Alber Elbaz: the master of chic cocktail dresses and a beloved friend to so many

Chloe Street
·4-min read
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Since news broke on Saturday that fashion designer Alber Elbaz had passed away at the hands of Covid-19 at the age of 59, the industry has mourned the loss of one of its foremost design talents.

Famous as much for his warm spirit and approachable manner as he was his knack for creating joyous clothes that flattered and uplifted women, Elbaz was a much-loved figure in fashion circles, and his designs were a red carpet favourite of everyone from Michelle Obama to Meryl Streep and Beyoncé to Kim Kardashian.

Moroccan-born and Paris-based, the Israeli designer served at the helm of Guy Laroche and YSL Rive Gauche in Paris in the late 1990s before joining Lanvin as creative director in 2001 where, over the course of a 14-year tenure, he is credited for having breathed life and frisson into the sleepy French couture house. His expertly draped dresses, fabric-covered pearl necklaces, exposed zipper details and colourful, impeccably chic cocktail dresses earned Lanvin a global reputation and a large celebrity following.

“He was a light like no other in the world,” said fellow designer Stella McCartney on Instagram. “In fashion, his immense talent shone so bright that it tore up the conventions and wrapped a million souls in happiness when they wore his creations.”

Evening Standard Editor Emily Sheffield describes him as “one of fashion’s wonders - a man who truly embodied the excitement and delight that fashion can often create in us. Childlike in his innocent passion of creating these wonderful fantasy versions of ourselves. He didn’t bow to trends - he was all about the woman, letting us dream, while basically ensuring whenever you slipped on one of his beguiling creations, you looked utterly fabulous. He made you feel both sexy and very much a woman in charge of your own destiny. He was also charm personified and always made you feel like you wanted to rush up and have a hug. A true gentleman he will be hugely mourned by the fashion world. A terrible loss to this year’s pandemic.”

Natalia Vodianova, Alber Elbaz and Stella McCartneyGetty
Natalia Vodianova, Alber Elbaz and Stella McCartneyGetty

Dior Creative Director Maria Grazia Chiuri also took to Instagram to say she would “never forget how generous, talented, loving he was. He was the first person who made me feel at home in the fashion industry. His favourite word was love and it’s with this word I will always remember him.”

Supermodel Erin O’Connor paid tribute to what a “fine, kind, creative gentleman,” Elbaz was, while Valentino creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli recognised “his colourful, sparkling, and intense joy de vivre” and “the legacy of his work that will remember to all of us how huge his talent was and how his vision of beauty, his human approach to fashion will always remain peerless.”

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Elbaz had spent the past five years largely absent from fashion following a shock departure from Lanvin in 2015 after disagreements with its then owner Shaw-Lan Wang. Speaking about his hiatus, he told Wallpaper magazine: “I’ve had the time to observe and live a life not as a fashion designer but just as a human being.”

In January of this year, Elbaz made his much-anticipated return, with the launch of his own brand AZ Factory. A practical, size-inclusive label with a much more affordable price point than Lanvin (dresses started at £180), AZ Factory set out to deliver “purposeful, solutions-driven fashion that works for everyone,” said Elbaz at the time of launch. “Our products are here to solve problems and create joy. Help, not hinder.”

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With technical fabrics, sneakers and body-sculpting silhouettes in sizes XXS to 4XL, this truly was a label intended for everyone. It’s future as a nascent brand now seems uncertain.

“I have lost not only a colleague but a beloved friend,” said Johann Rupert, founder and chairman of Richemont, the conglomerate backing AZ Factory. “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.”

Alber Elbaz design signatures

Getty Images
Getty Images

Elbaz was a master of silky draping that gave movement and flattered the figure.

AZ FACTORY
AZ FACTORY

At Lanvin, Elbaz was one of the first to use exposed zippers on formal silk cocktail dresses, a design signature that he parlayed into his own brand AZ Factory

Getty Images
Getty Images

Jewel coloured cocktail dresses were a mainstay of Elbaz’s Lanvin tenure, and responsible in large part for putting the label on the map.

Scroll through the gallery at the top of this page for some more of Alber Elbaz’s greatest hits.