I always wear a dinner jacket. I never have this definition of what goes for the morning or the evening or what works for the weekend. I like having the freedom to dress as I desire. But yes, I do wear a dinner jacket for dinner. I like to respect that sort of dress code although I often machine-wash my tuxedo so it looks very mucked-up and I will wear a bow tie, but I don't do it perfectly because I don't know how to do that knot, so I do it my way.
Usually, I spend my day perfecting a dress rather than perfecting myself. Thank God I don't have to look like a model to promote my work, because that would be a catastrophe. Nobody would buy anything! I'm behind the scenes. I could be on a diet of leaves and go to the gym 17 times a week if I really wanted it, but what I really want to do is my work. But I have asked myself: if I had a different look, would I design differently? And I think I would. I think the fact that I never feel perfect and I never feel beautiful and I never feel skinny makes me search for lightness and beauty, because these are what I feel I am missing. I always go for whatever I think I don't have.
If I wasn't a designer I would love to be a doctor. That is my fantasy, my dream. A doctor will give you a tablet if you have a headache and I will give you a dress and we both make you feel good.
The name I was born with is Albert, with a 't'. I lost the 't' because I moved to New York and I thought, it just doesn't sound good, 'Albert', not pronounced like at home, 'Alber', so I took off the 't' and got into coffee so I could live in New York, though now I live in Paris. In Judaism, in Kabbalah, which we studied in school, every letter has a power. By changing your name, you might change your life and when I took that letter out, my life did change. I was introduced to a rhythm, a speed I never had before.
When I was in kindergarten in Tel Aviv, I didn't do any drawings of aeroplanes, only dresses, and my mother asked the teacher if that was OK and the teacher said, 'Let him do it'. Is my mother an influence? You know, there would be an interesting survey on designers and their mothers. Mine - her name is Alegria - is an elegant woman but it's not like one of those stories of, 'Oh, my mother had this beautiful sable coat from Christian Dior and she wore it in Switzerland'.
My father, who was a hair colourist, died when I was young so my mother had to work very hard. But at the same time, I do believe that if you have everything, it is easy to make a dinner. When you only have flour and water and olives and potatoes, you have to be much more creative and that's what my mother is all about. She had very little but from nothing she always made something.
Some of my clothes I keep forever. I have a pair of blue shoes by Dries van Noten I wore to a meeting that changed my career. They are still my lucky shoes. But mostly I wear black. I work by looking at what I am creating in the mirror and I want to stay in the shadows. I keep my clothes for a long time. I'm not changing every season any more than I am designing a new collection and throwing the last one out. I have things I have worn again and again, but over the years, I alter them, I make them longer, shorter, I change the armhole, I change the shoulder. One of my biggest fears is arriving to the airport and checking in my suitcase because I never know if I will get it back, and I wear the same clothes, you see, day and night, winter and summer.
As to seeing women in my designs, of course I get excited. I'm not a blasé guy. I'm not taking things for granted. I'm not on a high from my own work or anything, I'm very realistic; I work and I know what I create has to go from my studio to a certain reality check.
The easiest thing would be to name some celebrity, but it is very impressive if someone wants something to wear to the Oscars. Of course it is like, 'Wow!' But I get the same thrill when I am in the boutique and I see a woman and she looks good and she looks at herself in a different way; then it is no longer about the dress but how she feels. That touches me and it moves me.
Have I had tough times? I believe in karma and I believe things happen for a reason. Ghandi said that at the end of our lives we will be sorry only for what we have not done. So if you do a lot, you go through a lot. I take nothing for granted and today I know things happened for a reason and it pushed me to a better place. At the time [of being fired from YSL] I was sorry. I am grateful now.
I think this is a fascinating time in design. Vintage is over. This is going to be a very important moment in fashion because we cannot just reproduce; we did the Twenties already, we did the Thirties, the Fifties, the Sixties, up to the Nineties. Instead, we have to think. We have to start inventing again.
This article was written by Marion Hume for The Observer’s How I get dressed series. The title of the original article was changed by me based on one of his quotes from the interview.
Photo source: Alber Elbaz photographed by Tim Walker for Vogue