Alber Elbaz

LONDON — Alber Elbaz is back in fashion — and like the comeback king Frank Sinatra, he’s doing it his way.

“I didn’t want to just go and work in another company and sing the same song that I sang before. I like old songs, they always make me feel good. But I also like new songs that make me think, as well,” said Elbaz, talking about his plans for AZfashion, a venture with Richemont that he signed last week.

In an interview, he was short on specifics but long on philosophy, talking about why he chose Compagnie Financière Richemont as a partner, what he’s expecting to achieve and how his approach, with help from Richemont’s owner and chairman Johann Rupert, will be a gentle one.

“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. When you reset, you don’t need to throw your iPad down and break it, you just restart, that’s all. It’s all optimistic, no war, no fight, no revolution. I am giving birth to a new story.”

The Paris-based designer said he hopes to turn his dreams and ideas into real products that will sell online, in brick-and-mortar stores and hopefully on the Richemont-owned Net-a-porter and Mr Porter, too.

WWD: Why did you pick Richemont as a partner?

Alber ElbazIt was intuition, and intuition is what makes fashion and creation move forward and go to new places. I had some meetings with people from Richemont, and everything was efficacious and there was a positive energy. More than anything, it was an extremely elegant meeting, and there was something very human about it. Previously, I didn’t know anyone from Richemont and I had never met Mr. Rupert before that.

WWD: You have a lot of ideas and product categories in mind, how big a role will fashion play in the new venture?

A.E.: The joint venture is called AZfashion because we love fashion and I am proud to be part of this industry that supported me all these years. I have been talking about my vision for a while and now it’s my time to put it all together.

Richemont is a company that gives you time and it’s for the long term. And that’s what we, as designers, need. It’s not that designers are less good today. We just need the element of time, and then we can really enjoy what we do.

WWD: You’ve referred to this new venture as your “dream factory.” Can you elaborate on that?

A.E.: Dream factory is not one of those phrases that we use in our vocabulary today. We talk about data, algorithms, production and repetition. The dream factory is where you go every day and enjoy it, where you can be authentic. You don’t have to be square — you can be round, too. But it’s not an incubator. We also want to create product. I love the idea of virtual, but I also like the reality thing, too, the real product, the object. I like the idea of working for a think tank and a “do tank.” That is the dream factory. We start from a dream and then we produce it.

WWD: What sort of company or brand do you want to build?

A.E.: AZfashion is about projects that are relevant for the moment, ones that women and men would love to have. We are a start-up. It’s a new page, a new story, and I am looking for good people. I love to be with talented and smart people.

WWD: Why have you chosen to take the lifestyle route right now when so many brands are finding success with one category — be it dresses, sneakers or accessories?

A.E.: Why do what everybody else is doing? I am a multifaceted person myself and this is a start-up company for projects.

WWD: Where do you plan to sell the AZfashion products?

A.E.: We love the idea of online, but I also like the idea of keeping the existing stores, department stores on board. I love newness, I like innovation, but I am also a big lover of history, of the traditional and artisanal. People are always trying to be either/or. Why can’t we be both? Why can’t we do online and off-line? Mainly, we’ll sell online but we will not forget the stores — we need to maintain and sustain those businesses.

WWD: Will you be working specifically with Net-a-porter and Mr Porter, given that they’re owned by Richemont?

A.E.: I hope they do choose me. If they like me I’d be more than happy to work with them.

WWD: Given that Richemont is the world leader in high-end watches and jewelry, how big a role will luxury play in your new proposition?

A.E.: Of course we’re going to create a luxury brand, a luxury start-up, but we’re living in a time when luxury is not judged by its prices alone. It is a luxury to know what you’re getting, what you’re doing, what you’re eating, and how it was produced. It’s a luxury to be ethical.

WWD: You talked about “sustaining” retailers and department stores. How big a role will sustainability generally play in the new business?

A.E.: I think that “sustainable” and “sustainability” are words that we use again and again, and I think we’re living in a world where we have to care. Not just because we have to do it or because it’s politically correct, but because we love the idea and we think it’s important. It will definitely be a part of that project and I’m happy I’m doing it with people who want me to and share that vision.

WWD: Do you plan to pursue your other projects — such as the Tod’s collaboration — now that you’re in business with Richemont?

A.E.: I gave all my heart to Richemont and I don’t know how to run two families at the same time. I’ve done those projects, and I enjoyed working very, very much with everybody, with Diego (Della Valle), Frédéric (Malle), Le Sportsac, Converse — all of them were very right at the moment. Working with projects like that is almost like working the emergency room, you kind of come and go. But 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. I am the conductor and my team is the orchestra and I depend on my team. That was always the case.

WWD: How closely will you be working with Richemont, the brands and the managers on strategies and ideas?

A.E.: I’m a very approachable person, but at the same time I will be concentrating on this project, my project. I have to give birth, I have to nurture this, and I don’t want to multitask and I don’t think it would be right for me to do so.

But I’m here, I’m part of the family now, and like family, we’ll talk and we’ll eat together and I hope I will get to know them. I don’t know many people from Richemont, so I would like to meet them on a personal level. Every time that I met them so far, there was something really elegant about the way they were. And when you ask me “why Richemont?” the answer is the people.

Also, it is a brand that is all about creativity, know-how, tradition and the artisanal, yet they’ve opened the door also for me, for an individual, a person. They’ve opened the door for innovation, so all I have to say is “thank you.”

WWD: How big a role will practicality and functionality play in your new designs?

A.E.: I think that practicality and functionality are big issues today. Women are not in the same place, women today are in a good place and they’re going to be in an even better place soon. Our job as designers is to listen, to understand. All my career I always worked with women and for women. I’ve been looking, watching the news, reading and I’ve done some thinking and some dreaming. Again, it’s the tradition and the artisanal, but moving it forward. It’s about going backward — and forward.

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