Rebecca Lowthorpe: Alber out at Lanvin? What next?

Another state-of-the-industry story?


It was the second bombshell announcement in a week, following Raf Simons’ departure from Dior: Alber Elbaz, another much-loved designer titan, it was reported yesterday, was out at Lanvin after a stellar 14 years.


At first, one couldn’t help imagine that this was more than a coincidence, that the two exits were indelibly linked. In all the reports on who might take over from Raf Simons at Dior, how could we have possibly missed Alber Elbaz? Wouldn’t he be the perfect fit for Dior? His bold, feminine aesthetic, his incredible pedigree having rejuvenated Lanvin, loved by his colleagues, loved by the press, loved by women the world over who wear his elegant-relevant, couture-like crafted clothes? Of course, Elbaz was the natural successor, a shoe-in for Dior!


And then we read Elbaz’s statement, which implied his departure was a result of ‘the decision of the company’s majority shareholder’, without naming Shaw-Lan Wang, the Taiwanese publishing magnate who had hired him to revive Lanvin. Elbaz hadn’t quit, he’d been pushed, hinting at a rift with Wang in his exit letter to the press that he hoped the company ‘finds the business vision it needs to engage in the right way forward’. Industry bible, WWD, reported disagreements between the charismatic Israeli designer and Lanvin’s CEO, Michèle Huiban. It also said that Elbaz was frustrated with Wang’s refusal to sell her stake to a new owner to better capitalize on Lanvin’s development.

Whatever lead to his exit, it leaves two designer hot-seats open at the highest echelons of fashion. But where it was relatively easy to imagine who might be able to take on Dior – Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci, Louis Vuitton’s Nicolas Ghesquière, Céline’s Phoebe Philo are all top contenders along with Elbaz himself now – it is even harder to predict who might take over at Lanvin.


Before Alber Elbaz mastered a complete overhaul of Lanvin, now in its 126th year, the brand had no relevance in modern fashion – Alber’s Lanvin is the only modern-day Lanvin we know. His achievement at repositioning the ailing house was remarkable, as he put it: ‘Together, we have met the creative challenge presented by Lanvin and have restored its radiance and returned it to its rightful position among France’s absolute luxury fashion houses.’

Elbaz put women first in everything that he touched, from the clothes that were as beautiful as they were considerately constructed, to the shows that were as impressive as they were uplifting theatre, to the advertising campaigns which took pains to represent women as individual, intelligent, free-thinking spirits, featuring old and young faces full of character, rather than bland, commercial beauties.

Thinking of other designers who have a similar woman-first ethos with their own resolutely feminine aesthetic, the 29-year-old British designer Simone Rocha springs to mind. Although, it would be a small miracle if she would even entertain the idea since she is about to give birth to her first child and is wedded to her young flourishing brand. But her intuition for what young cool women want now, her already huge credibility and her unique youth-romance vision sets her apart. Other names muted, the New York based Joseph Altuzarra has the requisite feminine-sexy, Franco-American style, but it’s unlikely he or the Kering Group which part owns his own-name label would be happy to have his time split between two labels – and in the current internet-hyped speed of fashion, it could hardly be recommended. Olivier Rousteing’s name has also been thrown into the ring – the designer has certainly driven Balmain to new heights with his diverse supermodel army and his nous for commerce with his about-to-be-launched H&M collaboration – he would certainly pull in today’s all-important celebrity quotient – hell, via Instagram, he has turned himself into a cheekbone-chiselled celebrity - but would he be up to the challenge of meeting the demands of Lanvin’s existing customers who appreciate Elbaz’ sensitive and empathetic approach?

Perhaps, Lanvin will do as Gucci has done, and look to the talent already within its ranks, not seek a ‘name’ but pluck one of its back-room designers?  

One thing is certain, the question of ‘who will succeed’ Raf or Alber and set off yet another round of designer musical chairs, will be hotly debated for some time. More importantly, the question of why such high profile designers are walking away and falling out with their bosses must be answered. That making incredible clothes now comes so low down on the agenda, while putting out a record-breaking amount of collections a year, making visionary blockbuster shows all over the world, attending trunk shows to meet the clients, coming up with grabby advertising images, fulfilling their press duties, courting celebrities and feeding Instagram with their perfectly glossed ‘personal’ lives on an hourly basis, may have something to do with it.

So here’s the ultimate and awful question that sums up fashion right now: Who will quit or be pushed out next?

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