The news that the fashion designer Alber Elbaz had died, aged 59, of Covid-19 hit the fashion industry like the proverbial tonne of bricks. A singularly brilliant design talent and man of unparalleled personal charm, to say Elbaz was ‘beloved’ by the industry is to drastically undersell his influence. And so it was fitting that—as the industry gathered together for the first time since the pandemic broke out—Elbaz’s life and work was celebrated with the highest honour the French fashion industry can bestow. AZ Factory, Elbaz’s newly-launched namesake label, was given the final slot of the Paris Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2022 schedule, closing out a fashion month like no other in history with poignancy and optimism.
And what a fitting tribute it was. The crème de la crème of the modelling world—Anja Rubik, Mariacarla Boscono, Karen Elson, Adut Akech, Amber Valletta—modelled the 73 looks, a combination of pieces designed by Elbaz’s design team and tributes to Alber crafted by 45 international designers. Elbaz’s long-term partner Alex Koo, who he met in the early ‘90s while he was creative director at Lanvin and Koo was director of merchandising, explained in a voiceover before the show began that the runway presentation was inspired by Théâtre de la Mode, a project that showcased the work of 60 prominent Parisian designers once the Second World War ended. Elbaz had reportedly long dreamed of recreating it himself.
And so, under the banner “Love Brings Love”, designers ranging from Dries Van Noten to Jean Paul Gaultier, Olivier Rousteing to Donatella Versace, crafted one-off looks that celebrated Alber. Balenciaga’s Demna Gvasalia created a hot pink voluminous coat dress, Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli and Alexander McQueen’s Sarah Burton used ruffles—Elbaz famously loved them. Many of the designers—Gaultier, Rousteing and van Noten, as well as Rick Owens, John Galliano, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Iris Van Herpen—attended the show in person, as did France’s First Lady Brigitte Macron. Amber Valletta closed the show dressed as Elbaz himself, wearing his signature oversized black coat and purple bowtie. It was difficult to watch it without tearing up—or without thinking how much Alber himself would have loved the spectacle.