Alber Elbaz, a Moroccan-born Israeli fashion designer who rejuvenated Lanvin and had recently launched his own venture, AZ Factory, died on Saturday in Paris. He was 59.
The cause was Covid-19, Richemont, the company backing Mr. Elbaz’s project, said.
“Alber had a richly deserved reputation as one of the industry’s brightest and most beloved figures,” Richemont’s chairman, Johann Rupert, said in a statement. “I was always taken by his intelligence, sensitivity, generosity and unbridled creativity.”
Mr. Elbaz had launched AZ Factory after a five-year hiatus following his abrupt firing from Lanvin, where he was fashion director from 2001 to 2015. During time there, he turned Lanvin, the oldest surviving but dusty French fashion house, into a more modern and prominent brand whose creations were worn by the likes of Beyoncé, Meryl Streep, Lupita Nyong’o, Pharell Williams, Natalie Portman and Harry Styles.
A gifted designer, Mr. Elbaz was known for his generosity — he would send flowers to other designers before their shows — self-deprecating humor and self-questioning.
Mr. Elbaz often mentioned being overweight and said that being skinny was a fantasy that influenced his work. He transformed that fantasy into lightness, he said, by turning his creations into comfortable and sometimes subtly eccentric clothes.
Ms. Portman once called him the “ultimate fashion philosopher-mentor.”
“He says things to me like: ‘Wear flats. You’re short. It’s much cooler not to pretend,’” Ms. Portman told Time in 2007, when the magazine named Mr. Elbaz one of the world’s 100 most influential people.
But for the elegance and extravagance he brought to his creations, Mr. Elbaz tried to remain simple in private — a whisperer in a world of buzz and image-making and screams, he said in 2015 as he received the Fashion Group International award.
He once compared the job of a designer to a concierge’s in a fancy Manhattan hotel.
The world of intricate dresses, cat walks and red carpets was one that he embraced publicly but remained wary of, one that he said was not reality.
“You have to go back to nothing in order to maintain the dream,” Mr. Elbaz told The New Yorker in 2009. “The moment the dream becomes reality and you start to mingle too much with all these people…,” he added, leaving his sentence unfinished.
Still, luxury clothes came with a price that he readily justified: Mr. Elbaz once compared a fashion collection to a vaccine — an easy product to duplicate, but not something cheap to create.
Albert Elbaz was born in Morocco in 1961 and grew up in Israel. After studying fashion design in Tel Aviv, in the mid-1980s he moved to New York, where he removed the T from his first name so that it would not be mispronounced.
In New York, Mr. Elbaz became the assistant designer of Geoffrey Beene. He then moved to Paris in 1997 to become the head of prêt-à-porter design at Guy Laroche. He also headed the ready-to-wear collections of Yves Saint Laurent.
Then came Lanvin, in 2001, and he tried to blur the lines between seasonal collections and generations, between the Parisian chic and the practical.
At the time of his departure, Lanvin had been struggling with falling revenue, which Mr. Elbaz attributed to a lack of strategy and investment.
At his new brand, AZ Factory — which was backed by Richemont, the Swiss luxury company — he did bring a vision: make clothes that women would want to wear, at a more accessible price.
“I asked myself, ‘If I was a woman, what would I want?’” Mr. Elbaz told The New York Times in January. “Something that is first comfortable. Something fun. Something that lets me eat a big piece of cake.”
That allowed him to create the most simple things he had ever made, he said — although he had also compared the formation of his new brand to giving birth.
“My hormones are burning,” Mr. Elbaz had added. “I’m so itchy. I cry and laugh within seconds.”
Elizabeth Paton and Vanessa Friedman contributed reporting.