AZ FACTORY: smart fashion that cares, made for everyone. Israeli fashion designer Alber Elbaz is the founder of Richemont-backed label AZ Factory. He was formerly the creative director of Lanvin in Paris from 2001 until 2015, after serving stints at a number of other fashion houses including Geoffrey Beene, Guy Laroche and Yves Saint Laurent.

Listen to this interview podcast here.

Alber Elbaz, how important is a designer for a woman? 

It depends on the definition of designer. In their white coats couturiers like Balenciaga, Saint Laurent and Givenchy all looked like doctors, and were very close to their ladies. Today we’re living with social distance, but new technology brings us directly to consumers, and we have done studio trials and laboratory work on fabrics, on newness. So in a way, nothing has changed.

Would you have liked to be a doctor?  

If I started all over again I have no doubt I would go to medicine school. My mother is dead now but I’m sure she’s looking at me. She would be happy if I was married to a girl, she would be happy if I was a doctor. When I started to work at Saint Laurent I called her and I said, “Mom, I signed the contract.” She said, “Oh, really?” And I said, “Aren’t you happy?” And she said, “There is one thing that will make me happy – for you to call me and you said, “Mom, I’m getting married.”” This is the life I’m coming from. 

You were the creative director of Lanvin for 14 years, and as a young man also worked with Yves Saint Laurent, but you left haute couture. After five years absence you have come back to fashion with your own label, AZ Factory, in partnership with the Richemont Group. What is the difference between then and now?

I left fashion because I was no longer in love with my métier. Trying to find another world that would excite me, by chance I went to Palo Alto in America, and I was fascinated with the freedom, the newness and innovation. Engineers had become the new designers, and everything was about being smart, not about being fashionable. The world is changing and women are changing, so I need to be a little bit of a designer – to understand what we have to do today – but also a little bit of an engineer. To introduce some technology I had to understand what life women are living today. Life is no longer what it used to be. On Zoom I don’t see all the people that I know from fashion wearing a leopard coat and a pink jacket and a purple velvet hat.

Is this why you started your new venture with the black dress, which will never end for women?

Yes, because the black dress is the foundation of almost every wardrobe. But I was looking for a purpose. Why will women buy that new black dress? They already have plenty. The whole issue was around, “What is it that I can do to solve problems?”

“I understood the democratisation of this world.”

Alber Elbaz

Alber Elbaz: AZ Factory

Alber Elbaz, what did you do?

I was looking for different ways to produce clothes. Today is about being smart. I’m not giving myself the compliment of being smart, the technology makes the clothes smart. Working with factories I developed a fabric that gave the dream shape that every woman wants to have. We worked to release tension in areas, to bring different tension in the sleeve and make it ergonomic, so women can move. We don’t have all the structure of a real corset. We take the baleine and put it in the back, so instead of pushing your boobs up it’s actually supporting your back. I like the phonetic of supporting instead of pushing.

Something else?

We introduced a new zipper that women can do by themselves so they are not dependent, because I like the idea of, “Honey, I don’t need help. I can do it myself.” My father complained that my mother took too much time to get ready, and I love the phonetic of women telling their man or their partner, “Honey, I’m ready.”

Your AZ Factory clothes use an ENKA ® fabric that is a mixture of viscose and lycra. Is this new fabric exclusively yours?

The technique is, yes, because they changed the tension of the dress. In one piece there are areas that are tenser and more compressing, and there are areas that are a little bit looser. It took almost one year to achieve this during the pandemic because we couldn’t travel and it was difficult to work together.

Despite using new technology are you still selling a dream?

Fashion is usually just about a dream, and people need to dream. The hope is that fashion is here for women. I thought that we had to mix a real deal into the dream.

What story do you tell your customers?

My starting point was to fight against the whole issue of weight and how we should look. You don’t have to make everybody look the same and look alike. The women that came to our studio had different body shapes, extra-small women and extra-large women, and all were beautiful. It’s not about making women look skinny anymore. Today the whole idea is to give a hug without choking.

What do women want?

Women are very multifaceted. They want to be sexy, to be the mother, to be the lover, and to be the business woman. Women are much more pragmatic than men, because they can do many things all at the same minute and want to be the best at them.

Does one dress work for all these modes or do women need many?

Our story is the story of a wardrobe. In the pandemic, I could see on Zoom that comfort was really the name of the story. What I really missed this year was to hug and to be hugged, so I took my fantasy to pyjamas and worked with artists’ prints of hugging and kissing and dancing. In the same story I did hoodies, sweatshirts and leggings, in seven colours and in all sizes.

“Food, exercise and lifestyle is changing the physique and the body that we are dressing today”

Alber Elbaz, how does the body drive changes in the fashion world?

