By  on March 3, 2005

PARIS — Alber Elbaz has expensive taste in office furniture.

Last summer, when the time came to buy new tables for Lanvin’s showrooms on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, the designer chose a model way beyond the house’s meager budget.

So Elbaz, who whips up some of the most ingenious window displays in Paris on a shoestring, took a similar DIY tack. He enlisted the artist husband of one of his staffers to paint 18 large boards with scenes of Uzbekistan based on Polaroids that Elbaz had taken on a recent trip there.

“Everyone said, ‘How creative!’” Elbaz said in an interview, relating the reaction of buyers. “It’s not easy when [business conditions] are not perfect, but it gives you the drive. When you lack things, you have to think and find solutions. This is designing.”

Elbaz was alluding to Lanvin’s ongoing financial woes and tight cost controls. Last year, the house let go 65 employees and exited the perfume and watch businesses in an effort to stem heavy losses, which had mounted to 22 million euros on sales of 79.3 million euros in 2003, or losses of $29 million on sales of $104.7 million at current exchange.

The firm has not finished tallying its accounts for 2004, but a spokeswoman said operating losses were reduced “slightly.”

Also, a worldwide fragrance license signed last June with Inter Parfums SA included a $19.4 million upfront fee, which gave Lanvin some means to develop its business, she added.

Plans for 2005 include the opening of five Lanvin corners, including two at Galeries Lafayette here, and six franchised boutiques in cities such as Istanbul, Dubai, Moscow and Hong Kong.

Majority owner Shaw-Lan Wang, a Taiwanese publishing magnate, and her son, Sing-Ming Chu, who run the business, declined to be interviewed, even as speculation continues to whirl about the possibility of them selling all or part of the business.

But Elbaz — whom sources describe as playing a key role in major decisions while Russell Reynolds Assoc. hunts for a new chief executive officer for the house — said he is content with Wang’s take-it-slow approach.

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