It promises to be a fashion moment to savor and cherish — and also one for the history books.
More than 40 fashion houses — encompassing some of the industry’s most acclaimed and famous designers — are creating looks in homage to the late Alber Elbaz that will be unveiled in a runway show in Paris on Oct. 5, closing out fashion month with a poignant display of esteem and solidarity.
The “Love Brings Love” tribute, organized by Elbaz’s upstart fashion house AZ Factory, is to communicate the list of participating designers at a later date.
“From haute couture to streetwear,” is how AZ Factory chief executive officer Laurent Malecaze described the range of talent that will be on display. “I would say it’s a large spread from very young designers to very renowned designers.”
According to sources, among prominent designers and houses participating are Maria Grazia Chiuri, Dior’s artistic director of women’s haute couture, ready-to-wear and accessory collections; Nicolas Ghesquière, artistic director of women’s collections at Louis Vuitton; Demna Gvasalia, creative director of Balenciaga, Rick Owens, and Pierpaolo Piccioli, creative director of Valentino.
The AZ Factory studio and atelier is also producing multiple looks for the display.
Disclosing details of the event in an exclusive interview, Malecaze was joined by Alex Koo, Elbaz’s life partner, whose wish is to mount a stirring, yet ultimately uplifting, spectacle.
“It’s about the industry coming together to pay homage to a great man, a great human being,” he said. “Let’s celebrate this beautiful moment, but also remind ourselves as well as the public what this industry represents — and how much we need beauty and creativity in this world.”
The runway outing promises to have the electricity of the shows Elbaz orchestrated during his acclaimed 14-year tenure at Lanvin. Malecaze and Koo conscripted Elbaz’s longtime collaborators, including Etienne Russo of production house Villa Eugénie; makeup artist Pat McGrath; hairstylist Guido Palau; stylist and editor Babeth Djian, and musician Ariel Wizman for the soundtrack.
Elbaz launched AZ Factory — a venture with Compagnie Financière Richemont — last January by streaming a quirky fashion variety show that showcased cutting-edge “smart” fabrics, and the designer’s inimitable soigné touch.
He also introduced a digitally driven business model hinged on projects rather than collections, and with storytelling, problem-solving and entertainment embedded in design, distribution and communications.
Yet before he passed away last April at age 59 from COVID-19, Elbaz had decided to surprise with a live fashion show during Paris Fashion Week and had settled on his inspiration: the Théâtre de la Mode, a traveling exhibition of miniature fashions devised by the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne after World War II to revive an industry ravaged by wartime shortages and German occupation.
“He wanted to surprise, to bring this dream element,” Koo related, while nothing that “without Alber, we will never know how this collection would have finished.”
Several designers, including Chiuri and Walter Van Beirendonck, referenced the Théâtre de la Mode last year during coronavirus lockdowns, producing collections in doll sizes.
According to Malecaze, Elbaz’s initial idea was to pay tribute to some of the great designers of the post-war period, which gave the executive the idea of turning the tables and inviting the great designers of today to celebrate Elbaz.
Malecaze and Koo dispatched emails to a wide range of designers from many geographies, and a great many came back with an immediate “yes.”
“It was so emotional, the reaction of all these designers, their heartfelt replies. They felt so honored to be asked,” Koo related. “Alber would have been so proud, and so happy because these were his friends, peers and colleagues.”
“We were very moved and humbled by the response,” Malecaze concurred.
Sketches have started to trickle in to AZ Factory, and they suggest a varied approach to Elbaz’s oeuvre, from his use of jewel tones and bows to more personal takes on his woman-focused design mission, and his ebullient personality.
“It’s amazing to see the interpretations,” Malecaze said. “We think it’s going to be very powerful, very beautiful.”
Each designer or house is to produce the one-of-a-kind outfits, which in the case of heritage brands offers a unique mélange of a designer’s handwriting and the brand he or she works for, all channeling Elbaz.
Malecaze noted that the tribute dresses by other houses will not be sold or commercialized in any way. Talks are underway with museums and foundations for exhibitions that would let the public discover the outfits up close. (The Oct. 5 show will be livestreamed.)
All the participating designers are invited to attend, along with executives from France’s big luxury groups, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and Kering.
There will be no speeches, with Koo and Malecaze preferring to showcase the creativity on display, and to transmit the designer’s joie de vivre.
“When you think of Alber, you think of his laughter, his jokes, his self-deprecating humor,” Koo said. “I think this is what Alber would have wanted.”
To be sure, Elbaz conceived of the industry as one big “fashion family” — dysfunctional at times, but certainly interdependent, according to Koo, noting that Elbaz dispatched flowers and cakes to designers of all sizes and stripes as tokens of congratulations and encouragement.
While fashion is full of outsized egos, Elbaz took it upon himself to befriend everyone, from business titans and budding designers to the cleaning lady at Lanvin, all of whom are invited to the Oct. 5 event. “Alber was really the conduit between a lot of these designers,” Koo noted. “A lot of designers don’t necessarily know each other well, but through Alber, they really reunited and connected.”
Since Elbaz’s death, AZ Factory has released two product stories fully realized by the designer: SuperTech-SuperChic, which employs eco-dyed nylon microfiber, typically used for activewear and underwear only, for tuxedos and bustiers, and Free To, athleisure done up Elbaz style, with raw-edged satin ribbon spelling out “Kiss” on an oversized lavender sweatshirt, for example.
In June, AZ Factory also introduced Elbaz’s first handbag designs for the brand.
Malecaze said the maison are fully focused on the tribute event, and the next phase for the business will be communicated later this year.