Lanvin is the oldest French fashion house still in business today. The first exhibition devoted to the creatress of the brand – Jeanne Lanvin (1867-1946) opened in Paris in March, featuring over a hundred gowns at beautiful Palais Galliera.
At the beginning of the 1980s, in the musty darkness of the attics of the fashion house, more than five hundred models from the time of Jeanne Lanvin were discovered. They seemed to have been forgotten, to have vanished from memory since the death of Madame in 1946. All that was needed was for someone to open the trunks and reveal their splendour.
Mademoiselle Jeanne began her career as a milliner in 1885. Even alongside the following couture collections hats were always an integral and indispensable accessory to the Lanvin ‘silhouette’. A few years later she opened her first shop in Paris. In 1897 she gave birth to her only daughter, Marguerite, who became her primary source of inspiration. On Lanvin logo you can see an image of mother and daughter – something very sentimental and emotional for a fashion brand. Maison Lanvin adopted the famous logo, designed by Paul Iribe from a photograph taken at a costume party in 1924. The logo was first used on first Lanvin perfume bottle, dedicated to Jeanne´s daughter for her 30th birthday.
In 1908, Jeanne Lanvin hit upon the new idea of children’s clothes, alongside with Young Ladie’s department. Stylistically speaking, the children’s and adult’s clothes were very similar, a feature that gave Lanvin creations their enduringly youthful character.
Maison Lanvin kept growing steadily into a fashion house that catered to all needs of their clients, adding wedding gowns department, lingerie and furs and in 1920s also interior decoration and sport, finally launching into men´s clothing. Lanvin opened shops all over France.
Jeanne Lanvin´s inspirations ranged from etno-exotic to religios and medieval, as well as modernly geometrical and Art Deco.
The exotic has always been inspiring for Western fashion, but it reached its peak in 1920s. the embroidery motifs inspired by China, Turkey and Japan appeared on the gowns and were executed at skillful workshops set up in Paris by Russian refugees. Jeanne Lanvin used travel diaries, swatches of ethnic fabrics and a vast library of art books to feed her curiosity and inspire her to create fabrics, patterns and exclusive colours.
By mid-20s ecclesiastical motifs and monastic lines pervaded the work of Jeanne Lanvin. In her work you can see the artistry in materials, embroidery, topstitches, twists, spirals, cut-outs – all the virtuosity of the couturière’s craft.
At the same time there was also a dress with very controversial silhouette to that day, making it´s name as “Lanvin´d robe de style”. This line was equally indebted to the 18th century and the second Empire, and to hoops and the crinoline – slender bust, low waist, ample skirt – contrasting with the tubular line of Art Deco with its black and white geometrical patterns, the profusion of ribbons, cristals, beads, and silk tassels. The robe de style, a garden-party dress, came into full flower at Maison Lanvin in the 1920s and found lasting success with children, girls and women.
In 1920s quattrocento blue became the symbolic colour of the label.
Evening gowns, boleros and magnificent coats were examples of the prodigious skill of the Lanvin workshops and made a major contribution to the fashion house’s fame. World War II was looming, but the summer of 1939 saw haute couture in one of its most glittering phases. Romantic evening gowns, ample and diaphanous, were an “invitation to the waltz”. “Paris was rarely more sparkling,” Christian Dior recalled. “People flitted from ball to ball … Dreading the inevitable cataclysm, they hoped desperately to avoid it, but whatever happened, they wanted to go out in style.”
A capacity for hard work and an intuitive understanding of the modern world only partly explain the extraordinary success of this discreet woman.
Alber Elbaz, current creative director of Lanvin, worked closely with Palais Galliera on creating this exhibition. “It is a “whispering exhibition”, it´s not loud. It is not about information, you don´t have to know everything, because all this knowledge is not always important. Just feel, work with your intuition, look at the endless beauty of these pieces, observe how timeless they are and enjoy the moment, ” says current creative director of the fashion house. He is right, as you walk through the rooms of the exhibition, you can´t but stop and observe the handmade details and hand stitched beads on the evening gowns that quietly tell their story of hours of hard work.
Many dresses shown at the exhibition are timelessly modern, something that could be worn today, just as it was nearly hundred years ago.
In 2001, Alber Elbas was appointed artistic director of Maison Jeanne Lanvin. Albert Elbaz shares Jeanne Lanvin’s taste for discretion. To this stimulus for creation, a motif in which forms turn out to be even more timeless, he adds the insolent characters that signify his style.
Looking at the latest Lanvin collection for Autun/Winter 2015/16 presented in Paris in the beginning of March, Alber Elbaz said to have gone back to his Moroccan roots, as he was born in Casablanca. Last year Maison Lanvin celebrated their 125th anniversary, keeping the style simple, so this collection made more of an impact. Alber prefers the introvert approach to creating, looking for inspiration among his personal emotions and intuition. “Fashion is a human story,” he insisted, “an industry that makes things with its hands. High tech stole the glamour of fashion.”
The collection went on adventure, travelling to Morocco in military-striped slightly baggy trousers with tassels hanging from waist, matched with Russian style high boots. Military style-influences could be also noted in the latest collection. Leather one-shoulder pieces looked to be the extensions of to the belt, contrasting quite minimalist flowing dresses. Other keywords include dresses with geometrical lines and occasional fringing edges, Maroccan patchwork and exotic skins, sheepskin coats and ethnically-inspired rich print patterns.