Byline: Anne Bogart, February 1986

According to Lacroix family folklore, back in the Fifties, grandfather Lacroix gathered all his grandchildren to ask what they wanted to be when they grew up. “One said he wanted to be a fireman, another said he wanted to be a doctor,” recounts Christian Lacroix, “and when it was my turn, I supposedly shouted out, ‘Christian Dior.’
Lacroix, 34, laughingly tells the story to prove that, like most overnight successes, he didn’t arrive overnight. Nevertheless, after the designer presented a bright and wickedly young spring couture collection for the house of Patou recently, Paris erupted in stunned delight. Everyone forgot that Lacroix has been doing Patou’s couture since 1981. And even though the front rows were still lacking the all-star presence of the leading couture customers, a youthful contingent of fashionable fans collapsed in ecstasy over the designer’s neon pompon-covered bermuda shorts, the short and wild baby-doll silhouettes and his Dali-esque handpainted ballgowns that transformed into minidresses with the snap of a detachable skirt.
Fashion pros and groupies in their austere black-on-black fashion uniforms suddenly were rhapsodizing about the joys of wearing behemoth straw hats trimmed in tropical flowers a la Lacroix. One of the dresses was featured as front page news in Le Figaro the day after the show.
All this uproar is exactly what the house of Patou wants. It stopped making its own ready-to-wear line three years ago and actively is seeking a new licensing agreement for rtw with an outside company.
The fuss has not yet pierced the meticulously preserved splendor of the Art Deco Patou headquarters at 7 Rue St. Florentin, founded in 1919. Here, an inexperienced, unknown Christian Lacroix arrived four years ago to take up residence in the couture atelier.
“The house was like a sleeping beauty when I arrived,” he says. His game plan: “We did not want to do the haute couture of the others. We had to find another way for the Eighties.
“We wanted to show that haute couture was still alive, that it could be new. I think all the designers in couture are going in the same direction — very simple, very austere. I felt I wanted to do something different and more…baroque.” He emphasizes the last word with a mischievous smile. “Haute couture must be a little operatic, in my opinion. For many years, the couturiers have been following rtw. I think we’ve got to rediscover the exuberance of haute couture. I want to be followed.”
While many of his most ardent fans are the young and very social Parisians such as Pia de Brantes, 25, who wears a Patou creation practically “every time I go out at night,” Lacroix has developed a very loyal clientele, often the impressed mothers of those PYTs. “It’s not a matter of age,” the designer says. “One of my first clients at Patou was 70, and she always chose something with the strongest, most dramatic lines.”
Will he ever forsake the company that launched him and design under his own name? “Oh, perhaps someday, but not for a while,” says Lacroix modestly. “This sort of idea is on every designer’s mind. But there is a lot more I want to do here. We have not finished yet.”