Michal Herzog, the first lady of Israel, was among dignitaries who attended a private viewing Monday night of “Alber Elbaz: The Dream Factory” at the Design Museum Holon.
What’s billed as the most extensive exhibition to date about the late Israeli designer — and one of the most complex and costly ever mounted at the 12-year-old institution — opens to the public on Thursday and runs through Feb. 25.
It will reprise the “Love Brings Love” showcase of 46 tribute looks by top designers, made in the wake of Elbaz’s death from COVID-19 in April 2021 and given a dedicated exhibition earlier this year at the Palais Galliera in Paris. Participating designers included Dior, Gucci, Balenciaga, Louis Vuitton, Balmain and Versace.
The Design Museum Holon dreamed up a new, multimedia format for those dresses, but the scope of the overall exhibition is much broader: It blends sketches, archival materials, personal objets, video clips and never-before-seen photos to delve into Elbaz’s life story, tracing it from his birthplace in Morocco and his childhood home of Holon to the pinnacle of the Paris fashion firmament.
“It’s a celebration of Alber’s life and achievements, also his personality,” curator Ya’ara Keydar said in an interview over Zoom. “You get to experience this person and not only his designs.”
More than 100 outfits are displayed amid bolts of colorful fabric, reams of ribbons, heart-shaped confetti, antique mirrors and racing-flag photo sets with flashbulbs popping.
Most designs by Elbaz are from AZ Factory, the new fashion brand he established as a joint venture with Compagnie Financiere Richemont, while the scope of his fashion career is represented in photos. Elbaz worked behind the scenes for Geoffrey Beene in New York, going on to design for Guy Laroche, Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, Krizia Top and Lanvin.
Organizers took pains not to characterize the exhibition as a retrospective, pointing to an Elbaz quote: “The only thing I do not do is summarize. I do not do retrospectives.”
Still, the 180-foot “peripheral corridor” of the Ron Arad-designed museum recounts his life story through the main milestones and people in his life via some 300 photographs, fashion illustrations, quotes and personal accoutrements, including his signature bow tie, his bulky Maison Bonnet eyeglasses and his favorite pencil case.
Crowd pleasers are likely to include the draped gold Lanvin dress Meryl Streep wore in 2012 to pick up a Best Actress Oscar for “The Iron Lady,” and a white Lanvin “peace dress” accessorized with feathery wings.
Visitors can also park themselves at a dinner table and watch video snippets of the many lectures Elbaz gave around the world to fashion students during his four-year hiatus between Lanvin and AZ Factory. The section is called “Food for Thought” and Elbaz’s life lessons and dry, often self-deprecating humor are projected onto plates.
Roving spotlights, flashing lights, spinning carousels and spirited music lend the displays the upbeat, carnival-like atmosphere Elbaz summoned at his fashion shows for Lanvin, where his acclaimed 14-year tenure cemented his fashion legacy.
Likewise, mannequins sprawl on chairs, lounge on the ground reading magazines or are frozen mid-dance move — echoing Elbaz’s whimsical window displays of yore.
“Visitors say they feel like they met Alber in person,” Keydar said. “Alber was not afraid to dream and you can see this from the age of 6,” when he began sketching fashion looks.
She noted that Elbaz “shared not only the greatest moments of his life, but also the tragedies and the failures,” alluding to him being edged out of YSL by Tom Ford in 2000, and his ouster from Lanvin in 2015. “He was very open about how you can overcome crises and become even more powerful than you were before.”
The exhibition is divided into “different stations of his life,” narratives constructed around key places like New York, Paris, Holon and Tangiers. For example, it was in New York where Elbaz married his passion for couture with the ease of American sportswear – a combination that would seep through his entire career.
His Paris years are represented by a slew of Little Black Dresses and tuxedo references.
“He really left us with so many important thoughts about the future of fashion,” Keydar said, referring to his fascination with smart fabrics, sustainability, diverse sizing and other “solutions” at AZ Factory. “And he was an incredible storyteller.”
A fashion historian and curator, Keydar has a degree in fashion design from Shenkar College in Remat Gan, Israel, where Elbaz also studied. One of the designer’s Shenkar teachers and longtime collaborators, Shelly Verthime, served as a consultant on the Holon exhibition.
Among AZ Factory representatives who attended the opening festivities were Elbaz’s partner Alex Koo and Norman René Devera, AZ Factory’s design director.
Design Museum Holon is the only design museum in Israel and a summer 2021 fashion exhibition titled “The Ball,” dedicated to evening and bridal gowns and curated by Keydar, attracted more than 150,000 visitors.