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12 Life Lessons from Alber Elbaz

The designer was a ray of sunshine at Parsons on Tuesday night despite his recent "tragedy."

I'll admit I'm not always the first to volunteer for after-work events — they're always far from my apartment and I'm tired! — but when an invitation to hear Alber Elbaz talk at Parsons hit my inbox, I RSVP'd immediately. And Tuesday night's chat with Julie Gilhart and Paper's Kim Hastreiter lived up to every expectation and then some.

Elbaz began by eschewing the chair set up for him for a podium, bringing a large paper bag with him. When asked by Gilhart what was in it, he explained that someone commented on his Instagram that she was attending this talk and would need tissues (to dry her tears, presumably), so he brought some along in the event that she'd forgotten. "When I go to my psychiatrist, she always brings them just in case," he noted. After passing out several boxes of Kleenex to a laughing audience, he announced he'd also brought bags of candy, which was subsequently passed through the auditorium, as if everyone didn't already love Elbaz enough.

Of course, the question on everyone's mind was: what will Elbaz do next? Still clearly heartbroken after his firing from Lanvin last October, it didn't sound like even he knew, but he did throw out some (slightly contradictory) hints. For example: he "loves Uniqlo;" he is "totally attracted by the mass market and high street;" he "[has] to feel like going back to fashion but to make exquisite clothes... and to work with women individually and to know the people;" and, "If I ever come to live here in New York City — which I'm absolutely loving — if I find an interesting job that makes me want to wake up again, every Friday I will teach and every Tuesday I will go and work in a hospital because I'm a hypochondriac."

So, we'll see. What he did dish out over about 90 minutes at Parsons was some good old fashioned life advice. Reflective after his recent "tragedy" (as he calls it), his words left us all inspired. Read on for the best takeaways and scroll all the way down to watch the talk in full.

You don't have to be overconfident  to be a successful designer.

"Everything I did, I only see the mistakes, I never see anything good, so it's not always easy being me. And only now with the perspective of time, I'm looking at things that I've done and I'm like, you know, it wasn't too bad."

"I'm experienced... I will leave the judgment if I'm good or bad to fashion critics and fashion directors and buyers."

"Making mistakes is the essence of creation. You cannot be sure about what you do, but you have to make mistakes in order for things to happen."

And even rays of sunshine like Alber Elbaz have #dark moments.

"When I left [Lanvin], for the first couple of months I was walking in Paris; it was raining every day... I was walking and walking and walking and thinking and I never knew when I touched my face if it was the rain or my tears."

The industry really is like "Project Runway": One day you're in, and the next you're out.

"I'm watching 'Project Runway' and I see Heidi Klum...when she says, 'one day you're in and the next you're out,' every time I hear it I get nauseous. It's almost like a trauma to have the idea you can be in fashion and then you're out. What does it mean? I believe personally that once you're here — even for a short time — you leave a trace behind. I'm not talking about fingerprints because fashion is not a crime scene. Like life, you go through highs and lows. I came here today without a private driver, without an assistant, without a secretary, without a PR with three phones that tell you where to sit and what to say and where to pose."

...though being a free agent isn't so bad.

"I thought there was something quite fabulous about being free. I was [at Lanvin] 15 years almost seven days a week. A tuna sandwich for lunch and a pizza for dinner. Early mornings and long nights."

"One day you are out of the system and you start a new life. But I love fashion, I love fashion people and I really adore this industry. I see it now from a different perspective because I'm an outsider, but now more than ever I appreciate it."

Some people (like Elbaz) actually see social media as a way to spread positivity.

"After this tragedy that I was going through — you're laughing but I was crying — I received so much love and likes [on Instagram] and I was so touched, it was hundreds of hundreds of likes via Instagram and I decided to join... Instagram is also a tool to show love to each other."

Apparently, everyone in fashion is miserable.

"[Traveling around the world post-Lanvin] I met so many people and so many of them told me they are are not happy — and it was all fashion people. I'm asking myself, 'How come so many people in fashion, which is the best job in the world, we are all about beauty, all about fantasy, what is it that makes all of us so neurotic and so unhappy?'"

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And perhaps the solution to the systemic fashion problems is simply love and positivity.

"I think if we inject a little bit more love into fashion and less fear — because today I feel it's more about fear, and less love — we will have a beautiful reason to wake up every morning."

When Hastreiter told Alber that 1,200 people signed up for his event in one day and, "you are loved by so many people," he responded: "I think when you love people people love you back." Adding: "You have to do things with joy and joy will come back... Somehow we are not in a momentum of too much joy and we have to experiment to bring back this creativity and happiness and joy and fun." 

"I have a feeling that's maybe the one thing that scares me the most, I always feel that 'ugly is the new beautiful.' I'm not into that, I feel that beautiful is beautiful... maybe ugly is a reflection of the times, so I'm not surprised there is so much ugliness."

There's something to be said for being quiet, keeping your head down and working hard.

"If you do a good job... if you work with passion and compassion and you have experience, then you may become famous. But you're not working for being famous; you're working to do a good job and the end result is being a little bit known."

"When you're good and you are professional, don't be scared because nobody can erase you."

On the "Manus x Machina" Met exhibition: "It was one of my favorite ever because it was so much about whispering again... It was about workmanship, about know-how, about time and the one thing that impressed me the most is the fact that it was almost silent. I think that maybe Anna and Andrew [Bolton] are pioneering something that is a little bit more silent and I loved it."

"See now buy now" is like "the two mouses in a glass of milk."

"There is a story with the two mouses in a glass of milk and there is one mouse she doesn't do [anything]; she stands and drowns and the other one is screaming and moving until that milk turned into butter and then she floats. I think that what is happening is we are making noise about everything and everything is an issue. We're changing the calendar and we're doing 'show now, wear now'... I think now we're in the process of throwing ideas on the table and whatever works will live and whatever doesn't work will die."

Work with people you feel comfortable with.

"I believe in friendship; I believe it gives you a comfort. There is nothing that can kill me more as a creative person than politics... I don't deal well with bitches... The moment I have to think about how to say [something] and not what to say, I'm losing my voice, so I have to be extremely comfortable with the surroundings I'm in."

You don't need to become who you work for.

"When you work for others don't try to be them, remain you. Be you and let him be him: Two things that become a third that is better than ever."

Fashion isn't intellectual, but it can be smart.

"I always love the idea of the words 'smart design' and I'm not talking about intellectual — I'm not an intellectual and I don't think fashion is anything about being intellectual. I always say fashion is like a roasted chicken: you don't have to think when you eat it."

Bonus lesson: This video will make your day.

And, the full talk:

Homepage photo: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

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