The Israeli king of fashion

One Israeli headquartered in Paris is singlehandedly wielding more influence than any hasbara.

Forget about hasbara. One Israeli headquartered in Paris is singlehandedly wielding more influence on global trends and doing more for Israel's image than the combined international hasbara effort. Albert Elbaz is the chief designer at the veteran and celebrated French fashion house of Lanvin. On Thursday night his fashion alma mater, Israel's Shenkar College, presented him with a special award at Tel Aviv's Center for the Performing Arts. Even multimillionaire Eli Tahari, who became one of the top designers in New York after spending his early days sleeping on park benches, does not have as much clout as Elbaz; nor can Gottex founder Lea Gottlieb treated like royalty in her heyday compare with Elbaz as a global trendsetter. Elbaz, who is the darling of the international fashion press, arrived in Israel on Tuesday for a reception in his honor hosted by French Ambassador Gerard Araud. As soon as Elbaz appeared in Araud's garden, he was pounced on by the local fashion media, paparazzi and his former mentors, teachers and fellow students at Shenkar, where he studied from 1982 to 1986. The slightly rumpled Elbaz, wearing a suit and cafe-au-lait satin finish shirt, with matching necktie inside the collar, didn't contradict any of them, but just smiled. "This is a rare opportunity for a Franco-Israeli party, because we're around Albert Elbaz and he's working in Paris with the most famous French brands," said Araud, alluding not only to Lanvin but also to Guy Laroche and Yves Saint Laurent, where Elbaz made his mark before joining Lanvin. Early next month, Elbaz will also be honored in New York, where he will receive the fashion award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America. It was in New York that Elbaz, who worked for seven years with Geoffrey Beene, launched his global career. Nurit Bat-Ya'ar, who for many years, as Yediot Aharonot's fashion writer, was the first and last word on fashion, recalled meeting Elbaz for the first time when he was an education officer in the army. He wanted to stage a fashion show for the female soldiers, and asked her to come talk about fashion. A few weeks later, he asked to show her some of his sketches. She was impressed with the color and the imagery, and gave him a few tips. The next thing she knew, he was at Shenkar. "He has become the most successful Israeli designer in the world," she bragged. Artist and fashion designer Ilana Goor said she knew Elbaz was going places the first time she laid eyes on his work. "And on top of all that, he's a thoroughly decent human being!"