cult of personality

Alber Elbaz Worries About His Weight, Never Thinks His Work Is Good Enough

Last week Alber Elbaz presented another collection for Lanvin that left editors writhing in their chairs with pleasure. We’re not even sure if they all made it out alive, so amazed were they by his design genius. Ariel Levy profiles Alber for the New Yorker’s new style issue. Despite the continuous outpouring of praise, he is a perfectionist who always thinks his work sucks, which it never does. His aim is not to, as Levy writes, design dresses “that will make a man fall in love with the woman who wears it,” but dresses “that a woman wears when she falls in love herself.” He wants his customers to look not necessarily sexy, but smart and interesting. And customers respond — Simon Doonan likens Lanvin trunk shows at Barneys to scenes from The Day of the Locust, adding, “Alber’s clothes are like crack for women.” Here’s what the dealer — er, design extraordinaire had to say.

He refuses to do a secondary, lower-priced line.

“I have a problem to do a collection that is a secondary line. I mean, you don’t want to be the stepsister. You want to be Cinderella. Show me one girl who wants to be the stepsister.”

Elbaz is very conscious of his weight, which influences his designs.

“I do things without décolleté, nothing is transparent,” Elbaz said. “I am overweight, so I am very, very aware of what to show and what not to show, and I am sure there is a huge link with being an overweight designer and the work I do. My fantasy is to be skinny, you see? I bring that fantasy into the lightness — I take off the corset and I bring comfort and all these things that I don’t have. What I bring is everything that I don’t have. This is the fantasy. This is the concierge that goes home.”

He also hates the idea of the ‘It’ bag.

“[T]here is nothing scarier than being ‘the designer of the moment,’ because the moment ends.”

His philosophy on avant-garde?

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

When you buy Lanvin, you are paying for this:

“I’m taking out a lot of the corset that is like syoop,” he said, making a sucking noise and holding in his cheeks. “I took all the bones out, and I stitch, and to get there, you know, it took me forever. It took me six or seven dresses to make one. And it’s time and it’s money and we are not doing it in offshore countries — we pay sixty-five-per-cent taxes in France! It is so much work. Doing a collection for me is almost like creating a vaccine. Once you create the one vaccine, then you can duplicate it for nine dollars and ninety-nine cents. But see if you can create it for nine dollars and ninety-nine cents, and the answer is no. In that sense, I have absolutely no problem with the prices. I don’t think we do it just to do it.”

And oh! This:

“Two nights before the show, the bags arrive,” he said. “And I look at the bags and I hate them. Within a second, I got a migraine from depression. I thought, It’s a disaster — it’s just a disaster — it will never work. I go back to Alex, ‘Am I not seeing right? Everybody
seems to like it and I hate it.’ And then it’s that moment that you have two choices: either to give up or to start fighting. I said, ‘Everybody, we are going to meet again at eight o’clock tomorrow morning, all of us.’ Everybody came at eight o’clock — half asleep, half tired, three-quarters depressed — and we went bag by bag. We take off the chain. We put steam. We put it into water. We take off the closure. We edit the lucky charm that we have done on the bag. We took a pompom we have made out of grosgrain, we put it on the bag. I said to the girls, ‘Is that the bag you are not going to be able to let go if you see it in the store?’ They said yes. They say, ‘Now we do another bag from the same group?’ I said, Forget the groups! It’s not about groups! It’s not about marketing — where you need three sizes in four colors in five fabrics.” Elbaz shuddered. “And it was the first time that the numbers of the bags went like that,” he said, and pointed at the ceiling to indicate how well those difficult bags eventually sold. “And what was it that we added? We broke the formula. We make every mistake that you can do. I think that what we created, in the end, they were very emotional, those pieces. They didn’t look like they were done in a factory, they look like they were done by a human being.”

After that, we’re not surprised he loves hospitals.

“If I had a kid, I’d have to live in a penthouse of the hospital,” Elbaz said. “Every time he sneeze I’d want him checked.” On the bright side, then he’d get to live in a hospital — an oasis of care. “I like everything about hospitals,” Elbaz said. “Even the food.

We’re also not surprised by his usual post-show routine.

“After every show, I say to Hania [Destelle, a friend], ‘They hated it.’ ”

Ladies’ Man [NYer]

See a slideshow of Alber Elbaz’s complete fall 2009 collection for Lanvin.

Alber Elbaz Worries About His Weight, Never Thinks His Work Is Good Enough