Lanvin designer Alber Elbaz talks about teaming up with Lancome for a makeup collection that screams couture cute.
The cosmetic collaboration, featuring his whimsical sketches, is more than just a clever commercial connection. In 12 years living in New York after he finished college, Elbaz was tasked with buying his mother duty-free Lancome when he passed through JFK airport. He fondly remembers the company's 1980s face Isabella Rosselini as an early fashion inspiration. "Hers is the story of a woman rather than a celebrity. Beauty isn't a question of being the right age or having the right look, it all comes down to attitude, individuality and character."
Elbaz's limited edition collection focuses on the eyes which he describes as the mirror of both mind and heart. "The only thing I'm truly proud of are my eyelashes, so mascara was the project for me!"
What do you think makes a woman stand out?
It's her true self. When people think about make-up they often think about disguising or hiding the truth, but true style is about bringing individuality to the surface.
That's how I see my profession: veiling the body to unveil the person.
How do you achieve that?
There are no hard and fast rules You follow your instincts and emotions. For example, this collection created for Lancome deviates from my usual pattern because almost everything is made by hand. I'm not talking about the production line, I mean imagined and designed by hand: the product decor, the visuals and the promotional film. This is another way of returning to the truth. Today, you can use computers for anything, creating and re-creating or undoing over and over, but with a pencil there always remains a trace of what has been, even if you use an eraser. The same goes for women's faces. You cannot use an eraser: a trace will always show through her face and that's what creates her personality. The future is built upon the past.
What do the eyes represent for you?
On the one hand there's seduction of course, but first and foremost eyes show intelligence. They are the meeting point of the rational and the emotional and it's that contradiction that makes them so fragile.
Did you work on this collection in the same way you work on a show?
First of all, you have to find the story you want to tell. That's what this business is all about, so the process has to start there. I wanted to think about the stories you can tell with mascaras: a story of eyes, and their shape. A fashion designer works with shape and colour, so I took the four mascaras and built a story around them. [The containers reminded him of women's bodies and each is decorated with different drawings].
When you apply mascara you're almost touching your eyes, so it's a very intimate moment. It needed something truly personal that you can make your own.
The story you imagined is a fashion show full of eyes ... why?
It represents my experience. I spend my time backstage at the Lanvin shows and when I come out, all I see are people's eyes. But they are friendly eyes, not intimidating. Obviously you always have that fear of judgement, particularly today in our world made of images, where clothes are judged on how photogenic they are on a flat screen, instead of being seen worn. But my work is for women, not judges. When I joined Lanvin I decided only to do what I love.
What do you want people to say about this collection?
That it's hysterical - in a good way!
It's rare to find humour in the world of luxury...
Yes, humour isn't generally in phase with luxury, but your key aim has to be to inspire emotion. A luxury boutique where everything is perfect and the staff look like models is rather like a pharmacy. You can make people feel with smell, taste and above all with humour. I need to have my dreams and imagination inspired if I'm to actually buy a product. True luxury is about making people laugh and smile, saying "I want that!". That's how luxury becomes democratic. It's not about creating an army of clones that eat the same things in the same places and share the same aspirations: it's about giving people a reason to feel that bit happier.
Is time the ultimate luxury?
Absolutely! Designers are passionate individuals. We are always multi-tasking and don't always have time to really get things in perspective. You don't even have time to mourn a story you've just told. At the end of a show, I'm happy and sad at the same time. I've worked on it for 4 or 5 months, day after day, night after night, weekend after weekend. I know I'll miss the pieces I've created because I don't imagine dresses, but women. When I take a taxi with my sketches at the end of the day, there are 250 women in the car with me. Designers are no less gifted than 30, 40 or 50 years ago: we just have less time to think and go out in search of inspiration. You have to delegate because there is always the next collection or pre-collection to think about: the bags, the jewellery, the shoes, the prints, the embroidery, the leather... the list is endless! Sometimes you have to do things yourself to truly engage with them.
You are Israeli, American and part of the French fashion landscape. Do you consider yourself multi-cultural?
I don't see myself as a global citizen. At the moment I am living in France and so I'm French. I believe that, beyond languages and countries, each and every person I meet brings me something. There's nothing to be gained from living in a bubble. You need to discover new places, people and things. Designers have to be voyeurs, not exhibitionists. It's our job to watch, assimilate and reflect. A person is defined by what they have seen, and what they can give back.