5_7_20 / Vintage
TO ALBER WITH LOVE
Cheeky opulence. Regal gravitas with a wink. Alber Elbaz’s designs offered a glam mystique that is at once campy and profound. This is a tribute to the man who said: “Make them feel gorgeous and comfortable”.
PHOTOGRAPHER / STYLIST_ Rasaan Wyzard
Hair_ CASSANDRA NORMIL
MakeUp_ MEGHAN YARDE
Model_ INDU, IMG
Text_ Cara Schacter
The Elbaz woman charges through a revolving door on Madison Avenue, pushes down oversized gradient sunglasses with a freshly shellacked finger, pets her fur stole, taps her black leather steel-heeled pump, and says “dah-ling, please”. She regularly describes things as “divine” and wears costume jewelry at ten a.m. If you don’t mind a prix-fixe, she’ll tell you exactly where to go for crostini that is “absolutely beyond”. Imagine Samantha Jones meets Lucille Bluth meets Miss Piggy; a woman radiating a glam mystique that is at once campy and profound.
Alber Elbaz made opulence cheeky. Regal gravitas with a wink: jewel-toned cocktail dresses in puffed taffeta accessorized with bedazzled butterfly brooches, silkscreened mini dresses decked out with studded collars. And lest we forget when he re-invented the pearl. On Lanvin’s 2013 runway, the once prissy stone was blown up to oversized proportions and stacked with chains and nameplate pendants spelling out ‘happy’, ‘cool’, ‘hot’. Pearls just want to have fun!
Elbaz thought a lot about bodies and he approached fashion with a deep empathy for what it feels like to exist in one. The Moroccan-born-Israeli-turned-New-York-transplant-turned-Parisian, was dubbed the fashion industry’s teddy bear thanks to his sweet personality and round figure (nearly every profile calls Elbaz “rotund” but, in the spirit of Alber (née Albert) himself, I’ve dropped the ‘t’).
In the HBO 2012 documentary “In Vogue: The Editor’s Eye”, Elbaz explains:
Couture is not about taking the measurement of your body, it’s maybe taking the measurement of your brain. This is what couture is for me – it’s to know the person that you work for and with and to make the dress that will fit her perfectly. And I’m not talking about the body because the body can change.
In a recent interview for W Magazine:
“What is that obsession with skinny, skinny, skinny?” said Elbaz, whose AZ Factory collection offers a size range from XXS to 4X.
Elbaz didn’t just talk about problems, he found solutions. The latest example of Elbaz’s innovative and comfort-oriented approach is “AnatoKnit” – his 2021 collection of ribbed knit dresses with thirteen varying degrees of tensions to cling to the shape of the wearer’s natural curves. In the aforementioned interview with W Magazine, Elbaz explains how he took the boning traditionally used in corsets and moved them from the front to the back “so all of a sudden, instead of pushing, we support”. This brilliant architectural reconfiguration takes an infrastructure of oppression and constriction and reimagines it as a tool for empowerment and expansion.
The perversion of antiquated ideals reminds me of trendy Bimbo discourse. In recent months, TikTok has reclaimed the misogynistic trope. A term historically used to disparage young women has come to reference a powerful ideology: the novel concept that women can be simultaneously hot and intelligent. In an i-D article titled “2021 is the Year of the Bimbo”, Stephanie Deig, a professor in feminine philosophy, explains: “A bimbo is a person using the radical power that comes with playing the performance of hyperfemininity as a form of anti-capitalist critique.” Elbaz, whose oeuvre Vogue describes as “powerfully pretty”, seemed to intuitively understand contemporary notions of bimboification. A viral video by nineteen-year-old Griffin Brooks, a Princeton aerospace student and main character of the bimbo movement, positions the bimbo “at the aesthetic intersection of tackiness and luxury”…say Elbaz-string-of-oversized-pearls-with-pendent-reading-hot without saying Elbaz-string-of-oversized-pearls-with-pendent-reading-hot…
Also in the AnatoKnit collection are a series of dresses with exposed gold zippers and hefty zipper pulls. In a New York Times interview earlier this year, Elbaz explains the zipper was designed to ensure the wearer could manipulate it without asking for help. “In the movies you see women struggling to zip it up. So I thought I would make it so ‘Honey, I can do it myself’”.
At the end of the day, the Elbaz woman can undress herself.
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