Where Alber Elbaz May Go Next (Analysis)

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It's the fashion news of not only the week, but possibly the decade. One of fashion's most beloved and successful designers is moving on — and possibly to the industry's biggest job: Christian Dior.

Fashion is shuffling its musical chairs — and scrambling to fill them — like never before. First came Dior's Raf Simons' decision to depart the historic French brand after three and a half years. And then on Wednesday, Lanvin confirmed with Pret-a-Reporter that Alber Elbaz — a red-carpet favorite in Hollywood — is departing the head design post at the label after fourteen years.

Elbaz was apparently a 10 percent owner of the company and stands to sell his shares for $50 million or more. Not only did the Israeli designer reinvent the brand — one of the oldest in fashion, celebrating its 125th anniversary in 2014 — he had his own "squad" of loyal superstar red-carpet clients: Emma Stone, Tilda Swinton, Natalie Portman (even with her association with Dior), Pharrell Williams, Cate Blanchett, Julianne Moore and Meryl Streep. Streep adores Elbaz so much, she presented him with the superstar award from Fashion Group International in New York just a few days ago.

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Of course, tongues are wagging and heads are spinning all over the world about where Elbaz may be heading, which we can only assume is up, given his track record. For years, rumors have swirled that he was the natural heir to Chanel, where his feminine and very French sensibilities would be a perfect fit — when, and if, Karl Lagerfeld retires. However, now with Simons giving notice at Dior, all signs point to Elbaz heading in that direction. It may, in fact, be the reason Simons is suddenly departing — it's possible he was in talks with Dior before Simons' announcement. Speculation is that Elbaz was one of the first to meet with LVMH and the Dior brass when John Galliano was first ousted, but wasn't willing to jump brands at that time, due to that 10 percent stake in Lanvin.

Further signs of a possible Elbaz/Christian Dior future: Lanvin's longtime U.S. public relations director Julia Erdman is also leaving the company. Elbaz has long credited Erdman with helping build the celebrity arm of the brand and she has deep relationships with the actresses in his camp. Not only that, his very longtime staff member Hania Destelle in Paris left the company a few months ago. These signs also suggested that Elbaz, who's very loyal to his staff (as they are to him), was leaving and taking a big chunk of his team with him. Word is he cleaned out his office at Lanvin in Paris on Tuesday night, and will not complete Lanvin's pre-fall collection, leaving it to the company's design team. This is clearly a sudden and swift exit. 

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Apparently tension was already brewing at Lanvin prior to the vacant spot at the helm of one of two of the world's most prestigious luxury brands (Chanel being the other). Disputes between Elbaz and the company's owner, 73-year old Shaw-Lan Wang, and ceo Michele Huiban, have reportedly been ongoing. Elbaz is said to have disagreed with Wang's direction of the brand (she was a media person before taking ownership) and he hinted at facing major pressures when he gave his speech at FGI's Night of the Stars Gala.

It's clear Elbaz would bring something to Dior that the brand doesn't necessarily have — and he has in abundance: the star power of Emma Stone and Meryl Streep, among many other A-listers. Dior already has stars such as Charlize Theron, Marion Cotillard, Jennifer Lawrence, Natalie Portman and more on their roster of paid "faces," but there are stories that some of these names weren't happy with Simons' designs for the red carpet and runway, the creations often seeming too avant garde for Hollywood. Of course, Simons also designed Dior Couture, which for a while got rave reviews, giving Elbaz the chance to create a major couture collection. There aren't many left of those, with Chanel, Valentino, Versace and Armani being the last of the big brands to still do couture. Even Givenchy's Riccardo Tisci stopped making a couture collection or showing it in Paris in favor of showing one-of-a-kind looks on actresses on the red carpet.

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Lanvin's U.S. office confirms that their Paris headquarters is preparing an official statement on Elbaz's departure and it could be issued as soon as Thursday morning U.S. time. As to who will take the reigns at Lanvin, our guess is it will be an unknown from the Lanvin design team, probably the top designer under Elbaz. Gucci is having great success and turnaround with Alessandro Michele, an unrecognizable name before his appointment there, and of course, Valentino's formerly unknown successors have gone on to fame and glory as well.

Elbaz has held several significant jobs in the fashion design industry: he studied under Geoffrey Beene in New York; helmed the brand Guy Laroche in Paris in the mid-nineties, earning significant attention; and then brilliantly redesigned Yves Saint Laurent until Tom Ford was named creative director there. Elbaz's 14-year stint at Lanvin marks the end of an era for the label. He brought both classicism and modernism to it, continuing the aesthetic of its founder, Jeanne Lanvin — one of the first couturiers in fashion. Indeed, Elbaz's designs and his influence carried the brand's long legacy into the future.

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