Although Lanvin Artistic Director Alber Elbaz does not use social media, have an email address, or take any personal photos, his new photography-centric exhibition, Alber Elbaz/Lanvin Manifesto at Paris’s Maison Européenne de la Photographie, provides thoughtful commentary on the Insta-phenomenon. Billed as “an introspective not a retrospective,” the exhibition’s 400 images, which were taken by 7 photographers in 5 settings, transport visitors from the gallery into the atelier, filled with pins and basting threads, complex geometrics of paper patterns, and bolts of fine fabrics—all in real time. Here, the fashion designer explains the project:
How did this exhibition come about?
I’m a fashion designer, not a photographer, so rather than documenting, I wanted to show the relationship between the camera and fashion, how the camera changed fashion after illustration, how it purified fashion, but also how fashion has changed after social media. What does photography do for us? We’re living in a time when we document the moment rather than live the moment. I wanted to understand, for example, why women, when they’re trying on clothes now want to see how the photo looks more than how clothes feel on the body.
How did you structure the show?
We relied on intuition to come up with a series of rooms. In the black room we put all the big screens, like lightboxes. I like the idea here of the bigger the better, and that the images are double-faced because on the Internet you can only see the front, never the back, or the side. It’s almost like the impression people have about fashion, that it’s always big and very flat, like we start our day at 2:00 in the afternoon with a glass of champagne. This is followed by the white room, the laboratory where we turn fabrics into clothes, where one dimension becomes three dimensions. This is the atelier where we can still smell the perfume of the people who made the clothes, a human scent, not a fragrance we buy at the airport.
What was the mot difficult part of putting this exhibition together?
The most difficult thing for us was creating the passage between the black front and the white in the back. Nothing worked. A passage is meant to be a passage. It’s not a place where you stay. It’s a place you pass by. So what can you show in a place where people aren’t looking because they’re just passing by? We put big illustrations to show the passage between an abstract idea and reality. That’s what clothes are. You give birth to an idea in a sketch. Sometimes it’s a dream and sometimes it’s a nightmare.