Alber Elbaz’s death from COVID last April was met with such shock and sadness in the fashion world because he was one designer who was genuinely loved by his clients and peers, who always appreciated his kindness and generosity.
In an industry known for cutthroat competition, he always tried to be a uniting force that got people together. No surprise then that when his label, AZ Factory, organized a fashion show to pay tribute to him, 45 designers readily accepted the challenge to each create a piece in his memory.
The show was one of the designer’s biggest dreams. He was inspired by the 1945 traveling exhibition, Théâtre de la Mode, featuring the works of top 60 Paris fashion couturiers like Cristobal Balenciaga, Jeanne Lanvin and Pierre Balmain, who banded together to raise funds for survivors of World War II and to jumpstart the revival of the fashion industry.
With the shortage of materials, 27.5-inch miniature mannequins were used, with milliners making miniature hats, hairdressers styling coiffures and Van Cleef and Arpels and Cartier contributing jewelry.
Instead of dolls, however, Elbaz wanted full-size pieces which his co-couturiers will design “to create love, beauty and hope” for the world to enjoy.
Thus the show, held at the end of the recent Paris Fashion Week, was titled “Love Brings Love.” Signature looks and leitmotifs from Elbaz’ tenure at Lanvin from 2001 to 2015 were given a new spin in ensembles created by the major fashion houses, as well as emerging labels.
The heart reigned supreme, of course, since the late designer signed everything with a heart. They dotted Guram Gvasalia’s pajama suit for Vetements and covered the essentials in translucent body suits at Alaïa and bare skin at Gucci.
At Jean Paul Gaultier and Viktor & Rolf, they were big and bold, spilling out in an overflow of emotion.
There were also tributes to the bowtie that Elbaz always wore, as well as the bows that embellished his pieces. It had an oversized ’80s vibe in Balenciaga’s hot pink bubble dress and topped the Minnie Mouse heads in Comme des Garçons’ gown layered with clear plastic. Ralph Lauren paired the bowtie with a Teddy Bear sweater, alluding to Elbaz’s cuddly nature among his friends.
In many instances, the caricature image of the designer, based on drawings he would make of himself on notes and invitations, would be appliquéd or embroidered, like on Dries Van Noten’s bright red coat and Balmain’s little white dress. Rossie Assoulin, a New York designer who once interned with Elbaz, deconstructed the caricature onto a dress.
Elegance was always paramount for Elbaz, and this was channeled by designers through his favorite embellishments and cuts.
Ruffles snaked down a mint chiffon gown by Giorgio Armani, came in multiple lines in a fuchsia gown at Valentino, and went asymmetric together with swags of jewels at Alexander McQueen.
Pleats were pristine in a white skirt by Thebe Magugu and layered with an edge at Off-White. Graphic and color block looks came in a bright rainbow by Christopher John Rogers and sporty at Hermès.
But it was at AZ Factory where all the favorite cuts and leitmotifs found their fruition with athleisure looks and easy-to-wear cuts that the late designer envisioned for his new line, which he wanted to be accessible to all kinds of women, regardless of body size and in keeping with the new normal brought on by the pandemic.
Elbaz could not have been any prouder of the design team that he mentored and left behind, just as he could not be any happier with all the love that poured from his fellow designers on the runway.