Lanvin Artistic Director, Alber Elbaz does not use social media, have an e-mail address or take photos himself. His exhibition, Alber Elba/Lanvin Mainfesto at Paris’s Maison Européenne de la Photographie blends the worlds of photography and couture in a way that makes my heart sing. Described as 'an introspective, not a retrospective', the exhibition combines photographs with sketches, features a video, but best of all, one entire room blends couture garments in process complete with pins and basting threads, bolts of fabric that roll off the mannequin onto the floor, along with photographs of the garment. My photos here combine quotes fro Elbaz with my remarks. Most of us who make our own clothes entertain the fantasy of visiting a couture workroom...this is the closest thing to realising that dream. This exhibition closes October 31, so if you are in Paris this week, DO go see it. Quotes from Alber Elbaz come from the show catalog called Alber Elbaz/Lanvin Manifeste which I purchased in the museum bookstore, and tried, but could not find on Amazon. It is sure to become a collector's item.
The walls of the museum have enormous sketches combined with photographs taped in black (like electrical tape), showing the process of designing. In Elbar's words: ' The designer needs the luxury of working in his own atelier and with his own team - and everyone on that team must be attuned to the nuances of the way everybody else is thinking. This is the heartbeat of high fashion clothing. Fashion is not about a sketch, it's about the process, like an abstract painting. When does a painter making an abstract piece know it is finished? The painting tells him."
Painted on the walls of the museum:
'I will take a piece, drape it in red and it's one thing. Then I say, lets do it in blu, but in blue it doesn't work. I would have to make it longer, add more pleats on the side and move it from the waist maybe a bit higher. When I use a non color, I would have to bring in volume. We then have two skirts when I thought we had one. I prefer evolution, things move gradually.'
Here, a photo of a photo. Love the idea of a t-shirt with totally different sleeves.....
works in process + photos = magic!
The photography museum allows photographs. This is the closest you can come to being in a couture studio, and I was in heaven. None of the pieces were finished. Even to the untrained eye, the impeccable level of the work is obvious.
Black jersey, maybe microfiber. The arms of the dress form are held in place with elastic. The draping is held with large flat (very cool) safety pins.
Shoulder pads were used in some garments.
'Some of my atelier have worked here for over 20 years. They're in their mid-60's and have techniques you don't easily find. What will happen next?'
'I asked the stagiares (interns) to buy lunch for all of us. I am sure they felt that I was really cruel, but to me, it was the opposite. First, they got to know Paris a little bit, and practice their French. Most importantly, they would start speaking to the designers not just about fashion, but about food, about feelings, what is it they felt like and why. I feel those kind of discussions become so much more human than just the hierarchy of "get me this fabric, try this, drape that". Eating together. There is something very democratic about it.
Black satin ribbons.
'Fashion must be simple because life is already too complicated.'
Notice how the pins are placed at an angle and the perfection of the basting and taping lines. The red and blue markings is a special narrow tape designed for this purpose.
Pattern pieces are hung on the wall next to the garment.
Large blow up photographs are hung on the walls using simple clips.
The complexity of the patterns is inspiring and challenging to figure out what goes where!
These are working patterns using colors to clarify the markings.
This one was more obviously a sleeve, and the markings are universal with the commercial patterns we can buy.
'Luxury today is in a different place. Somehow we always have this definition between high fashion and street fashion. When it came to street fashion it was all about marketing. You analyse the product, the time, the price, the production, the color. Everything was very calculated. When we talk about luxury or high fashion it was never about calculating. It was about intuition.'
'I don't ask, "what size are you?", I give them the right piece that will fit physically. It's about knowing the person, understanding who they are. To understand what it is that she wants to hide...what it is that she loves about herself. Where is she coming from and where is she going.'
'I hate Twitter.'
'I don't like uniforms. I mean uniforms in the head, not the body. That's an even worse uniform.'
'I sometimes start working by sitting in cafes and looking at women. I learn so much.'
'I start with drawings. I don't hand over the sketches and say, "ok, I'll see you, I'll be in the Caribbean on the 17th and on the 18th I leave for Santa Fe." No, I'm always in fittings, perfecting things. I'm always there.'
'In today's life everything is about high tech and controlled by machines. We in fashion, remained a human industry. All we are at the end of the day are seamstresses with needles, threads, fabric and dreams. How simple.
My video of this show, spoken in hushed tones, you may need to turn up the volume.