Alber Elbaz quits Lanvin

Actress Meryl Streep presenting the Superstar award to Elbaz at Fashion Group International's industry gala in New York last week, during which he expressed frustration with the fashion system.
Actress Meryl Streep presenting the Superstar award to Elbaz at Fashion Group International's industry gala in New York last week, during which he expressed frustration with the fashion system.PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES

PARIS • Alber Elbaz is leaving Lanvin after 14 years as its creative director, the Paris-based fashion house said on Wednesday, fuelling rumours he might take over the vacant seat at Christian Dior.

"Lanvin and Alber Elbaz have ended their collaboration after 14 years," a company spokesman said, confirming a report in the industry publication WWD that the 54-year- old Moroccan-born Israeli was to leave.

His departure comes six days after Raf Simons quit Dior and will add to speculation that Elbaz might be seeking to fill his shoes at another of France's biggest fashion names.

Their departures cap a turbulent year in the haute couture sector - creative director Alexander Wang had left Kering's Balenciaga fashion brand last month.

Lanvin gave no explanation, but sources said tension had been growing between shareholders because the company's sales and profits had been in constant decline over the past three years.

Partly stoking the tension was the fact that Lanvin's controlling shareholder, Taiwanese media magnate Wang Shaw-lan, had rejected several offers for the company a few months ago, the sources said.

Madam Wang rejected an informal offer worth more than €400 million (S$613 million) from Valentino's Qatari owners Mayhoola and another indicative bid of less than €400 million from Gucci owner Kering, sources said on Wednesday. Lanvin's minority shareholders include German investor Ralph Bartel, who owns 25 per cent, and Elbaz, who has a stake of nearly 18 per cent.

Elbaz is widely credited with having infused new life in Lanvin and has been the brand's main driving force.

"It is clear that Elbaz and Bartel were not happy to see the sales and the value of their investments go down... But I think Ms Wang simply did not want to sell," another source said.

Over the years, Madam Wang has also sold off many of Lanvin's assets including its Japanese operations and its perfume business to perfume maker Interparfums.

Elbaz has been at Lanvin since 2001, the year when cosmetics giant L'Oreal sold the brand to investors headed by Madam Wang.

He said he was leaving "on the decision of the company's majority shareholder".

A pointed line in his statement - that he hoped the brand finds "the business vision it needs to engage in the right way forward" - suggests internal disagreement.

Still, he has also long expressed a certain discomfort with the direction the industry at large is taking. Receiving a Superstar award from actress Meryl Streep during Fashion Group International's industry gala in New York last week, he said: "We designers, we started as couturiers, with dreams, with intuition, with feeling."

Then, he said: "We became 'creative directors', so we 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." But, he said, "I prefer whispering."

It is believed Elbaz - praised for his draped styles for Lanvin and admired for his affable demeanour in the high-strung fashion world - held talks with Dior in 2011 after British designer John Galliano was sacked following an anti-Semitic outburst. But WWD said those talks came to nothing because his ownership stake in Lanvin proved a stumbling block to a deal.

Simons' departure sparked media comments about how fast-fashion brands such as Inditex's Zara have been putting pressure on big fashion brands such as Dior and Chanel to produce more collections every year, creating even more work for designers.

NEW YORK TIMES, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 30, 2015, with the headline 'Alber Elbaz quits Lanvin'. Print Edition | Subscribe