“I don’t just do dresses… I help you dream” – is Monsieur Alber Elbaz the only man in the world who understands exactly what women want when it comes to fashion? With his exclusive Middle Eastern collection, the designer at the helm of Lanvin takes us on an exotic journey, explaining to Sophia Serin why he decided to go back to his roots
“We have managed to secure your one-to-one interview on more of a personal level. We have given the opportunity to one publication to accompany him to his visit to The Dubai Mall (so you will be riding with him in the car). Please be at the One&Only Royal Mirage…” my mind trails off as I tell Team EW of this email from Lanvin HQ.
“I hope your car breaks down!” was the first over-excited comment I caught. All I could think was: ‘Is 20 minutes enough with the genius that is Alber ELbaz?’
We met, we hugged, he said I looked “super chic”, and I fell in love. Draped in silk and wearing his signature dress-shoes with not a sock in sight, Alber and I took to the back seat of a blacked-out windowed Mercedes and he spoke first: “You can ask me anything you want, just my weight – don’t go there.” Considering this the perfect icebreaker, I moved swiftly on, first admitting my guilt at the number of questions I’d sent to his ‘people’ ahead of our interview (34) and laughing that he must have vetoed half of them already. “Usually I never look at the questions as I don’t want to loose my intuition and I don’t want to be rushing. I want to go with what I feel. I never answer questions on e-mail, never answer questions that I have seen and I don’t do it over the phone. I don’t have an e-mail address. It is not a better way to communicate. I think it’s the worst way to communicate. So let’s go for it, let’s enjoy it!”
Alber is an anomaly, the creative director (a title he hates) of Lanvin, the original, the most prestigious and the oldest surviving French fashion house in Paris, he is most unobtrusive for a man with one of the most powerful positions in fashion today. We are very lucky that he is designing at all. Alber’s dream was to become a doctor and around ten years ago, he nearly walked out on the fashion world: “My dream was to become a doctor and (smiles) I think I look more like a doctor than a fashion designer,” he says. “I had read an article and it was a very sad article. It was the story of a mother who talked about her little son who had an accident and how it changed her life. I had a tear in my eye, you know the tear we have sometimes that doesn’t go out but that comes in? After a few days I thought, ‘Maybe for women, I have to stay in fashion because I’m not doing cool fashion.’ I don’t like cool people, I love beautiful people and my job as a designer may be more than anything else is to help you to feel comfortable and to be beautiful and to help you to dream – that is all I do. I don’t just do dresses.”
It’s not uncommon to hear or read Alber refereed to as an artist rather than designer. His illustrations have become synonymous with the brand along with his dramatic details on his designs. Oversized ruffles, watery silks, rough edges and exposed zips make for collections that can be donned throughout the decades. Having no time for fads, his designs stand the test of time, and he puts it down to his sixth sense. “Intuition is the base. It’s almost like in a relationship, in a marriage; if there is no love there is no marriage. In luxury if there is no intuition there is no longer luxury. It’s going with yourself, not selling yourself to the system. When there is a system and everything is too perfect its horrible.”
As we zoom down Sheikh Zayed Road, I am suddenly shocked at how fast our time together is passing and the speed of light in which we are travelling. For the first time in 12 years, I not so secretly wish for traffic and ask the driver to slow down, much to Alber’s amusement. We discuss the reason he is here, the six-piece capsule collection he designed just for this region. “I asked myself what am I all about so I went back to my roots in Morocco and started to think about the kaftan and jalabiya and the importance of the tassle, and thought how I can make it modern, contemporary and relevant to today’s woman – and that’s the work you can see in this collection.”
Lauded by his peers, adored by critics and, most of all, the ladies he dresses, his designs have an uncanny way of making its wearer look like she has somewhere super -important to go or someone very special to see. If you haven’t tried on one of his creations, you should. The blue-print for his designs works on every body and gives a girl room to move, work, stop traffic and be comfortable, not something on top of the list for many designers. Alber explains: “You should allow yourself to go out in a restaurant and to have dessert and to sit in a car without everything hurting. I work for women. I live with women. I am part of your gang and I see how your life is. You have to be perfect everywhere. There is no place that you can let go. You have to be really beautiful and really skinny. You have to be educated, you have to be amazing at your job, not less than amazing. You have to travel, you have to be a mum. It’s not like our mums when they had kids – now it’s a job. You have to make sure that they go to the best school, the best after-school and you have to be the best daughter.”
In a world that is so public, with so many people pulling him in every direction all the time, Alber is unabashedly private. He doesn’t read his own reviews (“maybe I will get high on my own stuff”), doesn’t like compliments (“I don’t take them very well”) and doesn’t dabble in any social media whatsoever (“I don’t like Instagram – real life is better). In an industry where you are only as good as your only last post, Alber stands by his anti- social media stance admitting its an addiction that is tough to beat. “I don’t have Instagram, but I see how people get hooked. It’s very addictive. You know what it is, you are going through Instagram and you realise that you are almost living parallel to the rest of the world. Because you see like, ‘Wow, she is in New York,’ and the next morning she is already in London and, ‘Oh my gosh, now she is in Vienna,’ and now she is home with her husband and kids and you think your life is so s***. Everyone is having beautiful mozzarella looking at beautiful tulips and you are just having pizza from Pizza Hut. You know what I mean?”
As we pull in to The Dubai Mall, our journey is almost over but I have just one more question: If Madame Lanvin was alive today, what do you think she would feel about you and your work? The door opens and he smiles and says: “I think she would be happy.”
Check out the party pics of Alber Elbaz in Dubai
Main image: Paris – Embroidered white flowers on black skirt and jacket.
Images: Styling: Jade Sprowson | Photography: Mannbutte | Illustrations: Prasadan T