Following a five-year hiatus from fashion, Alber Elbaz is back, rejuvenated, with his new brand AZ Factory bursting with fresh ideas.
Alber Elbaz is running late for his Zoom call. “I had technical issues!” he apologizes, his familiar face – black spectacles framed by a freshly dyed platinum coif – appearing on the screen. Considering that it’s been five years since his unceremonious departure as creative director at French fashion house Lanvin, a few minutes more is well worth the wait.
If, over the years, Elbaz didn’t altogether disappear – resurfacing every so often on fashion’s news pages to unveil varied product collaborations – his great comeback never materialized, until now. “I needed to fall in love with fashion again,” he says of his time off. “I asked questions about our métier and where we were today. I wanted to imagine the future of what would come next.” While admitting to being bored, he considers ennui a vital step to reinvigorating creativity. “The fear is that when you have done so much, you just recreate and don’t innovate,” he comments. “I listened to women and tried to understand them. How are women evolving? What changes are they traversing and what’s next?” He proposed a reset and the birth of his AZ Factory, where he positions himself as producer. “I believe in beauty,” he shares. “Beauty and comfort define modernity but purpose and hope are what I want more of,” he says of his new brand, which is backed by Swiss luxury goods holding company Richemont and occupies a floor at the Fondation Cartier in Paris.
AZ Factory rolls out with three “projects” or collections. The first is inspired by a woman’s body. “I’ve seen how women struggle with weight all their lives,” comments Elbaz. “I wanted to create a smart fabric, a dress that hugs you, with areas having more compression and others where tension is released,” he continues, adding that it “looks like a sneaker.” While it is perforated for breathability like a sock sneaker, it looks more like an updated little black dress that women can finally get in and out of themselves, thanks to an embellished puller attached to the zip. The fabric was created with the support of a microfiber yarn laboratory in Spain that makes microfiber of nylon mashup with a 3D pattern for AZ Factory from a startup in Amsterdam. The technical fabric, which could best be compared to activewear, is of superior softness and stretch and can be rolled up and thrown into a suitcase, pandemic permitting. “Technology doesn’t kill the dream, it only makes me dream differently,” Elbaz states.
The clothes come in all sizes and at an accessible price point “From €350 to €1 300 – in my previous job, we had T-shirts that cost more!” remarks Elbaz. A second collection offers what the designer refers to as switchwear; the idea of going from leisure to evening wear in two minutes. Hoodies are paired with duchesse skirts and tuxedo jackets made from recycled yarn. “We’re always told we need to design for young people – I don’t understand the concept,” he notes. “It’s more democratic.” The third collection consists of pajamas to wear inside and out. Prints feature hugging – “What I missed most this year” – and kissing, though “not French kissing!” he laughs. Pointy sneakers are featured throughout and women who miss how pumps elongate a leg will be swift adopters of this silhouette that appears like an instant signature. “I’ve done my share of showing what I can do,” says Elbaz. “Now, it’s about giving women solutions and things that they wish to have in the world we are living in. ” He pauses. “My dream was always to be a doctor and now it’s a chance for me to have my laboratory – my factory – and have the time to make it happen.”
Hosted by Net-a-Porter, where AZ Factory is now available, The Talk Show with Alber & Friends with guests, actors Camille Razat and Kristin Scott Thomas, and more goes live at 6pm GST today, January 27. Watch the show live below.