Morocco-born fashion designer Alber Elbaz dies in Paris aged 59: 'A man of exceptional warmth'

Lauded as a rare talent, the French-Israeli creative had just returned to the fashion industry after a five-year hiatus

(FILES) In this file photo taken on September 27, 2012 Moroccan-born Israeli fashion designer for Lanvin Alber Elbaz, acknowledges the public at the end of the Spring/Summer 2013 ready-to-wear collection show in Paris. Fashion designer Alber Elbaz, 59, has died today in Paris announced fashion Richemont luxury group  on April 25, 2021.  / AFP / FRANCOIS GUILLOT
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Fashion designer Alber Elbaz has died suddenly in a Paris hospital at the age of 59. The cause of death has yet to be officially confirmed.

The Morocco-born French-Israeli creative is best known for rejuvenating Lanvin during his 14-year tenure at the French fashion house. An acrimonious split with the brand led to him taking a five-year hiatus from the fashion world.

At the time of his death, Elbaz was working on a new venture with luxury group Richemont, called AZ Factory, which was unveiled in January. As part of the new venture, Elbaz hoped to provide real problem-solving clothing for women of all shapes and sizes.

Earlier this year, he told The New York Times: "I believe there can be something better. It's not that I want to be democratic and my name is Mother Teresa. But I believe, as a consumer and a person, I want to shop differently."

During January's Paris Haute Couture Week, Elbaz delivered his debut digital offering, not as a collection or season, but as a television programme, where some of the biggest names in the fashion industry, including Anna Wintour, Gabriela Hearst and Maria Grazia Chiuri appeared to welcome him back into the fold. Marc Jacobs's simple statement at the time – "Alber, I have missed you" – seems all the more poignant now.

"It was with shock and enormous sadness that I heard of Alber's sudden passing. Alber had a richly deserved reputation as one of the industry's brightest and most beloved figures," Johann Rupert, chairman of Richemont, said on Sunday.

"I was always taken by his intelligence, sensitivity, generosity and unbridled creativity. He was a man of exceptional warmth and talent, and his singular vision, sense of beauty and empathy leave an indelible impression," Rupert said.

“It was a great privilege watching Alber is his last endeavour as he worked to realise his dreams of smart fashion cares. His inclusive vision of fashion made women feel beautiful and comfortable; by blending traditional craftsmanship with technology.

"On a personal note, I would like to add that I have lost not only a colleague but a beloved friend.”

Elbaz was born in Casablanca to a hairdresser and painter, and started sketching dresses at the age of seven. At the age of 24, he decided to pursue a career in fashion and moved from Israel to New York City, initially working at a small dressmaker’s shop in the Garment District, before training under American designer Geoffrey Beene for seven years.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on October 12, 2003 designer Alber Elbaz acknowledges the audience alongside Canadian supermodel Linda Evangelista, (R) after his show for Lanvin 12 in Paris during the ready-to-wear Spring/Summer 2004 collections. Alber Elbaz, the fashion designer whose audacious billowing designs transformed the storied French house Lanvin into an industry darling before his shock ouster in 2015, has died aged 59, the Richemont luxury group said on April 25, 2021.     / AFP / JEAN-PIERRE MULLER

Elbaz went on to become one of the industry’s most prolific creators, carefully treading the line between runway looks for the stick-thin models who dominated the 1990s and stylish garments for “real” women.

In 1996, he moved to Paris to take up the reins at Guy Laroche, and was subsequently selected by Yves Saint Laurent to take over responsibility of Saint Laurent's Rive Gauche brand, but was dismissed after the company was taken over by Gucci in 1999.

When he arrived at Lanvin, it was a small fashion house predominantly focused on menswear. Elbaz shifted the focus to women's fashion, and transformed Lanvin into one of the most coveted couture brands around

Meryl Streep arriving for the 84th Academy Awards at the Kodak Theatre, Los Angeles.   (Photo by Ian West/PA Images via Getty Images)

His meticulous draping techniques and attention to detail earned him legions of high-profile fans, and his red-carpet gowns were snapped up by Hollywood actresses such as Nicole Kidman, Emma Stone, Natalie Portman and his close friend Meryl Streep, who wore one of his gold lame creation when accepting the Oscar for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady in 2012."Alber's dresses for Lanvin are the only ones that when I wear them, I feel like myself, or even a better version of her," Streep said in 2015.

A master of colour and shape, Elbar's style signatures included fluid tulle and one-shouldered goddess dresses, ribbon-strewn zippers, floral appliqued tracksuits (long before athleisure was a thing) and bejewelled necklines. He also became known for his cutesy accessories and caricaturist sketches, which he paired with Lanvin’s clothes, bags and shoes on international runways – from “Happy” necklaces and lollipops, to his own geek-chic glasses and ubiquitous bow tie.

He famously said: “Style is the only thing you can’t buy. It’s not in a shopping bag, a label, or a price tag. It’s something reflected from our soul to the outside world—an emotion.”