Alber Elbaz exhibits at the MEP
The Maison européenne de la photographie is showing an exceptional exhibition of photographs devoted to Lanvin’s talented artistic director Alber Elbaz.
Plunged into the same darkness of a movie theatre, the room is a gathering of immense black and white prints by photographer Katy Reiss, with giant screens punctuating the visit. These luminous boxes render the detail of a necklace or the gaze of Saskia de Brauw caught backstage positively palpable.
In the room next door, a long corridor painted bright red celebrates Alber Elbaz’s sense of colour. Sometimes deliberately blurred But Sou Lai’s images of the shows or backstage, transcribe an impression, an emotion without ever accurately describing the clothing or dating the collections.
Then a room flooded with light where Stockman dummies present a series of unfinished and infinitely poetic toiles, as splendid as they are vulnerable. Behind them But Sou Lai’s new images, like the shadows of these clothes, are projected on to the walls: shown in the house ateliers, these toiles come to life, the volumes and draped fabrics sketch out paths along which the gaze gets lost in reverie.
Numéro: Why did you want to do this exhibition which evokes your work through the lenses of various photographers?
Alber Elbaz: We think of the image as just a reflection of fashion, that by taking a photograph with one’s mobile phone we can understand a dress or an asymmetric jacket. But photography is not only a document. I think that photography changed fashion, and has influenced it enormously. Today the fact that we work using screens, with images on small screens, has had another new influence on fashion. While the camera might have led to the simplification of the lines in illustration and brought about a minimalism in fashion, I think that the current screens have flattened it. In this exhibition we used the screens to show Katy Reiss’s photos, which are enormous. We haven’t just shown the front, we’ve also shown the back. I think the back of a garment is very sensual, while the front is much more sexual. The room in which we stand [with the large luminous boxes and giant prints by Katy Reiss] is just like fashion as we see it today, with big black and white screens, lots of electricity. They are very slightly aggressive, yet thin.
What did you want to show in the part of the exhibition that combines the beginnings of garments on Stockman dummies and photographs of these beginnings?
The white room is a fashion lab. I present toiles that aren’t finish. They are unfinished toiles. So it’s not about perfection, because we live in a world where everyone wants to be perfect, with a perfect body, with no wrinkles or grey hairs, a perfect husband and perfect kids. I think there’s lots of fakery in perfection. For these clothes I wanted to show that we hadn’t done any Photoshop or any ‘photo shock’. I wanted to show this like evidence: here is the object, and here is the photo. We didn’t shrink, stretch or manipulate the image. The stark lighting of the neon strip lights is like that in the studio, the ateliers, where nothing can be hidden, where everything must be seen and shown. I did sketches but these are enormous sketches, once again, bigger than life, because I think that today we talk about “the bigger the better”, everything has to be big. Noise is almost more important than talent, packaging more important than the contents…
Did you want to put the importance back into emotion, which seems less present in today’s world, and in particular in the fashion world?
Exactly, these days’ people talk to each other less because they send messages. They don’t watch the shows so much because they’re filming it. We try to hear less and record more. But that’s contemporary life, and there’s no room for nostalgia. We have to make sure the two approaches can co-exist. We have to build a bridge between emotion and the current world. One is not more important than the other. One cannot exist without the other. We need heavy metal and classical music. Together they create a balance. When two stories come together, they create a third story.
Would we be right in saying that a third story is born from the exhibition Jeanne Lanvin that you orchestrated at the Musée Galliera, from March to August of this year, and Alber Elbaz/Lanvin, Manifeste, showing at the Maison européenne de la photographie? Is the second show a response to the first?
Yes, because the exhibition at the Musée Galliera was more about tradition and archives. Here we’re trying to show the present through photographs rather than with clothes, and I like showing my work in images because I’m superstitious, I don’t like showing my clothes in a museum. This isn’t a museum, it’s a house. In a house there’s a certain dynamism, living things, moving things.
Alber Elbaz/Lanvin, Manifeste, at the Maison européenne de la photographie, 5-7, rue de Fourcy, Paris 4th. Until October 31st.
Interview by Delphine Roche