Able Was I Ere I Saw Elbaz: House of Lanvin’s New Elf

Don’t shoot me-I’m only the window dresser. Every year, standing on the sidewalk directing the holiday window installation at Barneys on Madison Avenue, I am subject to the same verbal assaults: “Pur-leeeze don’t tell me these are your holiday windows!” “Huh! It gets earlier every year!” Etc.

For an entire week-this is how long it takes to install the windows-I am assailed by the good people of Manhattan, who admonish me as if I had just stolen Christmas, shagged Santa or, at the very least, made a pantsuit out of reindeer hide. These accusers seem to think that I am single-handedly responsible for the commercialization of the holidays.

“Why don’t you just do your holiday windows on Labor Day and have done with it!” they shriek before sweeping into the store to buy a Lanvin frock and/or a purse. (More on that later.)

Here’s the deal: I design the windows in the spring, doodling and sketching while the rest of you are frantically “spinning” at the gym. (Admit it! Your desperate and protracted quest to shed those holiday pounds usually runs well into May.) At some point during the late summer, we-I and my trusty team of happy elves-lock ourselves in the display studio and fabricate and pre-stage the windows. These tableaux, along with those of every other store in New York, are installed during the second week of November.

That is the schedule. I didn’t invent it. Get used to it.

Now to Lanvin.

We-and by that I mean those of us who don’t have anything better to do-are witnessing the birth of a massively historic fashion phenomenon. Alber Elbaz, the chunky, amiable genius who now designs for the house of Lanvin, is the name on everyone’s lips and the frock on everyone’s hips. Women on both coasts are doing whatever and whoever it takes to get their paws on one of his suits, cocktail dresses or glazed leather purses. Celebs and ordinary folk alike are snapping up fall garments and elbowing each other out of the way to get first dibs on spring.

Last week at Barneys, we rang up a whopping $900,000 during our spring 2005 Lanvin trunk show. This was, coincidentally and happily, the week that it was announced that Jones Apparel Group was now the proud owner of Barneys New York. The Day of the Locusts hysteria surrounding this trunk show all but eclipsed this major milestone in Barneys’ history. There hasn’t been a fashion frenzy like this since Guess put ankle zips in their jeans in 1983.

Joining in the Pistons-Pacers-ish brawl on the second floor at Madison Avenue were Rita Wilson, Patti Scialfa Springsteen and Ellen Barkin. The latter Lanvin enthusiast had to be restrained from undressing a mannequin to get her astrakhan trench. (Ellen, luv, if ever you fall on hard times, there’s a window-dressing job waiting for you at Barneys.)

The man at the center of the brouhaha, a nice Israeli boy who once worked for Geoffrey Beene, couldn’t be more deserving of the adulation. Alber Elbaz is doing what no bloke has done in a long time: He is actually improving the way women look. His clothes are totally transformative. I witnessed it myself. Women of all ages went into the fitting room looking like regular Manhattan broads with boobs, hips and bulges: They emerged looking like existentialist Left Bank glamour pusses or smoky-eyed Argentine tango aficionados. Alber’s clothes make women seem more interesting and intriguing. Isn’t that, après tout, what expensive frocks are supposed to do? Viva Alber Elbaz!

A few years back, Alber was booted out of the top job at Y.S.L. in favor of the svelte and godlike Tom Ford. I hope the folks at Y.S.L., as they watch Alber’s fashion deification, are cringing and self-flagellating with un-Piafesque regret.

P.S. This year’s Barneys holiday windows are a Vanity Fair –sponsored retrospective of the work of caricaturist Robert Risko. Note the cheeky juxtaposition of President Bush and his severest critic, VF editor in chief Graydon Carter. Happy Turkey!