AZ Factory design director Norman René Devera had much in common with the late fashion great Alber Elbaz, who earned renown for his charming illustrations, but showed his true gift in the studio by draping fabric directly on the body or bust form.
“We were both very organic, believing the fabric would guide us in the way it forms the garment. We never fought against fabric,” Devera said in a joint interview with Peter Movrin. Together, they are authoring AZ Factory’s spring 2024 collection. “[Alber] knew about my working methods,” Devera said.
Devera and Movrin were handpicked by Elbaz when he created AZ Factory in 2019 as a joint venture with Compagnie Financière Richemont, billed as a newfangled fashion house turning out “smart fashion that cares.”
“We clicked,” Movrin said of his first encounter with Elbaz, who had screened hundreds of Central Saint Martins students and settled on the young Slovenian talent. “I just showed him my project, and he said, ‘When can you start? Do you mind moving to Paris?’”
A mutual admiration for Elbaz’s fashion legacy, and the values he instilled in AZ Factory, are what’s guiding the two men as they get ready to unveil the “AZ Factory by Them” collection on Oct. 2.
AZ Factory typically unveils a collaboration with a “guest amigo” or outside talent with each new product story — and all of these have in some way clicked with Devera and Movrin.
“Our first meeting [with any new amigo] is always about Alber,” Movrin noted.
To be sure, Devera and Movrin bring a wealth of personal experience from their past careers, and from working at AZ Factory with such guest talents as Paris-based designer Lutz Huelle, founder of the Lutz label; Molly Molloy and Lucinda Chambers, the design duo behind Colville; South African designer Thebe Magugu, and size-inclusive brand Ester Manas, designed by Ester Manas and Balthazar Delepierre.
AZ Factory has invited a range of guest creatives to date, from young up-and-comers to more established talents, in the wake of the founder’s death in April 2021 from COVID-19.
“It’s a showcase of what we’ve learned from our past mentors, from colleagues alike, even within the house that we’re in now,” said Devera, who grew up in East London blocks away from Lee Alexander McQueen.
He and Movrin share a love of beautiful things, coupled with a drive to create wearable fashions for every occasion a modern woman might encounter. Movrin recalled that Elbaz once created a “divorce dress” for a devoted client so she could “wear something very strong, very beautiful” for signing those important papers. “We’re always talking about these moments, about a woman in different situations.”
Like Elbaz, Devera and Movrin value evocative words — “bloom” being the one they’ve settled on for spring 2024. They delight in its associations with renewal, personal growth, aesthetic flourishes — and mystery, too. “Yes, things bloom, but you don’t know what the final shape will be,” Devera mused.
Floral prints, bright colors and an emphasis on dresses were among the hints they provided about the next AZ Factory product story, noting that roughly 80 percent of the designs will be realized by upcycling deadstock fabrics, one a decade old but still right for now.
Richemont executive Mauro Grimaldi made a distinction between a collection attributed to a studio and one authored by its two lead talents. “They’re doing their own collection, not a studio collection….It’s the first time they’ll express their point of view,” he said.
Devera’s title at AZ Factory is design director for ready-to-wear and accessories, while Movrin’s is senior designer.
Born into a family of butchers but more attracted to the work of his dressmaking neighbors, Movrin would eventually go on to work for fashion houses including Alexander McQueen, Burberry, Celine and JW Anderson.
Devera, a graduate of London College of Fashion and Middlesex University, worked for years under Phoebe Philo at Celine before joining Elbaz at Lanvin in 2015, only two weeks before the Israeli designer’s ouster from the brand after an acclaimed 14-year stint. Devera exited Lanvin to work as a senior womenswear designer at Louis Vuitton, then under Raf Simons at Calvin Klein 205W39NYC, and finally Versace, before rejoining Elbaz when he was staffing up for the launch of AZ Factory.
Devera said he has the utmost respect for designers or creative individuals who can “create new looks from things that are mundane. I think that’s how I am as a designer: You see the beauty in things that just are, and you revamp it for new generations.”
Elbaz innovated by adding industrial zippers to delicate cocktail dresses, and leaving the edges of precious fabrics raw and partially frayed. Movrin cited an affinity for such rough touches, and aesthetic twists. “Everything needs to be a little bit wrong, like using different fabrics than expected to do certain shapes,” he explained.