Bond. Not necessarily a model, but a CEO from Palo Alto. With some grey hair on the side, and not size small but maybe large or extra large.”

“I am never happy. Maybe, it is a mechanism. If you are very happy with what you do, you start to recreate. And if you are not happy, you have to go back to the studio the next day and say - we have to find a solution. New solution. It’s the metier we do.”

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