Marie Antoinette was much shorter than women today and shoes are much bigger than they were. At Saint Laurent, I found in the archives a box of original Roger Vivier shoes. Looking at them, you think to yourself, “God, who can wear those shoes today?” Feet were so fine and so small. In shoes and in fashion everything is about proportion. This is how we change from one decade to another. This dress is the same dress, the colours are the same colour, but the proportion changed, from mini to long to wider. Fashion is not about vintage, but about now. It’s like food. You don’t eat it tomorrow and you don’t eat it yesterday. You have to be realistic to the moment: food, exercise and lifestyle is changing the physique and the body that we are dressing today.

Some people say that fashion is over, but you don’t seem to agree as you just started AZ Factory, a new fashion business?

The starting point of my leaving fashion for five years was because I was asking myself if anyone needs fashion anymore. Also, many of my colleagues were not happy. Later on, I missed it again. I missed the people. I missed fabric. I missed women. I missed the drama, because I’m also a little bit of a drama queen. I thought that yes, we need fashion, but we need fashion in a different way.

You sell online, but why are there no AZ Factory shops?

As a startup we don’t have any stores of our own, we started with digital and work with a few partners. I decided to create a small system that is suitable for me to enjoy my métier, working with people from different backgrounds. Some retailers were very strong supporters of me in my previous life, and I would like to support them now. Post-pandemic, people will need the personal touch.

Is starting and launching a new fashion business like writing a book, which first you do all by yourself and then publish?

I never wrote a book, but I’m inspired more by words and stories than by images. I don’t call it capsule, I call it stories. I create my own stories, and this is what makes me dream. Everything I do I think is not good enough, and this is also my motor to restart all over again. If you love everything you do and get high from your own creativity, you don’t move on, you just stay where you are.

What was the press reaction to the launch of AZ Factory?

The reaction to AZ Factory has been much more than I could ever ask for. For the first time in my career 100 percent of the critiques were really good; in the New York Times, the Financial Times, the Figaro, people that are not easy to satisfy, people that understand fashion and know the history of fashion.

 

Alber Elbaz

Alber Elbaz : AZ Factory

Alber Elbaz

Alber Elbaz: AZ Factory

Alber Elbaz

Alber Elbaz: AZ Factory

Alber Elbaz

Alber Elbaz: AZ Factory

Alber Elbaz

Alber Elbaz: AZ Factory

Alber Elbaz

Alber Elbaz: AZ Factory

“Women are very multifaceted”

Alber Elbaz, are AZ Factory clothes expensive?

Our clothes are between 230 euro, and the most expensive is 1300. I also never had nine sizes before, we only did small, medium, large. Now I see the necessity to work on different body sizes. I understood the democratisation of this world so this is also a change, to work on prices that are affordable, and that you are exclusive and exclusive for all.

Are women difficult clients to satisfy?

No. I love women. I understand women. I read women. I find them amazing. Women are changing a lot and the world is changing a lot, and therefore the relationships between men and women are changing. We have to be part of the whole and to understand the whole change. I’m a TV freak and when I come home at 11 o’clock now I only want to see historians, philosophers, epidemiology doctors. After I saw one epidemiology doctor five times, I realised that she became a celebrity because her hair is now blonde and she’s wearing different clothes. It doesn’t matter if you’re an actress or a professor in Yale, in the end of the day the media make you change and a woman is a woman.

What did you do in your five years of silence?

I started to teach and did a lot of master classes all over, from Asia to America to Europe. I wanted to learn what’s next from all these Gen Z.

Besides technology, computers, and very strange materials, do you still draw with a pencil? 

I only draw with a pencil, and only write with a pencil. When I talk about technology, it’s all about the fantasy of what the machine can do that I cannot. And how can I combine it together and find that story that is a blend of both?

Are you happier now that you’re back at work in fashion?

The first day that I came to the studio I was alone, I had no secretary, and I really felt that it was my first day of vacation. I don’t like the beach. I don’t like sports. I should do more yoga, but I’m not a yogi. My work is where I feel more comfortable, and I’m happy when I can make other people around me happy. Later, when I saw all my new team, that was a moment I was really happy. I started from nowhere, from nothing, and I was surprised that I had this project that was no longer a dream.

With AZ Factory you work under your own name, not with Lanvin or Saint Laurent. Does it make a big difference?  

No, because I was always myself. I’m not playing any role of being different people at the same time. I am who I am, and even when I worked for the big people I never felt like an employee. I never felt I owned the place. I never give 50 percent, I never give 90 percent. I always give 100 percent of myself. So it feels the same.

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