Alber Elbaz, renowned Israeli fashion designer and reviver of the French fashion house Lanvin, passed away Saturday at 59. The AZ Factory creator died from Covid-19, a spokeswoman for Richemont, the company backing Mr. Elbaz’s project confirmed.  

Many fashion insiders believed Elbaz was one of the most talented designers of the last three decades. Although the Israeli designer had ups and downs in his career – most notably his firing from Lanvin – he was widely considered one of the greats.

The popular yet neurotic fashion designer was born in Casablanca, Morocco, but his family immigrated to Israel when he was 10. His mother saw his passion for fashion – she watched him draw dresses when he was 7 – and when he was old enough to leave home, she gave him $800 to pursue his career in New York City.

Alber Elbaz trained for seven years with Geoffrey Beene in a small dressmaker’s shop in the Garment District. Throughout his early career, Elbaz served stints at several fashion houses after Beene’s, including Guy Laroche and Yves Saint Laurent. Then, in 2001, Elbaz made a huge leap, joining Lanvin, a French fashion house, that prior to Elbaz’s entry, was just barely surviving.   

There, Elbaz turned the dusty fashion house into a modern and prominent brand. Beyoncé, Meryl Streep, Lupita Nyong’o, Pharell Williams, Natalie Portman, and Harry Styles were some of the many celebrities who wore Elbaz’s designs.

Elbaz had other collaborations while transforming Lanvin. He had a limited-edition cosmetics range with Lancôme, and in 2010, he had a capsule collection for H&M. His 10th anniversary as creative director of Lanvin was celebrated with a 2012 book featuring over 3,000 images of his work.

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Photo credit: FashionStock.com / Shutterstock.com

Throughout his complicated career, Elbaz was honored with many awards and recognition for his contributions to the fashion industry. This included a 2005 CFDA International Designer award and being recognized as Most Influential Designer at the inaugural World Fashion Awards held by WGSN.

Despite his illustrious awards and the transformative work he did at the company Alber Elbaz was fired from Lanvin in 2015. His split from the fashion house was the work of Lanvin’s owner Shaw-Lan Wang and chief executive Michèle Huiban following disagreements between them.

Regardless of his down times, his influence kept him on top. Business of Fashion listed Elbaz in their index of the 500 most influential people in the fashion industry. He has had many other wins since his Lavin departure, including a collaboration with French perfumer Frédéric Malle, bringing the fragrance Superstitious to life in 2017.

In January 2021, Alber Elbaz’s career was reignited, as he announced his new Richemont-backed fashion brand, AZ Factory. With a €25 million investment, online distribution, and a charismatic designer at the helm, the brand was shaping up to be a magnificent comeback for the all-star fashion expert.

To begin his new fashion empire, Elbaz reimagined what a fashion brand could be. He calls it a “reset,” but it’s more like he’s “giving birth.” Mr. Elbaz spoke with The New York Times via zoom, claiming his “hormones are burning. I’m so itchy. I cry and laugh within seconds.”

Elbaz asked himself, “’If I was a woman, what would I want?’” His response: “Something that is first comfortable. Something fun. Something that lets me eat a big piece of cake.” This allowed him to do something so simple, “the most simple thing I ever did.”

It was cooking for two years, when he and Johann Rupert, the chairman of Richemont, joined forces. AZ Factory now has 27 people, a giant “Big Welcome” sign, and bathrooms – the true sign of a successful workshop.

His passing sent shockwaves across the fashion industry. He will be remembered as one of the greats. “It was with shock and enormous sadness that I heard of Alber’s sudden passing,” Richemont chairman Johann Rupert said. Alber Elbaz “had a richly deserved reputation as one of the industry’s brightest and most beloved figures. I was always taken by his intelligence, sensitivity, generosity, and unbridled creativity.”