While going through education, we learn a deceptively simple lesson: trust. Not just in the opinion of a tutor which is supported by their (presumably) extensive experience, or the judgements of professionals during internships, but also the trust in oneself, and the people who are in our direct environment. This industry is built on relationships, and one of the figures who seems to always vouch most for their importance is Alber Elbaz. Known for treating his team members like family – and in recent times also known for being pretty outspoken about the industry’s various ailments – Elbaz is a designer unlike others. He came to Central Saint Martins a few days ago to give a talk and instill the students not only with hope for the years to come, but also pose questions that students should be asking themselves. We noted a number of Elbaz’s key quotes, from the withering relevance of ‘being cool’, the problematics of a post-truth society, and navigating a confused and sad industry.
Alber Elbaz by Rozalina Burkova for 1 Granary
ON LOUISE WILSON
Louise Wilson was my tango partner. People really say that tango is a very sexy, very erotic dance. Forget sexy. It’s all about trust. Because it’s that moment when you close your eyes and you let your partner lead you, even if it’s around a dark room and I’m not talking about the White House (laughs). I trusted her with my eyes shut. Every year, I was coming to the schools to do some interviews and before that we would eat Chinese. We ate a lot. And then she would advise me [which student] to take and which not. There were never too many choices, just one and I trusted her.
Fashion today is to be different. Don’t be generic, be you. Don’t create generic bags: create new bags. There are so many shows and so many designers and so many competitors – there is only one way to go: be you. That’s the only way to win. Listen, take advice, but be yourself.
ON SHOW REVIEWS
I was always afraid of the press review after the show. We call it: “The disaster of the day after.” I always felt that after the show I was a victim going to the highest Supreme Court of fashion. It feels like waiting for a verdict when you are just a designer. One day I realized that the judges are just human beings like the designers. That maybe they are tired of going to so many shows on one day; maybe they are tired after one month of travelling, and they are maybe a little bit hungry because they didn’t have time to eat. And maybe it’s no longer cool to eat. Mince salad, veggie hamburger, no salt, no gluten. And flat water, just flat – as flat as you can. I heard a funny joke the other day, that if you want to rob a store you just have to come in with a bagel, they’re so scared of gluten [laughs].
So I decided to come and welcome everybody before the show (all the journalists and all the press and all the buyers) with a little bit of drinks, wine and champagne. I think it put them in a better mood. I offered them also a little bit of food – sweet and salty, par choix as they say in French. You know what? Everybody was happy there, I got great reviews. I always thought it was [because of] the damn alcohol and the food that I got the good reviews. I never thought it was me. It appears that not being good enough is my personal motor; so I keep running. You have the mentality of an athlete, but in the head, not the body. My psychologist says that I have the syndrome of long-distance runners: constantly running and when you turn around you’re so lonely, because nobody is next to you.
ON THE SYSTEM
I think that the fashion system always used to be like a family business. Now it’s not about strength, but it’s about power. People are scared of power, and people respect strength. They are scared to make mistakes and have so many collections to produce. You’re doing your collection and you’re working like a madman. And then people are asking you about the next season and you didn’t finish this season. It’s almost like giving you a dessert that is larger than the steak for dinner. The amount of collections is so big, and it’s not that you are lazy. I think that it is one of the reasons people go to vintage so much, because they have to produce so fast and deliver so much. Actually the designer is turned into a producer. When you produce, you have no time after a show and then you have to deliver 600 garments to a store.
“All of the sudden the industry is sad and confused: “Are we men or women? Are we doing pre? Is it see now – buy now? Is it buy now – see now?”