Alber Elbaz’s wish to unite the fashion family and celebrate its creativity and heart was fulfilled Tuesday night at the AZ Factory “Love Brings Love” tribute show, capping off Paris Fashion Week with a poignant event in the memory of a fashion great.
Cannons blasted heart-shaped confetti at the conclusion of an electrifying runway display that saw top designers and heritage brands each create a look in homage to Elbaz, who died last April at age 59 from COVID-19.
France’s First Lady Brigitte Macron; Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo; actress Demi Moore; luxury titans François-Henri Pinault, Diego Della Valle, Marc Puig and Antoine Arnault, plus a who’s who of top designers came out for a show that exalted Elbaz’s design legacy and his toolbox of dressy fabrics, grosgrain, ruffles, bows, industrial zips and candy colors.
“I did it out of respect for Alber and everything he did for fashion,” said Dries Van Noten, who superimposed one of Elbaz’s charming sketches of his bow-tied self on a slim red coat with a shoulder flourish. “He added so much, especially the joy, the happiness, the fun in fashion. We all loved Alber for who he was, what he did — everything.”
Bruno Sialelli’s ruffled halter dress with a dramatically billowing train for Lanvin was printed with another self-caricature of Elbaz, who became a fashion superstar with his 14-year stint at Lanvin from 2001 to 2015. (The style was a wink to Lanvin’s spring 2008 collection, one of Elbaz’s most ravishing.)
“Alber, with just a few lines of sketching, could describe the world and capture an emotion,” said Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing. “We’re here tonight to celebrate his talent, his energy and his happiness.”
Pierpaolo Piccioli spoke of Elbaz’s kindness and generosity. The Israeli designer gifted a couture apron, decorated in his inimitable way, when Piccioli assumed the solo design reins of Valentino in 2016.
“He was all about soulful connections,” Piccioli related, which is why he cast Mariacarla Boscono, a mutual friend, to model his flaring, one-shoulder pink gown trailing a big red ribbon.
Before the lights went down at the Carreau du Temple, designers of multiple generations mingled and chatted, including Jean Paul Gaultier, Maria Grazia Chiuri, Glenn Martens and Giambattista Valli. Rick Owens, on towering platform boots, leaned down to embrace Anthony Vaccarello, while Givenchy’s Matthew Williams gamely posed for photos with his peers.
When the lights finally went down, Alex Koo, Elbaz’s life partner, welcomed everyone in a recorded address, explaining that before his passing, Elbaz had wished to mount a live runway show gathering top talents, a spin on the Théâtre de la Mode traveling exhibition of miniature fashions to revive an industry ravaged after World War II.
“Alber would have been incredibly honored to be surrounded by his peers, colleagues, collaborators, friends and family; he would be in tears of joy and happiness,” Koo said. “He made us dream.”
Suddenly, a small projection depicted Elbaz peeking from behind a curtain, cooing: “It’s time to start!”
Tribute looks were paraded alphabetically, from Alaïa’s sheer pink tube dress, heart shapes covering the essentials, to Y/Project’s elegantly crumpled minidress — 45 interpretations of Elbaz’s soigné designs flecked with couture details.
Owens captured the late designer’s romantic spirit in a hooded cape and gown that was both whimsical and wistful, and Thebe Magugu his flare for theatrics with a feathery hat and languid silk ensemble, all in white. Heart motifs abounded, jutting from a Gaultier corset, fronting a Dior gown, and outlining a jumbo trenchcoat from Viktor & Rolf.
Elbaz’s design team at AZ Factory, his new fashion venture with Compagnie Financière Richemont, capped off the show with 25 looks that reprised his squiggles of ruffles and puffs of volume, while also venturing into beaded catsuits and the sober black tailoring that Elbaz himself favored.
In interviews conducted before the event, Riccardo Tisci called Elbaz a “master” of fashion who fanned his love of the industry, while Thom Browne hailed him as “a true designer that inspired so many with his generosity of spirit, and his pure creativity.”
Iris Van Herpen, who worked under Elbaz at Lanvin, credited him for her fashion ethos. “Honestly, he taught me everything I know. I started when I was 25, so I was like a kid, and left when I was 31. So literally all my own DNA in fashion I learned from him,” she said.
Schiaparelli’s Daniel Roseberry agreed Elbaz was unique.
“When you think about the traditional trajectory of a designer, there’s often this very tortured or tragic part, and Alber’s life was a foil to that,” he said. “I think the joy in which he approached his work was such an example.…When other designers were really emphasizing the darkness and the selfishness of their own feelings, Alber was really about service.”
At the conclusion of the fashion show, the black backdrop fell to reveal all the models on a vast, three-level scaffolding grooving to the O’Jays ’70s hit “Love Train.”
Rousteing perhaps summed up the event best: “One night is too short to say what he meant to me.”