Alber Elbaz Doesn't Actually Know How to Tie a Bow Tie

Elbaz talks tying bow ties (or rather not tying them), how he spruced up his Israel Defense Force uniform, and his humble beginnings as a designer at Geoffrey Beene.
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Hayley Phelan
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Elbaz talks tying bow ties (or rather not tying them), how he spruced up his Israel Defense Force uniform, and his humble beginnings as a designer at Geoffrey Beene.
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Next to his outsize talent as a designer, Alber Elbaz is probably best known for his own signature look: A uniform of suits (usually with a velvet jacket), glasses, and, most importantly, a bow tie--a look he was, of course, sporting at last night's annual Geoffrey Beene National Scholarship Awards Dinner, which celebrated the 125 promising fashion students who received $5,000 scholarships from the organization.

But despite the fact that a bow tie is part of his signature style, Elbaz doesn't actually know how to tie one.

“I don’t know how to tie a bow tie, you know I have elastic—you see?” he told us, stretching the giant bow away from his neck to reveal an elastic band strap.

Enthusiastically he elaborated, “Yes you see, it’s very pragmatic, very practical. You know I don’t even know how to drive, so to do a bow tie? Are you kidding?”

The easy fix had us wondering if the Israeli-born Elbaz had ever used a bow tie to spruce up his army uniform while enlisted in the Israel Defense Force. “No I didn’t [wear a bow tie then], I wore kind of a clumsy uniform, but I made a few variations on it,” he explained.

The evening also included the presentation of four $30,000 Geoffrey Beene National Scholarships and another four Geoffrey Beene $10,000 runner-up scholarships to deserving students pursuing a career in fashion arts. And Alber, who was presented with the prestigious 50th Anniversary Geoffrey Beene Fashion Impact Award, had some hilarious quips, as well as inspiring advice, for the fledgling designers.

"When I first came to New York, I came with two suitcases," he began. "One which was quite small. I had my belongings in there. And one which was quite big, I had my dreams in there."

He went on to describe how he doggedly pursued his dream job: A spot on the design team at Geoffrey Beene. "I tried for three years to get an interview with Mr. Beene," he said, going on to describe how he would repeatedly call the Beene office every chance he could get. He was told no again and again, "But," he said, "I did get a friendship with the lady who answered the phone for years at this point. And she's sitting here with me tonight." Awwww.

He spoke more of his humble beginnings, describing his first office as "a coffee table in a dressing room," and how he was told by the head of the Geoffrey Beene studio that his work was not right for the label. "I started to cry," he said. "I took all my belongings and put them in a plastic bag. I was waiting for someone to tell me 'you are fired.'"

Of course Elbaz was never fired, and he and Geoffrey Beene went on to have a close working and personal relationship, which the Lanvin designer has credited with helping him become the success he is today. Still, it's nice to know that even the most talented designers had some bumps early on in their career--and that they, too, find tying bow ties infuriatingly complicated.

Click through to see images from the event.