By  on December 30, 2008

PARIS — Ted Lapidus, the French fashion designer who shot to fame in the Sixties with his modern, androgynous-chic designs, emblematized by the safari jacket, died Monday at a hospital in Cannes from respiratory failure. He was 79.

Lapidus, who is survived by three children and two sisters, will be buried on Friday at the Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris.

French president Nicholas Sarkozy paid homage to the designer, who was once labeled the “poet of haute couture.”

“He democratized French elegance and classicism” and “made fashion accessible to men and women in the street,” stated Sarkozy.

A largely self-taught talent, the late designer, born Edmond Lapidus in Paris in 1929, first gained notoriety with the opening of a men’s and women’s tailoring salon on the city’s Rue Marbeuf in 1958. Around the same time, a teaching stint at Tokyo’s technical college instilled in Lapidus the desire to apply the principles of mass production to high fashion, according to his sister and long-time fashion assistant, Rose Torrente-Mett.

That concept blossomed later on in his fashion career, both as a diffusion line for the Paris department store La Belle Jardiniere in the mid-Sixtiesand as fashion and accessories licenses signed by Lapidus that focused mainly on the Japanese market — in a strategy similar to that of contemporary Pierre Cardin — in the early Seventies.

“He was hugely important in the Sixties and Seventies and knew how to exploit the politics of licenses that had been introduced earlier by Christian Dior,” said Didier Grumbach, president of the French Fashion Federation, who also recalled Lapidus’ strong personality. “It was never considered a particularly creative brand, but [Lapidus] had a strong influence on the men’s wear market.”

Along with the likes of Louis Féraud and Torrente, the latter of which was founded by Torrente-Mett in 1968, Grumbach saluted Lapidus as part of the last wave of couturiers to not have a signature ready-to-wear line as well.

Admitted as a member of the French Fashion Federation in 1963, Lapidus was credited with injecting a modern spirit into the couture scene, weaving purist lines, military-inspired details — notably gold button details and epaulets — and safari references into his collections.

In 1968, the designer, who counted hipsters Brigitte Bardot, Françoise Hardy and John Lennon among his clients, made fashion headlines when he introduced jeans into his couture lineup. “It was Ted, not Yves Saint Laurent, who invented the [tuxedo for women]. He was an inventor of fashion — everything we see in the streets today was introduced by him,” contended Torrente-Mett.

By 1986, when Ted Lapidus was acquired by Zanimob, the brand included not only accessories and fashion but also fragrance, additions that began in the early Eighties. The designer had a well-publicized legal battle with his son, Olivier, around that time over use of the Lapidus name, but the matter eventually was settled amicably. Ted Lapidus was brought back into the family fold in 1989 by Olivier, in association with Groupe Paris-Eco. In 1995, Ted Lapidus’ present owner, Jacques Konckier, who at the time held the license for Parfums Ted Lapidus, acquired the entire operation.

Today, aside from a sprinkling of accessories and rtw licenses and a fragrance business, Ted Lapidus doesn’t have an active full-fledged fashion operation, with the couture business being dissolved in 2000. “It’s essentially dormant,” said Torrente-Mett.

Lapidus married twice: first to a former Miss France, Véronique Szubert, with whom he had Olivier, and then to German model Ursula Mai, with whom he had two children, Heloise and Thomas.

Aside from his fashion activities, the late designer, who was a keen poet, was compiling a book of writings he planned to publish. 

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