I don't know what's harder to imagine: Alber Elbaz, all smiles and softness and style, in Israeli military garb at the tender age of 18, learning how to operate a rifle with fingers that would later sew for the most elegant women in Paris. Or How Alber Lost His T. (A necessity when Americans mispronounced Albert.) If I could understand those transformations, I might begin to grasp Alber's mysterious ability to turn out the most beautifully crafted and coveted pieces season after season.
Born in Casablanca, Alber was raised in Jaffa, Israel. With $800 to his name, he arrived in New York City in 1985 and was plucked from obscurity to assist Geoffrey Beene. He later was head of prêt-à-porter design at Guy Laroche and served as creative director for Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche.
But it is his time as designer at Lanvin that has earned him a seat among fashion legends. His pieces, he says, reflect the many hats a woman might wear during a single day: mother, lover, executive, partygoer. A fitting philosophy for a house that began as a millinery in 1889.
To me, he's the ultimate fashion philosopher-mentor. He says things to me like "Wear flats. You're short. It's much cooler not to pretend." Alber, 45, does not attribute any grandiose meaning to clothes: the transformation a woman feels when she puts on one of his dresses should originate in her rather than the cloth.
Alber often goes down to the store from his studio above it to speak to his customers or adjust the length of a skirt or the size of a hoop earring. He designs according to what he learns from his clients and so accurately intuits what will make a woman feel good in her bodyand even better when swathed in an awe-inspiring dress.
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