The Moment: Meryl Streep, in a beautiful white dress designed for her by Alber Elbaz, took to the stage at the Fashion Group International’s annual Night of Stars event on Thursday night shortly at 10:32 p.m., to introduce the last of a dozen awards that were handed out to a group that included designers, retailers, beauty execs, and, in an interesting turn of events, Justin Timberlake. But Streep stole the show.
“Just before I came here tonight, my cat spoke to me in the way that she does, in the tone of voice that she does,” began Streep, “which is this:
“So I ran back in even though she knew I was late, wearing this, and I opened up the turkey liver with salmon glutinous can, and I was nervous, please, please, please no, not tonight, not tonight.”
The dress survived. The cat had its dinner. And her introduction of Elbaz, the artistic director of Lanvin and winner of the night’s highest honor, the “Superstar” award, included references to the poet Robert Herrick and the 1960s singer Johnny Tillotson, whose “Poetry in Motion” she briefly performed.
“Alber Elbaz is a poet, and a mensch,” she said, before delivering one of the most compelling descriptions of fashion, specifically the work of Elbaz at Lanvin, ever heard upon this stage. She would know, having won one of her Oscars in a gold Lanvin dress in 2012.
“He is an artist for whom you feel women were very important all through his life,” Streep said. “For me, it’s always been a simple equation: When I put on one of his dresses, I still feel like myself, or just a very good version of her. And when I take it off, it falls to the chair with a sigh. You don’t have the sense the dress could stand up without you on the struts of its own architecture, its own self-importance. It needs you as much as you need it. There’s no punishment in wearing Alber’s clothes.”
Why It’s a Wow: First, props to the other honorees: Designers Jonathan Anderson, Bruno Frisoni of Roger Viver, and Jason Wu; Bulgari for brand heritage, eBay for retail trailblazer, and Pinterest for technology innovation; Estée Lauder’s Karyn Khoury for beauty, adorable George Yabu and Glenn Pushelberg for interior design, Eileen Fisher for sustainability, and Karen Harvey, the exec-search pro, for her humanitarian work. Their speeches were charming and quick, at least in comparison to that of Timberlake, whose off-the-cuff, stream-of-conscious appearance was oddly choreographed with a multiple introductions and a seductive performance by Tori Kelly of Timberlake’s “Suit and Tie.”
But the night belonged to Elbaz, who expanded the traditional two-minute acceptance speech limit to a 17-minute discourse on the need in fashion for more time. He touched a nerve. Noting, as he has on multiple occasions, the demands on designers to produce multiple collections, and on editors to crank out copy, reviews, and social media content by the minute.
“I was asked the other day whether I have a personal Instagram,” Elbaz said. He does not. “I don’t really have photogenic friends, I only have good friends. I also don’t take photos of food. I eat food.”
The demands on everyone are becoming too much, so much so that editors no longer clap at shows because they are filming on their phones. Retailers don’t have time to be in stores because they travel so much. Designers have to direct, create buzz, become image makers. His comments may have resonated with the crowd more deeply because of the news that day that Raf Simons was leaving Dior, a move that many interpreted as a reaction to the pace of luxury fashion.
In a way, Elbaz’s speech was a call to action for smart, thoughtful design – not necessarily turning away from technology and speed, but prioritizing tradition and human touch above them.
“Loudness is the new thing, the new cool,” he said. “I prefer whispering. I think it goes deeper and stays longer.”
Learn more: Get caught up on the frenzy fashion faces today with this column.