Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD Milestones issue 09/25/2014

The fashion museum at the Palais Galliera will stage the first retrospective exhibition in Paris dedicated to Jeanne Lanvin from March 7 to Aug. 23, 2015. Here, the museum’s director, Olivier Saillard, talks about the designers who had the greatest impact on the house.

• Jeanne Lanvin, 1889 to 1946

“The quality of execution of the dresses is quite incredible, and they epitomize French elegance.

This story first appeared in the September 25, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“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.

“Some of her dresses from the Thirties, while lacking the virtuosity of [Madeleine] Vionnet, were produced by great couture workshops, so they are truly understated. Ultimately, it becomes a trademark and signature of the brand.

“Beyond that, she was one of the first to introduce exotic influences into fashion. Mademoiselle [Gabrielle] Chanel was modern. Jeanne Lanvin was aristocratic, but in the pre-World War I sense. I consider Jeanne Lanvin’s dresses from the Thirties among the most beautiful in the history of fashion.”

• Marie-Blanche de Polignac, 1946 to 1950

• Antonio del Castillo, 1950 to 1963

“He had a talent for volume and architecture.

“There are some Castillo dresses that are in the same vein as Cristóbal Balenciaga. That doesn’t mean he followed Balenciaga, but they both have — perhaps because they’re Spanish — a taste for clean lines. Castillo regularly used elements of color and exoticism to counterbalance that sense of volume and clean lines. There is a form of austerity that is totally at odds with his feel for color, so the result is very, very pretty.

“He made a mark on the history of fashion and he had a ghastly personality, apparently.” 

• Jules-François Crahay, 1963 to 1984

“At the time, it was hard to emerge between [Yves] Saint Laurent and [André] Courrèges. But Crahay maintained the notion of couture at the service of its clients. These are not manifestos of creativity, but rather very subtle and beautiful creations that are worth rediscovering. His clothes were light and supple on the body.

“He ably led the house of Lanvin and the length of his tenure speaks for itself.”

• Maryll Lanvin, 1981 to 1989

• Robert Nelissen, 1989 to 1990

• Claude Montana, 1990 to 1992

“The four collections he produced during his time there changed the history of haute couture. Those four collections were pivotal, because suddenly he brought to haute couture his sense of volume, his knowledge of the history of fashion — because Montana in a way is very close to Dior in his mastery of shape. At Lanvin, he used fabrics and these metallic, subdued, cold shades to create a modern feel that was lacking in couture at the time.

“Apart from [Karl] Lagerfeld and [Christian] Lacroix, who used it as an instrument of expression, everything else was very dusty. Montana opened new vistas, even for Lagerfeld or Lacroix. Montana showed haute couture could be a laboratory for ideas.

“His collections were very beautiful. He won two Dés d’or, which is rare for four collections. It really was an exercise in precision.

“During his time at Lanvin, Montana was truly at his most incisive. It was the essence of Montana. I think he reached a form of completion in his work for Lanvin.” 

• Eric Bergère, 1990 to 1992

• Dominique Morlotti, 1992 to 1995 (for men’s wear until 2001)

• Ocimar Versolato, 1996 to 1997

• Cristina Ortiz, 1998 to 2001

• Alber Elbaz, 2002 to the present

“His revival of the house’s history was very subtle. People tend to forget that Jeanne Lanvin is the oldest haute couture house still active today.

He arrived after a succession of names that have faded into obscurity. None of the designers stayed longer than two years. Nobody was really definitively interested in the label. I remember his first collection, where the jewelry was embroidered on tulle. From the beginning, he showed how isolating the creative values at Jeanne Lanvin could become an act of modernity. And with his concept of express couture, he had the intelligence of introducing the idea that couture could be worn like a T-shirt, and that is very modern.

“The best translations are, for example, [French poet Charles] Baudelaire translating the poems of Edgar Poe. I see Elbaz that way — as an author who is very gifted at translating. And in the end, what he does is very Alber Elbaz.

“All designers, whether they work for an established house or not, are always looking at archives. What is amazing is being able to capture the spirit of a brand. I think he delivers an accurate and malleable interpretation of it.”

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