AZ Factory Pauses Fashion Business, Pivots to AZ Academy

AZ Factory Pauses Fashion Business, Pivots to AZ Academy

The Collaborative Label Founded by Alber Elbaz Is Ceasing Fashion Production and Retail, Reinventing as Fashion Business School Under Richemont

AZ Factory is set to close its fashion brand and cease retail operations while continuing to support independent fashion designers through a new educational initiative.

Initially conceived as a venture for renowned fashion designer Alber Elbaz, who passed away in April 2021 from COVID-19, AZ Factory evolved into a hub for collaborative projects. The brand is now being transformed into AZ Academy: Business for Designers, a post-graduate program under Richemont’s Milan-based Creative Academy, in partnership with Rome’s Accademia Costume & Moda fashion school.

Starting later this month, recent graduates from international fashion schools and independent designers in fashion, leather goods, and accessories will be invited to apply for the program. In September, a jury of industry professionals will select between 10 and 20 designers for a one-year scholarship, commencing in Milan in January 2025. Selected designers will pay a nominal fee of 2,500 euros, with Richemont covering the majority of the program costs.

Philippe Fortunato, CEO of fashion and accessories maisons at Compagnie Financière Richemont, stated, “AZ Academy introduces a unique offer to help independent fashion designers turn their creative visions into successful businesses. Through this program, Richemont reaffirms its commitment to support independent creation, in direct continuation of the story started with AZ Factory together with Alber Elbaz.”

Mauro Grimaldi, strategic adviser to Fortunato, emphasized the program’s goal of bridging designers and investors, saying, “At AZ Academy, we will create a bridge between designers and investors, transforming creative visions into viable business plans to attract investors.”

AZ Factory will cease producing new merchandise for its online store, which ships worldwide, with the “P is for Paris” pre-fall 2024 collection by Lutz Huelle being the last. The brand’s trading operations are expected to conclude by the end of July. Most of the less than 10 employees impacted by the shutdown have been offered internal mobility solutions within Richemont, with others receiving negotiated exit settlements.

The AZ Factory team brought attention to various projects with guest creatives, including designers like Molly Molloy and Lucinda Chambers of Colville, South African designer Thebe Magugu, and size-inclusive brand Ester Manas. These designers benefited from AZ Factory’s ecosystem, which included a design studio, atelier, marketing, and communications channels.

Despite efforts to maintain momentum, Elbaz’s passing made it difficult for Richemont to establish the brand. However, AZ Factory did enable Richemont to connect with a new generation of designers and understand the challenges they face in building independent brands.

The new AZ Academy will cover topics such as creativity, innovation, sustainability, production, finance, legal, marketing, and inclusivity. Students will also attend masterclasses, receive individual coaching, and engage in the supply chain through visits, experiences, and internships. The program will culminate in a final presentation of a business case proposal, collection, and industrial plan for potential investors.

Richemont’s Creative Academy, established in 2003, prepares young talents for the design of luxury jewelry, watches, and fashion accessories. More than 170 designers trained at the academy have been hired by Richemont maisons. Nicolas Bos, CEO of Van Cleef & Arpels and chairman of the Creative Academy, noted, “With AZ Academy, we are expanding this further to independent fashion designers.”

Richemont aims to equip emerging talents with the necessary skills and knowledge to succeed in creating their own brands. The Accademia Costume & Moda, founded in 1964, has a notable alumni list including Alessandro Michele, Frida Giannini, Isabella Rossellini, and Maurizio Galante.