Lanvin designer Alber Elbaz: The secret of his genius.

Notes from the fashion apocalypse.
Jan. 14 2011 7:00 AM

Sparkle, Alber! Sparkle!

The genius of Lanvin designer Alber Elbaz.

Alber Elbaz. Click image to expand.
Lanvin's Alber Elbaz

Whenever women ask me for a life-changing nugget of fashion wisdom, a single, rock-solid rule to live by, I have, for decades, always given the same response: "Girls! Go home and separate your clothing into two separate piles: WORK and PARTAAY. Take all the sensible work clothing, career skirts and corporate blouses, and give it to the Goodwill. Now you are free to wear party clothes for the rest of your life. Yay!"

Simon Doonan Simon Doonan

Simon Doonan is an author, fashion commentator, and creative ambassador for Barneys New York.

Based on the number of gals currently sporting sequins, satins, and lamé during the day, I cannot help feeling that I am, finally, having a significant impact. If I keep it up, your local bank teller will eventually have chrome-yellow ostrich feathers shooting out of the top of her head like a circus horse. Yay!

Last Monday I encountered a co-conspirator, an illustrious bloke who shares my life-is-for-living-so-throw-on-the-glamdrag philosophy. I am talking about the most influential force in the Fashion Firmament: Alber Elbaz, the designer for the phenomenally successful House of Lanvin, who was in town to show his pre-fall collection at the Bowery Hotel.

PreFall show. Click image to expand.
The Lanvin pre-fall show

What, I hear you indignantly shriek, is a pre-fall collection? I'm glad you asked. The pre-fall collections are a significant new addition to the fashion-show calendar—showing January and delivering in June—designed to satisfy the customers' deranged, but great-for-retail desire to have a continual flow of fresh merch. No longer content with two seasonal onslaughts per year, Madame now wants—nay, expects—to see new designs from her favorite labels every time she walks into a store. Cha-ching! The other recent addition to this calendar, by the way, is "resort," which is not particularly resorty, shows during the summer, and delivers in November, just as the principal fall delivery is being marked down.

The resulting stressful whirligig—pre-fall, fall, resort, and spring/summer—is taking its toll on the designers, several of whom have recently intimated to me that they are seriously thinking of getting into—or, in certain cases, back into—class-A drugs in order to keep up.

Back to drug-free genius Alber Elbaz: What inspires me to hurl accolades at this dude with such reckless abandon?

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Here's the deal: Alber makes clothes that women actually buy. Unlike many designers whose runway shows are simply a smoke screen for a more profitable accessory biz, Alber Elbaz delivers wearable, wantable, alluring fashion.

Monsieur Elbaz is, as a result, the most copied designer on the planet. All current trends are traceable back to him. He introduced the now-ubiquitous drapey satin frock; he popularized grosgrain trim; he jump-started the mania for leopard, and he reintroduced synthetic fabric into a sea of organic cotton. Simply put: He is the tits.

He is also a reminder that, despite the current mania for fetishizing "young" designers, fashion greatness is more often found in those who are able to marry talent with experience: i.e., older geezers and broads. Alber Elbaz is 50 years old this year, and the hippest dude on the block. Take that, all you pathetic youngsters who have no idea who Ava Gardner was because you weren't born until the '90s!

Before the start of the pre-fall show, Alber delighted the Anna Wintour-ish crowd with a chatty intro delivered with his signature Israeli-Euro accent: "Zis season I was inspired by zu stylish women in Paris who are wearing zu evening dresses and couture looks during zu day." (The high-class tarts, one assumes.) The short chic show contained velvets, black satin, silk ruffles, lurid python boots, and capes. Most notably, there were some lusciously stretchy items which he described as "Belle du Jour Scuba," to which I say "Mazel tov" and "Long live Alber!"

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