Part six of their on going series ‘The Futrue Of Fashion’, Style.com have just released the interview with Lanvin’s Alber Elbaz. A designer and man who we are all interested in what he has to say about fashion, the industry, his work and personal life. Read the interview below of which is described as ‘a condensed and frank chat about the problems the industry faces, his observations frequently punctuated by bursts of humor.’
I’ve been asking everyone this question, but I’m particularly interested in your perspective as a designer. What role does a fashion show still play in delivering your message?
It’s almost like asking someone what is the role of a table if you want to serve dinner. Of course you can have some dinner in bed and you can have it also on a plate and just on the floor, but I think that when you put it on the table, it’s the most pragmatic. There are certain things that I guess are essential and this is one of them.
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.
What’s the balance between refining the signature of the house each season and doing something new? It seems to me there’s tremendous pressure now to do something completely new every time.
You know I [said to] my partner a few months ago, “I have a question.” He said, “What is it?” I said, “Do you think we’re still cool.” And he said, “Alber, we were never cool.” And you know what? I prefer being relevant to being cool, because if you’re cool, you’re also cold the next day. So it’s more about being relevant. The one thing that always scares me is to be like the Miss America of the moment, because next year there is a new Miss America.
You worked for Geoffrey Beene for a number of years. Could a designer like that, who worked a little bit outside the system, refining his signatures, exist today?
I think a good designer can exist everywhere and anywhere and all the time. It’s all about being good, and I think that our job basically is to make women and men look good. That’s all. It’s a job. I’m not coming in the morning and trying to be hype and cool and to go to parties to promote myself. If someone invites me to a party and I end up going, it’s not because I’m trying to do PR for my clothes. I want to go and enjoy myself and I want to have great food and I want to have good company. That’s what I’m looking for in those parties. I’m not looking for promotion for a dress because the dress can promote herself. So working also for all these years with Geoffrey Beene and working with Yves Saint Laurent, I had two of the best designers of the twentieth century that were my teachers, my mentors. And what I learned from both of them is that it’s not just about being cool, it’s about coming to work day after day. You come in the morning and you stay late at night and you come weekends and you work. You just come to work. It’s a job. It’s a major job to help men and women look beautiful.
The Yves Saint Laurent job didn’t end that happily for you, and you’ve been at other fashion houses before you had this wonderful run at Lanvin. Is there anything you’ve learned from your past experiences?
From every place or everything you do, you learn what to do and also you learn what not to do…I would not change anything if you would ask me. I would still go through the experience I went through. I learned a lot from it. I went through a certain experience that wasn’t easy, but guess what? Nothing is easy anyway, so I’m fine with that.
You’re very involved in fabric research, using new fabrics. Is that an area where developments in technology have made things more interesting than in the past?
When I started at Lanvin eight years ago, I remember going to Lyons and asking to see some of the fabrics, and I saw these amazing, amazing failles and duchesse satins, but they were very rigid…So I asked the owner if he could maybe stonewash them or do some different treatment to make them less [rigid], and he told me that I’m actually destroying his industry, that I’m not respecting the tradition. But at the same time he did take a few yards of fabric and made a try, and I made the piece. And a few months later, when he saw the order, he didn’t accuse me of destroying the industry; he was actually thanking me for keeping the industry alive.
By the same token some companies tell you, “Oh my God, this is such a modern fabric.” And I’m for modernity, I’m feeling more like someone who works in a laboratory than an atelier, so I say, “OK, let me see what a modern fabric is.” But if that modern fabric cannot be cut because the fabric is so nervous, if the fibers are so sharp that you cannot cut it and you have to sew a paper on every piece of fabric, this is not modern…The whole idea is to find this kind of harmony between newness and tradition, between yesterday and today. It’s not just about being modern and high-tech and going forward. In order to go forward you have to have some base, you have to come from somewhere.
You know, we do fabrics four times a year. We finish the show on Friday, and I am in the showroom on Saturday and Sunday, and Monday morning I start with the fabrics, because it takes the fabric manufacturer about two to three months to deliver. So in order for me to have them ready for my new pre-collection, I have to do it the day after the show. And you know what? The last thing I want to do the day after the show is to look at fabrics, but I have to do it.
Everyone I’ve spoken to says the designer has the hardest job.
I think so. And Miss America.
Continue reading the interview here at Style.com