By Miles Socha
with contributions from Tianwei Zhang
 on September 24, 2019
Anaïs Jourden

“Lacroix. Baby spew.”

That snippet of dialogue, uttered by Jennifer Saunders in “Absolutely Fabulous” when child care upended her luxury lifestyle, is certainly one of the more unforgettable incongruities in the popular culture.

Also incongruous is the fact that the Christian Lacroix brand, while a $180 million retail business today in home, men’s wear and accessories, has been largely absent from women’s wear for almost a decade.
That’s about to change — and at a moment when the exuberant, Baroque aesthetic of the founding couture keeps trickling on to designer runways and into high-street shops alike.

Heart-shaped Christian Lacroix earrings recall a key motif used by the founding couturier.  Courtesy Photo

Paris Fashion Week will see the brand unveil a collaboration with Hong Kong-based designer Anaïs Jourden, who is also on the official calendar for her namesake spring 2020 collection. The Christian Lacroix x Anais Jourdan line will be unveiled in the first dedicated women’s showroom for Christian Lacroix during Paris Fashion Week at 21 Avenue George V along with two other new collaborations: high-end activewear with cult L.A. fitness brand Ultracor and handbags with French artisanal firm Maison Baluchon.
Another high-profile apparel collaboration, still under wraps, is to be unveiled on the runway next spring during London Fashion Week, which seems to beg for an “Ab Fab” reunion in the front row.
The Paris showroom, open until Sept. 30, will also display gifts, eyewear, scarves and an expanded array of costume jewelry with partner Red Luxury, sold mostly in France to date. Priced to retail from about $150 to $550, the demonstrative styles incorporate the cross, heart and coral motifs synonymous with the brand.
“The last three, four years, I’ve seen a lot of inspiration coming from us, so I think it’s a good time to come back,” said Nicolas Topiol, chief executive officer of Christian Lacroix, which was reduced to a licensing operation in 2009 when the couture house shuttered.
The rash of product collaborations, which kicked off earlier this month with Uooyaa, a Chinese premium streetwear brand, will cue up a bigger step: relaunching women’s ready-to-wear for spring 2021 under license.
It is likely to be positioned as advanced contemporary, a zone of business that didn’t exist when the French couturier launched his more affordable range Bazar de Christian Lacroix in 1994.
Topiol described SMCP Group, parent of the Sandro and Maje chains, as a “good benchmark” for its comeback, noting that “price positioning can be slightly higher and wider since I think we can include evening and cocktail dresses as part of our legacy. We would also like to add bridal to this offering as it is a natural fit for our brand.”
The executive is courting high-profile e-tailers and high-end department stores for the Jourden collaboration, and ultimately sees women’s categories rising up to account for half of the business.
He described the company as healthy and sales have “progressed nicely over the past few years with the successful entry into the home and lifestyle world. We have been able to extend the product categories, keep a high-end selective distribution and reach new customers at different points in their purchasing needs.”
Lacroix products are sold in 4,000 points of sale across 80 countries.
Women’s fashion, including handbags and shoes, “is a very important and good growth opportunity for our brand and future partners,” he said, explaining that cementing the brand’s legacy in women’s fashions should also fuel development of other categories.
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Christian Lacroix costume jewelry is heavy on gold.  Courtesy Photo

For the new thrust into women’s fashions, Topiol partnered with CAA-GBG, the brand management group that works with the likes of David Beckham, Jennifer Lopez, Sean John, Coca-Cola and Playboy. Its mission: to exalt Lacroix’s rich fashion legacy, and introduce its aesthetics and spirit to new generations — hence the projects with young brands and designers that resonate with Millennials.

A revival of print in fashion is fueling renewed interest in Lacroix, along with a few key cultural spotlights. A couture wedding dress from Lacroix’s final collection was prominently displayed at the “Heavenly Bodies” exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute in 2018, meaning about 1.6 million people came face-to-face with the gleaming satin marvel with its gilded headdress.
French fashion editor and stylist Carine Roitfeld also chose to parade three Lacroix couture wedding gowns as part of her massive CR Runway fashion show for LuisaViaRoma in Florence last June — and they were among the most shared images.
As a result, hundreds of Christian Lacroix fan sites have sprung up online recently, mostly on Instagram, suggesting broad esteem and curiosity about the brand and its founder’s flamboyance, according to CAA/GBG.
The branding agency views the Christian Lacroix fashion archive, intact in a warehouse in the Paris suburbs, as an untapped resource, and the designer’s business legacy as one of daring and innovation, noting his collaboration with French mail-order firm La Redoute back in 2006, and water brand Evian in 2008.
Luxury titan Bernard Arnault, chairman and chief executive officer of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, famously set up a couture house for Lacroix, who came to prominence designing for Patou, in 1987. Born in Arles, the designer became synonymous with pouf skirts, vibrant color and heavy embellishments. Though acclaimed for his fantastical couture, he struggled to build a viable fashion business and the house filed for bankruptcy protection in 2009. It was ultimately acquired by Florida duty-free operators Falic Group.
Lacroix deputy Sacha Walckhoff has served as artistic director since the founder left the house that bears his name to pursue a career designing costumes for the stage. It flourishes still, his latest project being costumes for a new James Gray production of Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” making its debut at the Champs-Elysées Theater in Paris Nov. 26.
Jourden lauded Lacroix for the “fun, really playful way he played a lot with fabrications, despite being a couturier…that kind of resonates with how we work as well.”

Elements of her Lacroix capsule include embroideries, lace trims, “and we are working with lots of metallic elements and hardware for the first time.”

That said, Jourden envisions her designs in a contemporary context, paired with customized Nike Air Force 1 sneakers. “We are also doing something extremely modern and putting this vision into a very different context,” she explained in a phone interview from her Hong Kong design studio.

Jourden distributes her collection to about 20 doors, with North America her top market, followed by Hong Kong and Mainland China.

In addition to her Paris runway show on Sept. 29, the designer is participating in Shanghai Fashion Week in October.

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