Alber Elbaz debuts his brand new democratic brand AZ Factory
Alber Elbaz debuted his brand new AZ Factory Tuesday evening in this week’s Paris haute couture season, marking a dynamic change in direction by one of fashion’s most influential designers.
The collection was instantly recognizable as the work of Elbaz, famed for his cocktail hour sophistication, superlative draping and ability to enhance feminine beauty with an exotic and artistic finish.
However, where in his previous career at Lanvin his price point meant his ideas were only obtainable by an elite, this collection will reach a far wider demographic audience, while still containing the essential of Elbaz’s DNA.
Besides broadening his target audience, Elbaz also broke a few rules with his launch. Staging what he called “show fashion” - a mock variety TV show with mid-range price clothes. Unheard of in the buttoned-up world of uber expensive couture that has an audience of barely 2,000 rich ladies worldwide.
Named AZ Factory after the first and last letters of his name, Elbaz’s project is an intensely personal voyage. It also marks a significant moment for his financial backer, Richemont, the giant luxury group based in Geneva.
Richemont is regarded as the ruler of hard luxury, whose stable of watch and jewelry brands – Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, IWC, Jaeger Le Coultre – dominate that sector. But many of its string of soft fashion houses – Chloé, Dunhill and Alaia – are seen as laudable marques yet loss-making also-rans.
That may be about to change, given the fresh investment Richemont’s CEO and controlling shareholder Johann Rupert has authorized to carefully pour into Alaïa, and now AZ Factory.
Judging by this collection, Richemont’s new soft power project is off to a good start.
Its key elements were “anatomical” little black dresses made in a variety of forms. Best were the knit dresses, sculpted with diverse levels of stretch across the torso. Some cut with one shoulder, finished with round gold buttons. Engineered dresses with ergonomic sleeves.
For a little va va vroom, a deep gorge dress cut with bouffant shoulders and leg of mutton sleeves; or a perfectly judged cocktail with huge back bow. All told 11 pieces, rolled out every few weeks, fresh deliveries appearing in varying palettes of colors.
“But this is not a capsule collection as that reminds me of antibiotics!” quipped the Israeli designer.
All made in XX small to XXX extra large.
“I know too many women who go to the children’s department to buy dresses! This is a solutions orientated project,” stressed Elbaz.
His other clever trick was placing zips on the front, just like they tend to be in easier men’s fashion. And when Alber did place the zip at the back it came with an elongated pull string. Or he took fishbone used in corsets and put them in the back for support.
Happily, there is relatively little pain at the cash register prices vary from 230 euros to 1,200 euros.
“People ask me about synergies with Richemont, but we are the smallest company in their portfolio. So we can say we are only doing 11 dresses, and then only pajamas. A big brand has to fill a three-floor flagship. It is time not to be scared of change,” said Elbaz in a pre-show zoom with FashionNetwork.com.
He called evening looks 'Diamonds and Pearls', with black décolleté columns finished with crystal logo necklaces and dangling earrings; or multiple necklaces of oversized pearls. His other key decision was dressing his cast in in a new elongated pointy toe pump shaped sneakers. He called this 'Sneaky Pumps'.
“It’s the same cook, but different ingredients in the kitchen,” he cracked.
The third key element was using high performance fabrics in taut, elongated sportswear dresses, where fit gals danced and exercised enthusiastically during the AZ Factory talk show, formatted like a Saturday afternoon Italian TV spectacle.
Attired in a black shirt and red bow-tie, Elbaz introduced the event in a witty monologue, winning a burst of applause when he referred to his “fabulous” start-up team of just staff of 24.
“We are not disruptive; we are just what we think is right for today,” said Elbaz, sat at the desk of a megalomaniac TV host with sketches and swatches.
Nonetheless, the roll-out is definitely novel - just two sources – Farfetch and Net-A-Porter. Before moving to big boutiques and department stores in a couple of months. And his price range is nearer to when his Lanvin did a collab’ with H&M.
His most novel notion was 'Switchwear' – hoodie and legging looks with embroidered logos, that can be altered by adding a duchesse satin skirt, duchesse tuxedo or loose sweaters made of recycled yarn of polyester. Ready-to-go fashion where women are dressed to go from zoom to yoga to restaurant. All made with molecular fabrics in micro filaments. 'Super Tech Chic' Elbaz termed it, allowing him to create bubble dresses that held their shape perfectly.
“Haute couture stands for experimenting and individuality so I feel we are right to be in couture,” he argued.
His cutest visual pun was a series of fab 100% silk pajamas made out of cartoon characters, or images of generic movie stars hugging and kissing – all the things he missed in lockdown - by five artists he met on Instagram.
Super Tech to Super Chic, inspired by Alber noticing runners along the Seine were dressed in outfits made of micro fiber of nylon. Leading him to factories in Spain and Amsterdam to invent textured materials with couture finishes. Used in tuxedos or nylon bubble frocks – high-fashion in the most technical fabric ever. Eco-dyed active couture; all packaged in a new white box with his eyes in reading glasses logo.
Turing to the commercial side, Alber underlined: “Richemont really adopted me like no one else. So a big thanks to a really special man Johann Rupert.
“We had a three-hour meeting in London and then Johan said, ‘we go.’ And here we are today. It was that simple. They are great partners. Total mutual respect,” enthused Elbaz, in his pre-show zoom about this London meeting in the summer of 2019.
Since then, he has been working in the top floor of the Ateliers Jean Nouvel, designed by the Cartier Foundation.
His half-hour show was shot in a suburban Paris studio, opening with drone shots of backstage of AZ Factory, where the TV producer is played by actress, Amira Casar.
A bank of fashionstas –like Anna Wintour, Pierpaolo Piccioli, Rick Owens, Suzy Menkes and Marc Jacobs – turned up to cheer his return. While his cast was a mix of new faces and veterans like Georgina Grenville.
“When this pandemic ends, I want to fly for 48 hours, cause I miss flying and eating cold plates on planes. But I don’t think that we will all be partying. In the 1920s after WW2 and the Spanish flu we had Les Années Folles, which had its center in Montparnasse where we are now. The years of Hemingway, Dali, Cocteau, Josephine Baker and Charlie Chaplin. Wow! And the birth of jazz, a music you play with no notes but with intuition and that’s the word we are aiming for, a world of love,” mused the creator.
“I wanted to approach fashion from a different perspective,” explained Alber, who in his interregnum after departing Lanvin, felt he needed to fall in love with fashion again.
“Boredom was a key part of creativity. So I went back to the past to imagine the future. And began giving master classes in New York, Italy and Asia. I wanted to learn from the next generation. Everyone told me my social media manager had to be 15 and my CEO 21! And this next generation is great. They don’t drink and they don’t eat junk food, but their brains are packed with info – who, what, when, and where. So, sometimes I wondered is there any room left to dream!”
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