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Alber Elbaz Momentarily Ponders Leaving Fashion

>>  Alber Elbaz's recent Fall 2009 runway show for Lanvin won stellar reviews, with many deeming it one of the best collections of the season; but after perusing Ariel Levy's profile of the designer in The New Yorker's Style Issue this week, we know that at the end, he was backstage with his director of communications, Hania Destelle, worrying. "After every show, I say to Hania, 'They hated it.'"  But that's just the beginning of the anxieties for Alber, whose mind seems to be equally split between creating and worrying.

He fantasizes about being skinny.

Looking over the menu one morning at the Carlyle Hotel, Elbaz said, "Should we be good today or bad?  Maybe we start good and get bad later."  He ordered the fruit salad.  He wanted the pancakes.

Elbaz thinks it's a very big deal that he is overweight. Asked what he imagines life would be like if he were thin, he replied, "Amazing," with real conviction.

Part of the problem is that he stress-eats.

He brought a bowl of fruit and put it on the table in front of the architects.  "The stress starts and we start to eat."  Elbaz sat down, put his head in his hand, and moaned. "I'm depressed," he said, and started peeling a clementine.

He even considers leaving fashion . . . »

But he does think his shape helps him to make beautiful clothes.

"I do things without decollete, nothing is transparent," Elbaz said. "I am overweight, so I am very, very aware of what to show and what not to show, and I am sure there is a huge link with being an overweight designer and the work I do.  My fantasy is to be skinny, you see?  I bring that fantasy into the lightness — I take off the corset and I bring comfort and all these things that I don't have.  What I bring is everything that I don't have.  This is the fantasy."

Elbaz believes that his creations are a positive to his negative.  If he is melancholy and heavy, his clothes are joyful and weightless.  It is his job, as he's configured it, to make women feel special, something he does not quite feel entitled to himself.  "I do believe that a designer has a job that is extremely similar to a concierge's in a good hotel in Manhattan," he said.  "At the end of the day, you have to go back to Brooklyn.  And I know Brooklyn is very fancy now, but I mean home.  You have to go back to reality. You have to go back to nothing in order to maintain the dream. The moment the dream becomes reality and you start to mingle too much with all these people . . ." He wrinkled his nose to indicate that it was a bad idea.

You'll never see a secondary line from Lanvin . . .

"I have a problem to do a collection that is a secondary line.  I mean, you don't want to be the stepsister.  You want to be Cinderella.  Show me one girl who wants to be the stepsister."

. . . Or an "it" bag.  Because he's all about the wearable beauty.

Elbaz detests the idea of an "It" Bag; he thinks that "there is nothing scarier than being 'the designer of the moment,' because the moment ends."

He is fond of saying that he is not interested in designing the dress that will make a man fall in love with the woman who wears it.  He is interested in designing the dress that a woman wears when she falls in love herself.

"If it's not edible, it's not food.  If it's not wearable, it's not fashion."

And yet, for all the beauty he creates, he's still unhappy.

After everyone had departed, Elbaz stood on a balcony overlooking the Place de la Concorde, eating a sandwich in the cold mist and frowning. "I wish I knew how to enjoy it more," he said.  "My psychologist says dissatisfaction, it's the engine that keeps me going."

"There was a time in fashion, in the eighties, when every designer was trying to find a space [to stage a fashion show] nobody had seen before.  Maybe today people want to go somewhere familiar?  Maybe I am less modern.  Maybe it's time to leave fashion."

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