Alber Elbaz whose soigné, draped designs catapulted Lanvin to become a top Paris fashion house — is to exit the company after a stellar 14-year tenure, WWD has learned.
Text: Miles Socha
An announcement is expected in the coming days.While the parties are likely to characterize the development as by mutual agreement, sources said the rupture came following disagreements between the charismatic Israeli designer and company principals: owner Shaw-Lan Wang and chief executive officer Michèle Huiban.
It is understood members of his design team were informed of his exit this morning, and all employees at Lanvin were summoned to a meeting this afternoon in Paris.Lanvin officials could not immediately be reached for comment.Sources said Elbaz already emptied his office on the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré.
The development comes less than a week after Raf Simons resigned from Christian Dior after a three-and-a-half year stint, intensifying discussion about the pressures and restraints today’s creative directors face in an accelerating industry.
Elbaz’s departure from Lanvin is also likely to fuel speculation that he may ultimately succeed Simons at Dior — or at least widen the scope of another round of musical chairs at the highest levels of international fashion. Dior has yet to identify a successor, as reported.
Prized for his couture-like craft and affable personality, Elbaz is believed to have held discussions with Dior when it was seeking a successor to John Galliano following his 2011 expulsion due to racist and anti-Semitic outbursts a Paris café, for which he was convicted of public insult. Talks did not progress partly because Elbaz had an ownership stake in Lanvin via a holding controlled by Wang, a stumbling block to a deal.It could not immediately be learned if Elbaz is selling his stake as part of the exit package.
According to sources, tensions between Elbaz and Wang have been building up in recent months, with the designer urging the Taiwanese publishing magnate to sell her majority stake and make way for a new owner that could better capitalize on Lanvin’s development potential.However, Wang is seen as a reluctant seller, demanding a high price, and preferring to handpick a buyer well known to her.Elbaz is said to have complained about a lack of strategy and targeted investment, and about compromising the image of the brand in Asia.
The company’s consolidated sales have been eroding, expected to fall to around 200 million euros, or $221 million at current exchange, this year, versus a peak of more than 250 million euros, or $276.3 million, only a few years ago, according to sources, who noted that Lanvin is also poised to post its first loss in almost a decade.
Unlike many of its larger rivals, the brand — which marked its 125th anniversary last year — is dependent on its wholesale partners, which account for approximately 70 percent of revenues, with only about 30 percent of sales streaming in from direct retail.
It is understood management has not yet selected a successor to Elbaz, and will face the task of finding a designer who can re-galvanize a house built around his vision and ebullient personality.Wang bought Lanvin from L’Oréal in 2001, recruited Elbaz and left him a free hand to reinvent the business with his cocktail dresses, chunky costume jewelry, ballerina flats, dressy sneakers and modernist men’s wear.The intensely private 73-year-old Wang has in the past described Lanvin as a long-term investment, taking a hands-on approach to its development in Asia.
Elbaz learned his craft at the elbow of Geoffrey Beene in New York, and came onto the international radar when he was recruited to helm Guy Laroche in Paris in 1996, a stint that won raves, media attention, and the job offer of a lifetime: to succeed couture legend Yves Saint Laurent at the helm of Rive Gauche ready-to-wear.
After three seasons, Elbaz was fired in the wake of Gucci Group’s takeover of YSL, with Tom Ford picking up the design reins. Elbaz subsequently did one season with Krizia in Milan before sitting on the sidelines of the business for one year.Once ensconced in Lanvin, Elbaz lauded the coziness of a small, privately held company and likened his attachment to Wang and to Lanvin as a marriage.
Yet Wang has been spending less time in Paris recently, leaving the operational management to Huiban, named chief executive officer in 2013.Huiban, who joined Lanvin in 2008, had been deputy general manager of the company since 2011. She is a graduate of French business school ESSEC and worked mainly in the media before joining Lanvin.
Elbaz is said to have been alarmed by Wang’s reluctance to invest in developing the French house’s retail network and brand profile, crimping its traction in the face of larger and more robustly funded brands such as Saint Laurent, Chanel and Givenchy.Lanvin also has had fits and starts in its efforts to build a handbag business – a pillar of profitability for most European names.
In 2007, Wang sold Lanvin’s fragrance and cosmetics business to Inter Parfums SA for 22 million euros, or $24.3 million at current exchange, saying the company needed the funds to develop its ready-to-wear and accessories businesses. The investment community frowned on the move, as it diminishes the valuation of the fashion house.
A trust associated with the Bartel family acquired 25 percent of Lanvin parent Arpège SAS in separate transactions in 2009 and 2012, and is said to share Elbaz’s opinion about the need to invest. Bartel holds certain preemptive rights should Wang wish to explore a sale of any of her shares.Like Simons, Elbaz is sure to field a flurry of offers for his services — and evaluate them cautiously.
Picking up a Superstar award from Meryl Streep at Fashion Group International’s Night of the Stars last week, Elbaz turnedhis acceptance speech into a mini manifesto lamenting how the ever-accelerating fashion system is chipping away at creativity, camaraderie and an all-around good time.
“We designers started as couturiers with dreams, with intuitions and with feelings. We started with,‘What do women want? What do women need? What can I do for women to make their lives better and easier? How can I make a woman more beautiful?’ That is what we used to do,” he said. “Then we became creative directors, so we have to create, but mostly direct. And now we have to become image-makers, making sure it looks good in the pictures. The screen has to scream baby — that’s the rule. And loudness is the new thing. Loudness is the new cool, and not only in fashion. I prefer whispering. I think it goes deeper and lasts longer.”