Alber Elbaz on his down-to-earth approach to fashion: 'I don’t want people to be intimidated'

He’s made Lanvin lustworthy, and his collaborations are unmissable. Ahead of his hot-ticket appearance at the Vogue Festival, Gillian Orr talks to the designer Alber Elbaz

In an interview with The Independent last year, Alber Elbaz, creative director of Lanvin, confided: “I hate the word cool. It gives me a rash.” So it might have seemed like a curious decision for the 51-year-old to send models down the runway back in February wearing necklaces emblazoned with that very word for the house’s autumn/winter 2013 show.

“I still hate it! That’s why I put it there,” Elbaz now laughs. He tries to explain his reasoning: “With this last collection I wanted to go back to intuition and emotion, to go back to that  freedom we used to have in fashion. Why not touch things that we hate and turn them upside down and inside out?”

The starting point for next season’s collection was the jewellery. Elbaz went to his team and said he wanted words. “What kind of words?” they asked him. “Diamond and pearl words,” came the reply. “They all gave me a very bizarre look like I was losing it,” he recalls.

So words such as “help”, “love”, “happy” and, of course, “cool” were turned into necklaces, belts and brooches. “Just two days before the show we pulled it all together and so there was a brocade dress and flat man shoes, and then ‘help’ in diamond and pearl. They all looked at it and they were smiling. And for fashion to still make you smile, that’s very important.”

Elbaz certainly makes a lot of people smile.  In an industry sometimes known for its  daunting and po-faced figures, Elbaz is beloved not only for his beautiful designs, which have helped put the French fashion house back on the map over his decade at the helm, but also for his sense of fun.

“Everybody thinks that because it’s luxury it should be very intimidating; you go into the store and it should look like a pharmacy. But guess what? We’re not buying Tylenol!” he says. “We’re buying a red bag, and a diamond shoe, and a printed dress, so I think we should have a little bit of lightness and be a little less strict about everything. Because if you come to a pharmacy and everything is so arranged then you don’t want to touch it. I don’t want people to be  intimidated. I’m trying to take this kind of  façade of glossiness out and to show that there are other angles to luxury.”

Whether it’s dancing to Pitbull’s “I Know You Want Me” alongside Karen Elson and Raquel Zimmermann in a Lanvin campaign video, or singing “Que Sera, Sera” on the catwalk after his 10th anniversary collection, Elbaz, who was born in Casablanca and grew up in Tel Aviv, is famously down to earth and downright charming. And he is excellent company when we meet for lunch in a fancy restaurant around the corner from his  design studio in Paris, even gently mocking the over-the-top meal presentation. It’s little wonder that his talk at the Vogue Festival, which takes place at the end of this month, is one of the  hottest tickets in the two-day event’s schedule.

Elbaz says he is very much looking forward to the festival; after all, this is a man who  relishes meeting new people. And the Vogue Festival, a ticketed event open to the public, will give fashion fans the opportunity to access a world they would usually only see on the pages of a magazine or through their iPad. “The worst thing that can happen is if you’re stuck within a bubble and you think that is what life is all about,” he says enthusiastically. “It’s great to see other people and hear from people of  different ages and opinions.”

One of the main things he’d like to tackle at the event is the misconception surrounding  designers. “Maybe they think a designer is  living a very glamorous life and they start  their day not with coffee but with champagne,” he says. “Trust me, it’s coffee. The designers, photographers and models I work with, they are really hard-working people who are  devoting their lives to fashion. They’re kind of like nuns of fashion.”

Indeed, Elbaz certainly knows a thing or two about hard work. Since taking over the reins at Lanvin in 2001 (following stints at Geoffrey Beene, Guy Laroche and Yves Saint Laurent), he has worked tirelessly to transform the  company from an obscure fashion house to  critically acclaimed label adored by everyone from Catherine Deneuve to Natalie Portman. Ask him today what he is working on and, for a moment, he looks exhausted. “Pre-collection, collection, men’s. It’s like I’m having breakfast, lunch and dinner at the same time.”

Despite Lanvin being one of the most respected houses in the world, Elbaz is happy to work alongside other brands. In June his cosmetics  collection with Lancôme is released; last year he teamed up with Ladurée; and his 2010 collaboration with H&M remains one of the most successful of its kind. “I do these things because I love the process. I love to meet people and I like to be introduced to new industries, to learn new things,” he insists. “When I did H&M, it was a different part of the industry. What I was trying to do at the time was not to take Lanvin and bring it down, I wanted H&M to come up.  And that’s what happened. And it was  beautiful, seeing people in the street with the shopping bags. I thought there was my present to all these people who could never afford Lanvin and now they could.”

Ask Elbaz what he hopes women feel when they wear his designs and he simply replies “beautiful and comfortable”. For him, beauty is synonymous with comfort. “I feel more and more that the most beautiful people are the ones who are comfortable with themselves. You can be a young fashionista in all the latest trends but if you’re not comfortable with yourself,  it shows,” he smiles. “Or you can be a bit  bigger, a bit older, a bit shorter, but if you feel comfortable in life and life is smiling at you then you become beautiful.”

The Vogue Festival 2013 in association with Vertu takes place at the Southbank Centre on 27 and 28 April. Tickets are available from southbankcentre.co.uk/voguefestival

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Extras
indybest
News
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been the teaching profession's favourite teacher
education
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

    £30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

    Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

    £34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

    Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

    Developer - WinForms, C#

    £280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

    Day In a Page

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform