Christian Lacroix Hopes for Rescue

Designer Christian Lacroix resolves to fight to save firm while criticizing management for missteps, like cutting corners on the quality of fabric.

PARIS — Since the company that bears his name sought court protection from creditors last month, Christian Lacroix was approached by one of his big couture clients with an offer to rescue the house.

This story first appeared in the June 9, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Whether or not the offer was wholly serious, Lacroix rebuffed the advance. “I prefer her as a client rather than chairwoman,” he said, unleashing one of his infectious laughs.

Keen to support the talented seamstresses in his atelier, Lacroix said he continues to sketch couture dresses in anticipation of a presentation of some kind come couture week next month — even if there is no budget to use outside suppliers like embroiderers, and not even a photocopier in the design studios.

“They deserve it, even if we can’t show it,” he said Monday at his XLCX design studio here. “I can’t stand having them do nothing during this period because they have it in their blood. January and July, it’s couture. It’s a physical clock.”

And even if Lacroix said he feels joyful when he is sketching — “the quintessence of Lacroix is the opposite of mourning,” he insisted — there is disappointment and anger simmering beneath the surface.

In an interview, Lacroix was vocal about management missteps at the Paris-based fashion house, also describing strained relations with the owners, Florida-based Falic Group, and its chief executive, Nicolas Topiol.

He described as “courageous” their decision to cut the Bazar and Christian Lacroix Jeans diffusion lines as part of a costly upscaling drive to burnish Lacroix’s couture image. However, he charged that corners were subsequently cut in materials and manufacturing, which he asserted contributed to a 35 percent drop in sales the company cited at the time of its Chapter 11 filing.

“If you decide to do something in the deluxe field, you have to go all the way,” he said. “Even the best factory can’t make beautiful clothes with cut-rate fabrics.”

Lacroix expressed regret that nonpayment has put factory workers and small, independent artisans in jeopardy. He noted that his widely acclaimed fall-winter collection, paraded in a dingy garage in the Marais, will probably not get produced because its factory in Granville is listed among the creditors. (Lacroix, who contracts his design services through XLCX, is owed about 1.2 million euros, or $1.7 million.)

Lacroix held out hope the company, in administration for a period of six months, could emerge with new ownership. As reported, talks are ongoing with a Swiss group of investors, and sources have said the voluntary petition could attract additional suitors.

However, Lacroix acknowledged it is also possible the house could be reduced to a licensing operation with only a handful of employees — and no couture, which he considers anathema to the brand he launched 22 years ago.

“I know that my work, my inspiration and my creativity is not minimal and not so easy to make, but we have the proof that with skill and cleverness and good partnerships, it’s possible,” he said, citing a strong men’s wear business as one example.

He noted, too, that the cinemas he designs for Gaumont are not only for beautiful colors and prints, but also for driving business at the concession stands. “My duty is to design beautiful places for selling popcorn,” he said cheerily.

For now, he said his duty is to feed the ateliers sketches and keep their hands busy. “They want to fight,” Lacroix said. “They are very strong: You know French women and the Resistance! The best way to fight would be to do a beautiful collection.”