Alber Elbaz on the Relentless Pace of Fashion

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Lanvin Designer Alber Elbaz attends The FGI 32nd Annual Night Of Stars at Cipriani, Wall Street on October 22, 2015. Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

On Thursday night, Alber Elbaz was honored at the Fashion Group International’s Night of Stars, which this year was titled “The Revolutionaries.” Before the awards started, the Lanvin designer told the Cut that he was extremely happy and excited to be there. “I mean, if you put your microphone on my heart, you’ll see it’s booming,” he said.

We asked if he thinks that the fashion business moves too fast, with multiple collections each year, and he promised that his speech would address that very subject. “It’s not about pressure, it’s about the system,” Elbaz said. “And the system has pressure, and the pressure has a system, so this is what I’m going to talk about. It won’t be just ‘thank you so much.’ It will be talking about things that are touching all of us people from this family of fashion.”

Below, some highlights from his speech:

Tonight, the Fashion Group is giving me the award as a revolutionary at the Night of Stars. People who make revolutions are often considered courageous and fearless. They’re not afraid of changing the system when the system does no longer work. I personally don’t like the word revolution. I like evolution; I always did. Evolution, and not revolution. Evolution lives longer and better in history books. Revolution looks great, but only on TV. Revolution photographs well, really well, on the screen. Drama, screaming, crying. Revolution is actually very photogenic. We live in a time of being photogenic.

I was asked the other day if I had a personal Instagram. And I said, “Not really.” And they said, "How come?" And I said, “I don’t really have photogenic friends, I only have good friends. And I also don’t take photos of the food. I eat food.” But I’m addicted to Instagram. I love it. And I just met Kevin, the founder of Instagram, and I love him for being so smart. Not just smart, but humble. And that’s a nice combination.

During Fashion Week in Paris, I spoke with a few editors that I know, and I asked, “Hey, how are you?” And they said, “Exhausted.” They said to me that they used to see 50 shows a week. Now they have to see 50 shows a day. But only 24 hours. I spoke with a few writers in Paris, and they said the same thing. They used to write their review in a taxi, having an apple — and I’m not talking Apple computer, just a green apple — in between shows. That’s how they gave us our verdict.

Now they have to do it during the show, with no apple, and stay long hours, and with no time to digest. And we know that fashion people don’t eat much, don’t we? The fashionistas are very, very busy during the show, filming everything. And when I came out after the show, I felt that there was no clapping. And I asked, “What’s going on?” And they said, “They are filming, they don’t have two hands, so what can they do?”

My friend Ronnie Newhouse, who lives in London, suggested to create a new app for clapping, so you can film, Instagram, and clap all at the same time. [Crowd roars.]

Retailers, they tell me that they don’t have the time to be in the stores. They don’t have time to meet the people on the floor. Traveling, and more traveling, around the world, going from one show to the other, and looking at numbers; numbers and open-to-buy. And I say, retailers, look at people, because people make numbers. Numbers don’t often make the other way.

And we designers, we started as couturiers, with dreams, with intuition, with feeling, we thought, What do women want? What do women need? What can I do for a woman to make her life better and easier? How can I make a woman more beautiful? That is what we used to do. Then we became “creative directors,” so have to create, but mostly direct. And now we have to become image-makers, creating a buzz, making sure that it looks good in the pictures. The screen has to scream, baby. That’s the rule. And loudness is the new thing. Loudness is the new cool, and not only in fashion, you know.

I prefer whispering. I think it goes deeper, and I think it stays longer. It seems to me sometimes that it’s almost more important that the dress looks good in the photos than it looks good on the body, or feels good on the body. And sometimes when I’m in the store, and I see a client trying dresses, I see that before even going to the mirror, they just take a selfie and look at themselves in the selfie, and tell me what they like about the belt. Maybe the selfie is becoming the new mirror. And if that’s the case, and we will not have mirrors in the world, who will tell us the truth?

We are living today in a smart world, a word of very smart design. Today it’s all about smart design, smart thinking, smart product, technology, units, rapidity. Adidas says: The future is now. Today a 12-year-old girl living in the middle of nowhere with technology can see all the shows in Paris live. The show, the front row, the backstage, the celebrity. Wow, technology makes her dream come true. That girl, like many others, is living her dream.

But can we imagine a world without dreams? A world without dreams is not always a beautiful world. Dreams make us go forward. Dreams make me run forward. And people who know me know that I don’t like to run in the park.

There are many actresses and actors here tonight, and they are all here to support us fashion people. And I love movies, and I love Hollywood; films make me fly, they make me dream. Films make me cry. They also make me laugh. I can only see a movie in a movie theater because I need the dark, I need the dream, I need the large popcorn. And I can never decide if I want it salty or sweet, so I ask for half-and-half. Shall I eat the salty first and then the sweet? Or first sweet and then the salty? Where it depends on my mood.

But again, today, with so much information, I know too much about so many things. I know where the actress lives. I saw her picture in a white bikini in Cannes, on a yacht. I saw her engagement ring of eight carats that she just got from her very new and very young boyfriend, in very new Mexico. So all I do while I’m watching these movies is thinking: Do I like her ring? Do I like her new haircut in the movie? I actually don’t like her shoes in the movie. And where is the dream?

And it’s not all about young actresses or old actresses, and it’s not about young actors or old actors. It’s about good actors and bad actors. And it’s not about new designers and old designers, it’s all about good designers and bad designers. And that’s how it goes.

And I’m not against technology; I’m embracing technology. I love newness. I respect smart design. I love smart people. I love most good people; people with heart. I believe that the biggest change in fashion will come because of technology and with technology. But the real evolution — not revolution — will happen when tradition and know-how, and human touch, and beauty, and newness, and technology, will become one.

I want to thank tonight the people of Lanvin. And I am only the conductor of Lanvin; the real orchestra is my studio, my atelier, all the people at Lanvin that give their heart and their life to the work. Just a week ago we celebrated a little going-away party for a lady, a seamstress named Maria. Maria went into retirement. She was 17 when she came to Lanvin, a teenager, and now she’s a grandmother at the age of 61. And I asked her, “Maria, why are you going?” And she said, “Because I’m tired.” And I said, “But what will you do?” And she said, “I’ll take care of my grandchildren.” And Maria is what fashion is all about. Maria is a seamstress with a needle and a thread, that all she does is seaming dreams for all of you ladies.