Renowned Israeli-French Fashion Designer Alber Elbaz Dies From COVID-19

The Moroccan-born designer who grew up in Israel had reached the pinnacle of luxury fashion design at Lanvin and Yves Saint Laurent, despite a few hard knocks along the way

Ofir Hovav
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Alber Elbaz, 1961-2021.
Alber Elbaz, 1961-2021.Credit: VIA AZ FACTORY / NYT
Ofir Hovav

Renowned Israeli–French fashion designer Alber Elbaz died from COVID-19 on Saturday night in Paris, after being in an induced coma for several days. Elbaz was fully vaccinated against the virus. He was 59.

Elbaz was born in Morocco and moved to Israel with his family when he was 10 years old. When he was 15 his father died, and his mother started working as a cashier in order to support the family. She encouraged Elbaz, who started sketching dresses already as a child, to develop his talent. After his military service he studied design at the Shenkar College of Engineering and Design, and went on to become the school’s most famous graduate. In 1985, with his mother’s support, he left for New York in order to develop his fashion career.

Alber Elbaz delivers a speech after he received the title of Officer in the National Order of Merit by French Culture minister at the Culture ministry in Paris in 2016. Credit: CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT - AFP

For seven years Elbaz worked for designer Geoffrey Beene, who also served as his mentor. In 1997 he immigrated to Paris. Elbaz became the chief designer at the French fashion house Guy Laroche for four successful seasons, during which he attracted attention in the Paris fashion scene and made a name for himself.

The official stamp of approval came in the guise of a tempting offer Elbaz received from Pierre Berge, Yves Saint Laurent’s partner – to take over for Saint Laurent and to design the company’s prete-a-porter (ready-to-wear) line. After three seasons, in November 1999, the Gucci Group took over the Saint Laurent fashion house, and Tom Ford was appointed to replace him as the company’s artistic director.

Elbaz, who suffered a painful blow that left a mark on his career, worked for a short time in the Italian Krizia fashion house and waited for a good offer. “There’s no need to fight with everyone or to bear a grudge. What’s not good will fail on its own,” he said in an interview with Haaretz in 2009.

Such good offer came in 2001 from the French fashion house Lanvin. The Taiwanese publisher Shaw-Lan Wang, the controlling owner of the firm, whom the employees called “Madame Wang,” hired Elbaz's services as the artistic director, and asked him “to wake up the Sleeping Beauty.”

Supermodel Karlie Kloss wears a creation by Alber Elbaz for Lanvin's spring-summer 2013 ready to wear collection in Paris.Credit: Francois Mori / AP

Madame Wang visited his studio only rarely, gave Elbaz a free hand, and allowed him to build the brand as he wished. Elbaz worked almost without interference, enjoyed Wang’s support and breathed new life into Lanvin, which until his arrival was a dormant and irrelevant brand.

Elbaz turned the French fashion house into an important and central player in the French and global fashion world. The elegant and sexy styles that flattered the female body quickly made him a favorite of fashion editors.

Shaw-Lan Wang. She hired Elbaz as the artistic director at Lanvin, asking him 'to wake up the Sleeping Beauty.'Credit: FRANCOIS MORI / AP

During the second season everything changed. Elbaz began to introduce the designs that became the firm’s trademark. Paul Deneve, the president of Nina Ricci, joined Lanvin as CEO in 2006 (previously Wang’s son had filled the position) and the two began to build the business. Elbaz worked hard. He gained a reputation as a meticulous and intense perfectionist, with whom it was exhausting to work. At the same time, his colleagues always mentioned his humanity and his warmth. He was known as someone who sent flowers on birthdays or for the birth of babies or after funerals.

After 14 seasons, Elbaz was fired from Lanvin in 2015. The dismissal was sharp, painful, surprising and almost incomprehensible, because Elbaz had often been touted as one of the most beloved and admired designers in the industry. The layoff stemmed from differences of opinion with Shaw-Lan Wang and CEO Michèle Hubain.

Actress Tilda Swinton arrives at the 80th Academy Awards in a washed-silk-satin Lanvin gown. Credit: Amy Sancetta / AP

The dismissal led to various guesses regarding his next job. But not a single one worked out, and he decided to do smaller projects, such as a joint collection with the Italian brand Tod’s and a small capsule with LeSportsac, manufacturer of bags and luggage.

Last January Elbaz launched his new ready-to-wear brand AZ Factory, owned by the Swiss luxury corporation Richemont.

In an interview with New York Times' Vanessa Friedman Albez said of his new fashion endeavor: “It's like I’m giving birth. My hormones are burning. I’m so itchy. I cry and laugh within seconds.”

Alber Elbaz appearing at the end of his Spring/Summer 2016 women's ready-to-wear fashion show for Lanvin in Paris, France, October 1, 2015.Credit: Reuters

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