In 1985, Elbaz moved to New York City and spent two years working for a manufacturer of mother-of-the-bride clothing. He then worked for Geoffrey Beene for seven years. He says he was influenced by Beene's rejection of trends and masterful drape and fit. "It was a very beautiful relationship.... Our best dialogue was not in words," Elbaz has reminisced.
In 1997, Elbaz left Beene and, through retailer Dawn Mello, was hired by the firm of Guy Laroche. But, by the time of Elbaz's arrival, the Laroche enterprise had become overly conservative and lackluster. Even so, Elbaz was able to update the collection and somewhat enhance the image of the firm, whose activities at the time included the management of 15 boutiques and 70 license agreements worldwide. However, he departed within a year, 1998, and began designing ready-to-wear women's clothing for Yves Saint Laurent, because Saint-Laurent himself wished to withdraw from his hands-on design of prêt-à-porter (ready-to-wear). In the position, Elbaz's talent was recognized, and he was groomed to become the head designer of the house when Saint Laurent retired. This was not to happen, because the Gucci Group purchased YSL Rive Gauche, the ready-to-wear label, and, hence, Gucci design director Tom Ford dismissed Elbaz after three collections. Elbaz instead began working for Krizia in Italy and designed a well-received inaugural collection.