Fashion can be an unforgiving place. Where once you are out – you are out. Especially when the departure is sudden and unexpected. This was the situation that Alber Elbaz found himself in at Lanvin almost three years ago. From one day to the next, he was ousted from a company he transformed from a sleeping beauty into an international powerhouse with unique and identifiable codes, on the whim of its erratic owner.
That sort of public exiting brings with it so many mixed emotions. Shock, anger, sadness and, in Elbaz’s case, a strong sense of love. The outpouring of love and support he received in the aftermath of his departure, both from the Lanvin staff (who wrote an open letter to the owner to voice their disagreement with the decision) and the industry as a whole, was an incredibly moving moment in the designer’s career. The aftermath of which he still feels today.
It was the unique mix of emotions that this catalytic event created in Elbaz’s life that made him the perfect person to talk about this issue’s theme. Blushing is a naturally occurring physical reaction to so many of those feelings. But, as always when you talk with Elbaz, he surprises you by seeing a particular subject or problem in a new and unexpected light. His ability to interpret human emotions in an original way is one of the reasons he remains one of fashion’s most talented and respected designers.
Alber, so you know the theme of this issue is blushing. What does that word conjure up in you ?
I think people do not blush anymore. People almost have no shame, that’s the idea. The last one that I remember blushing was Lady Diana. She was always blushing! I think there is something so beautiful, so innocent and so modest about people who blush.
What makes you blush ?
I blush naturally. I am always blushing; you can see it. Every time I put my hand in front of my face you know I am blushing underneath. I am timid. I think people wouldn’t think about me as being timid, but they always say that clowns are the saddest people. They used to say that Charlie Chaplin used to cry a lot at night when nobody was watching, but he makes people laugh during the day. So, I found a way to cry during the day, when it is raining. You walk and nobody knows if it is because of the rain or if you have tears on your eyes.
The thing I like about blushing is that you can’t control it. It is a physical thing that happens for a lot of different reasons...
A lot of the time, you blush when someone confronts you with the truth. This may be an interesting story; we are living in a time of transparency. Recently, I was thinking of this idea of big brothers, Facebook and social media and the fact that we are living in a transparent world. There are no walls anymore. The truth is the story, so you cannot fake it anymore. There is so much truth around. So then blushing, if it is all about being confronted with the truth, an interesting thing to talk about given the timing.
It’s hard to really come up with the exact right word in French that is the equivalent of blushing...
Like it is “rougir,” you know when you get red. Blush for me is also linked to make-up. Today the world is visual and all about images, and in a way make-up is the new dress. You didn’t need anything between you and your jeans before. Now, you don’t even need jeans, you just have to have make-up because it is all about selfies. There is something between blush and blushing, bullshit and blush, it sounds the same. There are a lot of words that are coming together but for me, blush is coming from being timid and also a confrontation of the truth in that moment. You know, the moment when someone does something and the tears come out, which is a physical thing. It is the physical, not emotio- nal. Once I heard that tears are the moment when the irrational becomes the rational. I think it is the same with blushing because it is physical.
Do you remember the last time you blushed ?
I am living with Alex [Koo] for so long, and sometimes I have tendency to exaggerate scenarios because I see them from different colors or angles, and he is the one who corrects me and states the facts. You know, how do you call it in the New York Times ? He is my fact-check. I am a bit of a drama queen, so every little pimple becomes a melodrama. So I imagine the last time I blushed was when he corrected me on something.
What about the other side of blushing? What do you think about the sexy side of blushing ?
The sexy side of blushing is when we talk about young teenagers that you see in all the English movies. They are all blushing, and there is such a beauty to the innocence. It is beauti- ful ! It touches my heart. There is something so emotional about it. They are always embarrassed, everything embarrasses them. They live with a natural “rougeur,” with no cosmetics. No L’Oreal or MAC can give you that tone of blushing. Red blushing is fabu- lous, and it stays for a long time.
Does Alex blush ?
No, he doesn’t, and good for him !
The other side of blushing that comes up for me is this idea of being embarrassed.
I don’t relate to that. Blushing comes from the confron- tation of the truth. It is like the black box of an airplane. We don’t find the secrets, but you find the truth in the black box. Blushing is a little bit like a red box.
Where are you now in your life ? You have stepped away from fashion for two and half years now. Are you still pas- sion about that ?
I was not for a certain time. I really did not want to do fashion anymore. It took me some time to love it again. Now, I am in love. Whether I love it or not, this is a time to think differently, so it is not only about working on a new dress but to work also on the system.
I am not hesitating to come back because this is the only thing I know how to do. But I am more careful about how I want to do it and who I want to do it with. What will bring me joy ? I am a freak for tradition and innovation. I like innovative thinking. I love thinking ! We are living in a time of smart people, smart- phones. Everything is so much about intelligence.
It is not like we don’t have it, but you have to introduce it in a different way. Even Chanel always used to say, “It’s not about a new jacket; it’s about a good jacket.” So what is the differences between new and good ? Is everything good, new ? We are more in the new than the good ? We are more in the surface than the sub- surface ? There are so many questions to answer.
And going back to this idea of blushing... I am blushing when I am going to see my friends’ show, when everybody is asking where I am. I am blushing when I going for a taxi and the driver asks me, “Are you already working somewhere ?” I am blushing ! But don’t worry, red is my color.
For me, at least, I didn’t want to start without having something with a meaning. I wanted to bring back the joy, the dream and the desire. I am not a t-shirt guy; I am not a street club guy. Maybe we are lacking some dreams in the world. Maybe we need a dream to elevate us a little bit and take us somewhere else.
Let’s talk about your dream. Have you gotten clarity? You’ve been asking yourself a lot of questions over the last couple of years. So, what do you want ?
I am not there yet, but I am close. I never know. I am always next to it, I am never in it. I never say, “Ok, this is what I want to do.” The moment you say to yourself this is what it is, this is the day, that is the place, that’s the address and this is what I am going to do, you start getting into the world of formulas and codes.
One of the beautiful things in fashion is that you never have to use these formulas because the beauty is the innovation. The beauty is to think outside of the box, the red box.
But in order to think in a different way, ask yourself why not. You should start asking why. Why and why not. Ask yourself what you can do next that is actually different. I have always been more of a person that is into evolution than revolu- tion. Revolution, there are hundreds of words to describe it. But evolution, it is much more difficult to describe because it is gra- dual. Revolution is an explosion.
I remember, I think at one of your last shows for Lanvin, you had all these really loud dresses and you were saying it is because of this Instagram world, and if you are going to get attention online, it has to be these kinds of dresses.
Actually, it was my last show. “Fashion,” as someone told me once, and I will always quote her, “fashion is like food, it has to be fresh.” If you have it a day before or later, it doesn’t work. It is sour. At that time, I wanted to show that I knew that it was the beginning of a new era in fashion. I had my intuition about how in fashion, screaming and whispering can work together. The first part of the show was whispering, but we are not only whispe- ring, we are also very loud. The world has become much louder.
But today maybe the best provocation is to be quiet. There was so much I had to say during these past two years, what exactly happened to me, but I choose to be quiet. Usually I am pretty chatty. It was a hard decision.
Is it because of the lawyers...
I could talk about anything and everything, but I didn’t feel it was the right time to do so. It took much more energy for me to be quiet than to be loud. It takes more energy to stay quiet. To say no is a very hard thing. I said no to myself and chose to shut-up, for now.
I have more friends now than ever; I have more people that I know they love me more than I ever believed. I feel blessed ! And more than anything, maybe I blush because I am feeling loved by so many people.