Alber Elbaz of Lanvin: The Eye, the Mirror, the Screen
September 30, 2014
From another in the video series on designers in their offices, Alber Elbaz, the creative director of Lanvin since 2001, explains the difference having an office makes in his working life and what he keeps in the closets in that Paris office. (The conversation has been edited and condensed.)
Q. How long have you been in this office?
A. I’ve been in this office for a year, and at Lanvin for 12 years. But in our last building, I gave my office to my assistant.
Q. Why did you decide to have an office now?
Well, when I started working with an architect on this building, I thought that I would take one window and one table. And all of a sudden it occurred to me, Why not? So I decided to have two tables and two windows and a little sofa, and only like this kind of dark, dark, dark brown, or dark gray, or dark black or light black — I don’t know, I didn’t define the color — walls, and it feels very good. I feel very loved in this office. The only thing I brought is that photograph that I found in Tel Aviv. It’s of an authentic Orthodox wedding.
Q. Why that picture?
Many years ago when I became the designer at Yves Saint Laurent, I called my mom and I told her. And she said, “Oh.” And I said, “Aren’t you happy?” And she said, “There is only one thing that will make me happy, and that is for you to get married.” So I bought this picture of the wedding and the bride, and the bride looks so miserable that every day I look at it when I come in and say, “Thank God I didn’t get married.”
Q. So what do you do in your office?
First of all, I put my bag down. I think it’s very important to have a place to start the day and a place to put your bag.
Q. Where do you put your bag?
Never on the floor, because I’m superstitious. I was told that if we put money on the floor we lose money. I like to spend money, but I don’t like to lose money. So I’m trying it on the little bench just here in the back.
Q. What else happens here?
I interview people here. I have my lunches here. I leave my team to have their moment, and I have my moment. I need that moment of isolation, because when we sit around I’m always expected to give all the answers, but I don’t always have all the answers.
This is also a place where I meet people from the company when they need to tell me that they are leaving, or ask for a raise. This is my home here. I start like at 9, 9:15 in the morning. And I leave at 10, 11 o’clock at night. Even though during the week I’m in this room maybe in the morning for only like five minutes, and lunch 15, and maybe the end of the day if I have someone to see, another 15.
Q. Where are you the rest of the time?
We have the two areas where we work: one in front of the mirror, and one area a dining table of Jeanne Lanvin. I saw that table in the boutique one day many years ago, and there were some ties on it, and I said, “Can I have this table?” I feel always that I work more in the kitchen than in the living room or in the showroom anyway, so I thought, How symbolic, I’m working on her kitchen table.
With the mirror, I look with my eyes and I look with the mirror, and the mirror most of the times tell me different things than my eyes. So, who do I listen to? Who do I trust? Then I look at the photos of the clothes on the body. Then the mirror is no longer needed, but again the screen tells me different stories. So I have my eye, the mirror and the screen. And I realize more and more that what looks good on the screen never feels good on the body.
Q. Where did you find your desk?
It’s another table that Jeanne Lanvin used to use, and we just lacquered it and repaired it, and I put a glass top to protect it because I always use colors and papers, and I eat here, so sometimes things spill all over.
Q. And do you work on the computer?
No. This is when they show me pictures. I don’t tweet, and I don’t Instagram, and I don’t have an email address, and I don’t drive. I bought a phone once because it looked so high-tech, but the only thing I do with it is the green button and the red button. I don’t know how to use the rest of it.
Q. Is that why you have a pile of paper next to the computer?
These are my cards. I write notes to people and things that I have to do and things I have done. Every day I start with my to-do list: who do I have to call, who do I have to speak with, what do I have to say, what do I have to check? I do that, and I cross it off through the day.
Q. Do you have a special pen or a pencil?
Markers usually. Markers, pencils, colors, whatever I find around, though I’m not one of those that needs to have a specific paper, specific pencil held at a specific angle. It’s not important.
When I start a collection, I always have a little book. It’s not anything fancy or anything specific or fetishistic. This is where I do all my writing and do all my sketches — sometimes at 3 in the morning when I cannot sleep anymore, worrying that this is not going to be a good show, and what will I do, and I don’t know what to do. I sketch and resketch.
Q. What’s in the closets?
Everything I don’t want to see: papers, chocolate — 100 percent cacao without any sugar — candles, maybe old sketches I’ll find here and there, photos, carpets, a yoga mattress. Once I thought, Wow, it would be great to have a yoga teacher that should come at 6 o’clock to 7. Well, she came one time and no more, but I have the mattress.
Q. Do you keep the books in the closets?
No. At the end of the season, three or four days before the show, I give the book as a present to someone who was important for me during the last month and a half. And I tell them, “This is, maybe, one of the most difficult presents I give, because it’s part of me, part of my life.” I have to do that in order to start all over again. I give it with a bit of a tear in my eye, but it’s not a tear that comes out, it’s a tear that stays in. And I always say, “If I need it back, I’ll come and ask for it.” And they say, “O.K., we’ll just keep it for you.” And they do. And then I start a new book.
答：很多年前我成為伊夫·聖洛朗(Yves Saint Laurent)的設計師時，我打電話告訴媽媽這件事。她說：「哦。」我說，「你不高興嗎？」她說，「只有一件事會讓我高興，那就是你結婚。」所以我買下這張婚禮和新娘的照片，那位新娘看起來非常痛苦，每天我走進來看見它就心想：「上帝保佑，幸好我沒結婚。」