Alber Elbaz, 1961-2021

Has there ever been a more original spirit in the world of fashion than Alber Elbaz? This ebullient designer, whose triumphant collections rejuvenated the moribund House of Lanvin with elegance, grace, and an inimitable wit, loved women and fashion in equal measure—all of which was evident throughout his extraordinary career. His recent death from COVID-19 is a profound loss to us all.

Alber Elbaz with l-r: Dr. Valerie Steele, Dr. Joyce Brown, and Glenda Bailey
Alber Elbaz with l-r: Dr. Valerie Steele, Dr. Joyce Brown, and Glenda Bailey.
FIT Couture Council Luncheon, September 5, 2007. © Patrick McMullan

In 2007, the Museum at FIT honored Alber with its Artistry in Fashion award and at that time I called him an honorary FIT alumnus. That is because he studied fashion at Shenkar College in Israel, which FIT helped to establish ten years before he graduated. So the programs he learned from were programs that we were instrumental in developing. “With your Shankar pedigree,” I told him, “we take great parental pride in your achievements.” And his achievements were bountiful.

orange silk gown, viewed from behind
Silk gown designed by Alber Elbaz for Lanvin, spring 2008

Always fashion-forward, he blended craftsmanship with modernity, both before his 14-year tenure at Lanvin and after, and at each turn, he asked himself that famous Freudian question: “What do women want?” Unlike Freud, he always found an answer and applied it with elan to everything he created, whether it was sneakers or accessories or cocktail gowns.

For his most recent venture, the AZ Factory website, he once again raised the question and the answer was, he said, “Something that is first comfortable. Something fun. Something that lets me eat a big piece of cake.” Eat a big piece of cake? I cannot imagine a designer, any designer, even conceiving of a garment that would permit a woman so much as a crumb! But this was Alber Elbaz: empathetic, kind, joyful, and brilliant. Women felt confident and beautiful—and comfortable—in his clothes. The AZ Factory was created to make accessible fashion for women of all sizes: “smart fashion that cares,” he called it. No wonder he was beloved throughout the industry. No wonder his influence was so widespread. He will be sorely missed.