When preparing the Jeanne Lanvin retrospective at the Palais Galliera, Alber Elbaz had the pleasure to discover the Paris museum’s treasure trove of her dresses, many from the Twenties and Thirties, all of them painstakingly stored in drawers or boxes.
“I didn’t see dresses. I saw women sleeping,” the designer mused, revealing both the key novelty of the exhibition—the flat display of dresses in mirrored cases—and the linchpin quality of Lanvin designs: exalting, yet never overpowering the wearer.
The showcase, on through August 23, is a carryover of the house’s 125th anniversary, celebrated in 2014, and was the focus of back-to-back opening parties during Paris Fashion Week attended by the likes of Valentino designers Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli. “The story’s beautiful because it’s about a woman who made dresses for her daughter,” Chiuri enthused. “It’s very romantic.”
Elbaz, who joined Lanvin as artistic director in 2001, gave over the entire exhibition to the founder’s designs, whose dignity, relatively spare decoration and ease informed his rejuvenation of the house, founded in 1889 and often overlooked as key torchbearer for French elegance in the early 20th century.
“There is a reason why Jeanne Lanvin had a thriving business. She was hugely popular with customers who didn’t want to wear creations that were too bold or out there, and that is no discredit to her designs,” explained curator Olivier Saillard, director of the Galliera Museum. “They are truly understated. Ultimately, it becomes a trademark and signature of the brand….I consider Jeanne Lanvin’s dresses from the Thirties among the most beautiful in the history of fashion.”
And that legacy might be up for a change in ownership. Last month, speculation surfaced that Lanvin’s majority owner Shaw-Lan Wang could be mulling a sale of the house, which she bought from L’Oréal in 2001, giving Elbaz carte blanche to reinvigorate the business.
Elbaz, oohing and aahing as he toured the museum’s domed spaces, remarked on how many of the clothes could easily be worn today.
“It’s just a satin dress, but look at the quality and look at the modernity of using squares,” he exclaimed as he alighted on a 1933 design propped in front of a triptych mirror. “You see the refinement. When a woman wears this, you will see only the woman.”