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For Handbags, Alber Elbaz Informs Fashion With Function

The designer takes a crash course in reinventing Lanvin's handbags.

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WWD Accessory issue 08/13/2012

For Alber Elbaz, it was an impromptu focus group. Waiting in line for two hours to service his dead cell phone at French mobile giant SFR’s Champs-Elysées flagship gave Lanvin’s creative director what he calls a “master class in enlightening my vision of the bag.”

Elbaz and Lanvin are heightening their focus on accessories, studiously polishing their range to better mirror the clothing line.

Recalling his day at the phone store, “I think [service] was at number 121, and my number was, like, 216, so I knew I had hours to kill. [Typically] you just go from the office to the studio, from the studio to vacation, from vacation back to a fitting. I went to SFR and, for two hours, I just looked at people,” says Elbaz, noting he observed a parade of people of all types and ages sporting all variety of bags, carried in myriad ways. “I think that is the essence of design—to go from the emotional to the rational, and to mix them both.”

 

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Key to that approach: intense focus on existing designs. “What I’ve tried to do is look at things I’ve done for a long time and perfect them. I wanted to update them, to say maybe now we need a bit more volume on that bag, or a washed leather, or a lighter fabric,” says Elbaz. “After so many years, I thought I would go back to it, look at it from a different perspective.”

Lanvin’s pre-spring handbag collection includes a new take on the Partition bag, with a vintage-style tourniquet clasp, a deep pocket at the back and a long mirror tag backed with Lanvin’s mother-daughter logo. There’s also a fresh version of the Happy bag, interpreted in a range of sorbet and neutral shades, with a new flat base sitting and additional interior compartments.

Two leather handles replace the old chains, and there’s a long detachable shoulder strap. The updated Happy Plenty day bag has a single short handle and a wide bowling-bag-style shape. “We worked the Happy bag in different sizes, keeping the DNA but working on different weights of quilted fabrics to be a bit lighter. Then I wanted a small style just big enough to hold a mobile phone, all these kind of things,” notes Elbaz.

While clothes remain his first love, the designer—along with Lanvin’s top brass—is conscious of the importance of bags and other accessories as a vital and growing business. Hence, explains Thierry Andretta, the house’s executive vice president, there’s a drive to “make all accessories as recognizable as Elbaz’s inimitable fashions.” Accessories already account for about half of the women’s business at wholesale. Andretta stresses that ready-to-wear is to remain the core and biggest individual category, at 40 percent of sales, for the Paris-based fashion house. Handbags will be approximately 25 to 30 percent, shows about 20 to 25 percent, and other accessory product about 10 percent.

To that end, Lanvin is heightening the visibility of accessories in its communications and in-store presentation. Andretta notes that sales of handbags and shoes took a leap at its Paris flagship once those categories were given more prominent exposure: the former on the main floor and the latter on the second floor.

Elbaz has just finished working on his spring bag collection, which he promises will be well-represented on the runway. The new run of arm candy will enjoy a strong presence on the runway. As for Lanvin’s current fall ad campaign, it is loaded with bags and shoes—reality about the designer, a fashion purist at heart, is clearly conflicted. “I don’t think I could have put more bags in the campaign. Every photo had between eight and 14 bags,” Elbaz he says, repeating his concern that fashion “is turning into a bag industry. “I’m not saying it’s good. I’m not saying it’s bad. But there is much more to fashion than a strap and a pocket. There is a dream that I want to maintain. There is story, there is luxury.

“I love doing clothes and touching women, and loving them with two, three or 10 meters of silk—and,” Elbaz adds, “the accessories go with that.”

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