Alber Elbaz

Alber Elbaz has selected Laurent Malecaze as chief executive officer of his fashion start-up AZfashion, WWD has learned.

Currently ceo of luxury retailer The Webster in New York, Malecaze is to take up the new role on Oct. 12.

Elbaz confirmed his arrival exclusively to WWD, and described an instant personal and professional rapport with Malecaze, who helped The Webster accelerate and widen its digital operations.

“I felt there is a strategist within him, and not just a fashion businessman,” the designer said. “In Laurent, I found a true partner.”

AZfashion touted the hire in a brief statement, noting the two men would “develop the overall strategy of AZfashion and oversee its implementation across the venture.”

The development comes almost 11 months after Elbaz announced his comeback to fashion in a joint venture with Compagnie Financière Richemont, and should accelerate AZfashion’s launch, which has been delayed due to shutdowns and slowdowns related to the coronavirus crisis.

“His arrival will fuel the drive and energy of our team even further,” Elbaz said. “We have been working very hard during this difficult pandemic and can’t wait to launch our first project next year…to finally turn our dreams into reality.”

Pressed on the timing, Elbaz would only say he’s aiming to show his first designs in early 2021.

Elbaz and the Swiss luxury giant have given few specifics about their venture, which will be project-based rather than the standard seasonal approach of most designer collections.

The designer recently set up AZ’s headquarters atop the Fondation Cartier, the contemporary art museum in a striking glass building by architect Jean Nouvel, and has been building his team.

Sources told WWD Elbaz has been working on a project around dresses, one ingredient of the soigné French elegance he plied over his acclaimed 14-year tenure as creative director of Lanvin, which came to a halt in 2015 amid a dispute with then owner Shaw-Lan Wang.

He had reinvented that sleepy brand with chic cocktail attire, chunky costume jewelry, ballerina flats, dressy sneakers and modernist men’s wear.

When the joint venture was unveiled last year, Richemont and Albaz said the from-scratch label would be devoted to wardrobe “solutions” for women and described it as “an innovative and dynamic start-up, meant to turn dreams into reality.”

“I’m not into revolution — I’m going to do what I believe is right for the moment. I’m not going to disrupt the industry — it’s not my thing. It’s about resetting and restarting,” Elbaz told WWD in an interview last October. “I wanted to do a project that I could start from beginning to end. That’s why the project is named AZ — which are also my initials — because it goes from A to Z. I thought that it would be right for me today to call it AZ because it’s a start-up, a brand and because it’s not just about me.”

Richemont is parent of brands including Cartier, Chloé, IWC, Van Cleef & Arpels and Dunhill.

A graduate of elite French business school HEC, Malecaze started his career at Bain & Co. in 2011 as strategic consultant in Paris, London and Sydney. He joined The Webster in 2015 as chief operating officer. He was appointed president in 2018 and named ceo in April 2019.

Malecaze said he and Elbaz “share the same strong focus on innovation and wellbeing. Our approach will combine unique craftsmanship with the best of innovative technology to create meaningful products and experiences, and ultimately joy.”

Philippe Fortunato, ceo of Fashion & Accessories Maisons at Richemont, added that Malecaze’s “energetic leadership, coupled with his innovative and digital approach to retail, will be a great addition to the partnership.”

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