Assessing the Alber Elbaz/Dior Rumors


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Alber Elbaz, who spent 14 years as creative director at Lanvin.

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Etienne Laurent/European Pressphoto Agency

The dust is still settling in the empty drawers that once belonged to Raf Simons at Dior and Alber Elbaz at Lanvin, but speculation has already reached a deafening pitch about who might replace them.

Olivier Rousteing of Balmain, Phoebe Philo of Céline, Riccardo Tisci of Givenchy and Joseph Altuzarra are some of the names that have been thrown (not by the individuals themselves) into the ring for both jobs. Hands down the loudest speculation, however, is that Mr. Elbaz, now presumably a free agent, is the natural choice for Dior.

But is he? A little perspective.

We’ve been to this dance before. Rumor had it that Mr. Elbaz was a top candidate in 2011 when John Galliano was fired from Dior and the house was first looking to fill the position that eventually went to Mr. Simons. There was a reason the two sides decided not to engage, and it may well still hold true. Though there is also one big difference between now and then: Mr. Elbaz is no longer employed, and the need for a job is a big deal — even if his forced exit came with a fairly large parachute.

Still, if Dior wanted him then, there’s no reason it wouldn’t want him again.

After all, Mr. Elbaz is very talented, and he has made a signature out of a certain kind of highly decorative ease that would make sense in the Dior aesthetic lineage. He understands how to manage a heritage brand, having been at Yves Saint Laurent for a brief stint after Mr. Saint Laurent retired from ready-to-wear and at Lanvin for 14 years, and he appreciates the responsibility of being entrusted with a legacy. He can work with an atelier (the Lanvin atelier loved him). He lives in Paris and does not have the distraction of a second brand.

And he is widely adored in the fashion world. On Wednesday, talking on the phone, Ralph Toledano, the president of the Fédération Française de la Couture, du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode, and the man who brought Mr. Elbaz to Paris as the designer of Guy Laroche in 1996, told me, “The fashion world loves him, and he deserves it.”

Given that the fashion world is mourning Mr. Simons’s departure, replacing him with someone who has its support, and who is seen as having been maltreated, would give Dior a fairly deep cushion of good will.

It all makes a fair amount of sense, yet Mr. Elbaz has been very vocal about his attraction to the small, tight team at Lanvin. His bruising experience at Yves Saint Laurent, where he was replaced in short order by Tom Ford after the brand was bought by then-Gucci Group, has made him leery of the corporatization of fashion.

He is a designer who wears his emotions on his sleeve, and Dior is one of the biggest global brands in the industry, a cornerstone of the billion-dollar club. Its demands of a creative director are well documented — though at the same time, there were areas that were off-limits to Mr. Simons: the choice of celebrity representatives, for example; the store design. Both of those bore the quirky signature of Mr. Elbaz at Lanvin, and they would probably be responsibilities that would be hard for him to relinquish as they are integral to the aesthetic message of a brand.

In the end, though, the single biggest factor that argues against this possibility is a speech Mr. Elbaz gave last week at the Fashion Group International Night of Stars in New York, noting that “everyone in fashion just needs a little more time.” A lack of time was widely believed to have contributed to Mr. Simons’s decision to leave Dior, so it would seem contradictory for Mr. Elbaz to turn around and opt for that job.

Still, when Mr. Elbaz commits to a brand, he does so for the long term, and Dior could use a little commitment about now — both for the sake of the men and women in the ateliers, and for the sake of the customers.

Not very conclusive, I know. But if years watching this business has taught me anything, it’s that I can rarely second-guess the machinations of creative hiring that go on behind the ornate facades of these brands. It could be that Dior really wants to shock the world by going with the unexpected, à la Balenciaga and Demna Gvasalia. And Mr. Elbaz may decide he’s had enough and would just like a different life, as Helmut Lang and Ann Demeulemeester did before him.

For all our sakes, it would be healthier to stop the gossip; to let Mr. Elbaz and Sidney Toledano, the chief executive of Dior, catch their breath; to leave this to the headhunters to sort out; and to assess the decision once it has been made.

Though if you believe that is going to happen, I also have a very pretty bridge I can sell you.



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