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The Future Of Fashion Part Six: Alber Elbaz

Style.com continue on with their column, “The Future of Fashion” as it outlines the thoughts and insights of Lanvin’s Alber Elbaz. An interesting discussion, some of the most pertinent and interesting matters include the importance of offline experiences; The over-emphasis on creating so many collections a year; The need to actively monitor the commercial side of the business and new age media among other topics. Excerpts of the interview can be seen below.

There’s been a lot of talk about doing shows on film, but it sounds like the live experience and a live audience are still very important to you.
Maybe I’m kind of an old fashioned guy, I don’t know. I think that if you want to pass emotion you have to write a letter. Emotions do not pass in SMS or in e-mail. I think that you have to be there, you have to feel it…I know that now with Facebook, some people tell me, “Oh, I have 700 friends.” Another person tells me, “I have 3,000 friends.” And I tell them I have only two friends. So now who has more friends? They do or I do? And how do you actually value it, by number or quality? I believe that we have to go forward and I believe that we have to go with change, but there are certain things that are beautiful to leave as they are. And fashion is not always about what’s new, it’s also about what’s good. And I think if you need to see what’s good, you have to be there.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been, but I’ve been surprised by how passionate people are about this. Buyers, critics, designers, they all still feel that, despite the overscheduling, live fashion shows are important.
I think the problem is that we all feel we have too many of those. I think this is the major problem that we are all feeling and experiencing. And I always say that doing a collection is almost like writing a book or making a movie, and I don’t know any other industry that can produce six movies a year by the same director. That’s the thing. You cannot write six books a year. You cannot produce six movies. You can’t do six collections a year. And I think this is actually what is making fashion be the way it is today. I know a lot of people complain that there is not enough change and that fashion in the past was much more creative than today, and I think a big part of this phenomenon is that we don’t have the time to think, we don’t have the time to project, we don’t have the time to digest. I’m not talking about, like, “Oh, we need to travel for inspiration,” because I do in fact believe that the best traveling you do is from your couch while you eat potato chips. But I think we just need the time to think and to look at it again and to have another perspective.

When I go out sometimes to this kind of fashion event and I see other designers, I see that one of them has a pain in the back and the other one has a migraine and the third one is exhausted, because we are going through this process that is endless. And I think that today editors are feeling the same way, because they have to travel the world season after season and just see and write the reviews in a taxi where they don’t have the time to think about it. Whatever you see today is maybe not what you really feel tomorrow. You just have to see and shoot. And I think buyers are going through the same thing, because there was a time when they used to be staying also in the store, not just looking at computers and numbers. When you go to the doctor, you don’t want the doctor to look only at the computer, you want the doctor to look at you. And I think the buyers used to be also on the floor, looking at the customer, seeing the merchandise and how it works on the floor or doesn’t. And today they are just traveling from one collection to another, from a pre-collection in New York to a pre-collection in Paris, and it’s endless. And I do feel there is this kind of extreme fatigue that everyone is talking about and there is a need for a change.

I hear everything you’re saying, but do you really think it’s possible that there could be a change?
I think it’s possible. The only way it will be possible is if we all work together…Somehow if we do work together with the magazines and with the stores, we can make changes. I would be totally pessimistic if I did not believe in change. We are in an industry that is the industry of change. I mean, we are changing from season to season, but we cannot change the system? We cannot change the formula? No, I think we can. It’s a matter of time, it’s a matter of initiative and courage, for that one person to reunite all of us and say, you know what, let’s do it differently, let’s go back to enjoying fashion. Almost every designer I know says, “Alber, this is the only thing I know how to do.” I feel myself I’m pretty clumsy. I don’t know how to do computers. I don’t drive. If I didn’t know how to do fashion, I think I would be homeless. So the fact is that I do know how to do it and I do love it. I just want to enjoy it a little bit more.

You’re not shielded from the commercial side? You look at the sales figures.
I check the sales every morning, every morning, every morning. It’s not that I work on commission and I want to see how much I’m going to get tonight. It’s not about that. But I need to know if I’m doing something right. When I came back to fashion after thinking that I’m going to [give it up] after Saint Laurent, I decided at the time that I’m only going to work with people I love and I only want to do things I love. Because in my past, some of the pieces that I thought were the worst turned out to be the best sellers. And these are those moments that you ask yourself, “Are you losing it, Alber? Or is it bizarre that everything you hate is a best seller?” So I decided that I’m not going to do it anymore. I’m only going to do clothes that I love and I’m going to do that with people that I enjoy working with. And that changed in a way the strategy of my way of working at Lanvin. I worked it differently. I made it differently. And I think that for me commercial is not a bad word. Commercial is not the word that has to be said only by CEOs. It has to be something that is maybe the essence of design, because design has some sort of art in it and creation, but it’s also some object that you have to use. There is also this pragmatic end to it. It has be something that you kind of dream about but also think about, so in a way it has to come from your heart and your brain at the same time. You know, a dress without a zipper, even if it’s gorgeous, if there is no zip, you cannot get in.

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