Lanvin's Alber Elbaz - Simply Divine

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

There are dresses, and there are Lanvin sequined goddess dresses. Susannah Frankel asks Alber Elbaz, the label's brilliant designer, how he does it

The dress pictured here is certainly a beautiful thing to behold. A mere slip of a thing, it has a fine tulle base and is covered with small but perfectly formed silver sequins. If it looks simple, it is, in fact, far from it. A body-conscious sequined dress is one thing, as Shirley Bassey, Tina Turner and any number of cabaret artists – female or, indeed, male – all know only too well. A draped, sequined goddess dress, though, is quite another. The £5,000-plus price tag may, then, be at least partly explained by the dedication and sophisticated technique that went into the garment's execution. And while there are few who would ever be able to justify such an expense – they are out there, however, and they know who they are – there are many more who can and do spend a good percentage of their monthly salary on similarly lovely designs courtesy of this quietly influential label.

"For lightness, technical brilliance, and sheer heart-racing excitement, Alber Elbaz's spring collection was one of the most uplifting shows of the entire season," writes Sarah Mower on the all-powerful US Vogue website, style.com. "On a breeze ... he captured fluidity, colour, practicality, and a soaring kind of simplicity that caused a visceral response in every woman watching. When he came out to take his bow, there was a roar of applause from the audience – recognition that this triumph was Elbaz's best Lanvin collection to date, and a celebration that, at long last, someone had come up with the insight to make a collection that is about enhancing the quality of women's lives today."

Mower is by no means the only fashion follower to bow at the altar of Lanvin, the label over which Elbaz has presided since 2001, and which is today a favourite with the fashion insider alongside more obviously grand European houses, from Balenciaga to Yves Saint Laurent.

"I remember a woman telling me that every time she wore a Lanvin dress, men wanted to sleep with her," Elbaz said when we first met. "Later, I thought that I'd rather she fell in love."

Founded in 1889 by the Brittany-born Jeanne Lanvin, the French couture house was bought in 2001 by Mesdames Wong, Yong and Mérieux, who had the temerity to employ Elbaz following his infamously short-but-sweet two-season tenure at Yves Saint Laurent prior to Tom Ford's arrival at the creative helm of the brand. That was in 1999 and it caused a critical stir that was almost too subtle for such loud, proud and designer superstar-driven times.

In retrospect, it is all too easy to see that the designer was ahead of his time. Like Ford, Elbaz had trained in New York, where women's needs are the focus of clothing, over and above any designer histrionics. Unlike Ford, Elbaz, who is Moroccan by origin and was brought up and studied fashion in Tel Aviv, chose to apprentice himself to one designer only, and for no less than seven years. In a world that prides itself on constant renewal, this is an inordinately long time, but then, that is not quite so surprising given that the designer in question was Geoffrey Beene.

Elbaz was introduced to Beene by the retail specialist Dawn Mello (who, coincidentally, is best known today for putting Ford in touch with Gucci). Elbaz says: "That had always been my dream." It did make perfect sense. Beene was a famously modest man, never proclaiming his status, of fashion-deity to stylish American socialites, from the rooftops. Nonetheless, he was one of the most respected fashion designers of the 20th century, an unparalleled creator of women's fashion that was the height of understated luxury and elegance. A much-anticipated retrospective of Beene's work opens in New York later this year.

"It was an amazing place to work, the best school," Elbaz says. "I stayed there because I was happy working a little bit outside the circuit, because he had his vision about fashion, because he had the best style, because he was all about design, and because he was a wonderful man."

More than a decade on, this would not seem an inaccurate description of Elbaz himself. The designer made his mark at Lanvin right from the start with an outstanding debut collection of tweedy designs shot through with antique-gold thread, which were as dignified as they were beautiful, and as feminine as they were bold. There followed little black dresses with crystal necklaces trapped in double-layered silk-tulle bodices; taffeta trench coats trimmed with diamanté-studded ribbon; black-silk cocktail dresses that transformed into floor-length gowns at the mere loosening of a tie; and more.

While other designers were almost deliberately impenetrable, meanwhile, Elbaz made a point of attending trunk- shows the world over to find out what his customer was looking for, meeting and talking to her in person. He has always said that he loves women and that his vocation is dressing them to perfection. Small wonder, then, that women love him in return.

For the current season, Elbaz says: "I was thinking of birds of paradise. I wanted the dresses, but also the trousers and coats, to enable flight. I wanted simplicity and fluidity, and to make women beautiful. Nothing else."

Goddess dresses, lightweight trench coats (a Lanvin signature by now), and ruffled gowns in tropical colours are totally desirable, not to mention suited to a less narrow view of age, shape and size than much of today's designer fashion. Most importantly, this was a collection that celebrated Elbaz's love affair with technique. "We are working with ateliers all over the world that, in five years, will no longer exist because all the people working in them will retire," he says. "So now is the time to focus on technology and technique."

It is not a pyrotechnic viewpoint. Neither is it trend-led, although Elbaz is always in tune with the prevailing mood. These are clothes created with thought and emotion, and designed to provoke a thoughtful and emotional response. They are precious but never ostentatiously so, and far more than one-season wonders.

"The whole idea of instant fashion that you wear for one day and then throw out the next is no longer relevant," Elbaz says. "When I work, I always think about the women that I know, the women that I want to know, and the people that I love. I'm very romantic and, if we open a dictionary, romanticism is a desire to go back to the past.

"Why do we want to go back to the past? Because it's a bit more protective. At the same time, the result is more twisted than that, more nervous. It's about missing perfection, in a way."

News
Shoppers at Selfridges department store in central London
news

News
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleFormer Newsnight presenter is being touted for a brand new role
News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
Voices
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
News
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
News
i100(More than you think)
Sport
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
News
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Sport
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
FOOTBALL
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Latest stories from i100
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

    Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML, CSS, SQL

    £39000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML,...

    Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey

    Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

    Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

    Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game