PARIS — He’s vocal about his passion for new technologies. But will Olivier Lapidus, in his new role as artistic director of Lanvin, succeed in rebooting the house?
The appointment of a relative unknown — unlike his predecessor, Bouchra Jarrar, who parted ways with the house after only 16 months in the job — has been met with head scratching from the fashion community. The unexpected choice has also ruffled the feathers of some of Lanvin’s top brass as a house that’s been through its fair share of turbulence since the ousting of Alber Elbaz in 2015 after a stellar 14-year tenure.
For Delphine Dion, a professor of marketing at the ESSEC Business School in Paris specializing in luxury brand management, Lapidus represents a “very weird” choice. But it’s one that possibly reflects a shift in strategy by the brand’s majority owner to focus on the Chinese market. Especially as Elbaz is proving such a difficult act to follow.
“All of the journalists loved him. People in some ways were more attached to his personality than what he was actually doing. It was tough for Bouchra; she did a fantastic job, and the journalists really liked what she was doing, but she was not Alber Elbaz and that was the problem for the brand,” she said. “We don’t really know [Lapidus] on the fashion scene, the public doesn’t know him, the journalists don’t know him very well, but when we look at his biography, what is really interesting is he has experience on the Chinese market….And the other interesting element is that he loves new technology. He’s done online fashion shows, and this would perfectly fit the Chinese market. It would mark a strategic change for the company — selling the French touch, the brand’s heritage, but in a more premium way. This is how I see things.”
Courting the Chinese market would also require a serious reinvestment in the brand, Dion said. “Which is a problem because if you look at the situation you have two owners [Taiwan-based media magnate Shaw-Lan Wang, the house’s majority owner since 2001, and Lanvin’s other main shareholder, Swiss businessman Ralph Bartel] who don’t agree on how to invest in the brand, and who is putting in the money. That was the problem for the brand. They had a good designer but not enough money on the table to go further.”
Sales at the privately held company have been eroding since peaking at 235 million euros in 2012, according to a source. Last year, revenues fell 23 percent to 162 million euros, with a net loss of 18.3 million euros, marking the house’s first red ink in nearly a decade, with expectations of worsening losses this fiscal year, a source confirmed.
Orders for women’s collections are said to have been falling at a steep double-digit rate, with the brand struggling to build a handbag business, a chief pillar for most European fashion firms.
As Lapidus himself put it in the statement announcing his appointment released Tuesday: “Lanvin is the oldest French couture house; to ensure its longevity is an immense task.” His first collection for the heritage house, which was founded by Jeanne Lanvin in 1889, will be for the spring 2018 women’s ready-to-wear season, as reported.
In an interview with WWD, Lapidus, who first met Wang in the Eighties when he was working for Balmain, said he would likely present a “capsule fashion show” during the upcoming Paris Fashion Week in September. “It’s pure circumstance, [Wang] called me for the Lanvin position….I arrived at the house this morning, I have a very nice desk and chair, and I’ve been drawing,” he said.
“I’m looking to find the DNA of Jeanne Lanvin — it will be Lanvin by the book. I’ve been in her original studio on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré to feel the vibrations of the house. She was always ahead of her time: In the Twenties, she invented a lifestyle brand, and was the first fashion designer to integrate design objects. She had her own special palette, including her special Lanvin blue, that I will use in the collection. I would like to show the essence of Jeanne Lanvin.”
Lapidus said he hopes in the future to be able to recreate a full Lanvin universe. “Today designers are designers of universes, be it decoration, accessories, hotels or spas even. It’s amazing to think that Jeanne Lanvin was the first designer to take a lifestyle approach to building a house.”
In terms of positioning, he said: “We would like to develop a couture direction, for sure, and maybe in the future, why not, haute couture again?”
He squelched speculation the house would be moving out of its historic headquarters. When asked if Wang, who is rumored to also be seeking to fortify management at the house in a bid to improve the business, seemed willing to invest more money, he replied: “For sure, the owner wants to develop Lanvin….She told me she would support the company.”
As reported, Jarrar is said to have been frustrated by the absence of a clearly articulated strategy for the house and a corresponding lack of investment in it — concerns similar to those of her predecessor Elbaz toward the end of his tenure, which catapulted the brand’s notoriety.
Several members of the board are said to have felt blindsided by Lapidus’ appointment, meanwhile. Investment banker Pierre Mallevays of Savigny Partners confirmed that he and minority shareholder Ralph Bartel have submitted letters of resignation to disassociate themselves from Wang’s decisions and governance.
As reported, it is understood Bartel and Mallevays had urged Wang to go through a proper process using professional advice from a talent search firm. One source said Wang also did not consult the board when she appointed Jarrar and chief executive officer Michele Huiban.
Lucas Ossendrijver, the house’s men’s wear designer since over a decade, could not be reached for comment on how the new appointment may influence his role.
Lapidus said he believes the plan from the company’s end is to keep Ossendrijver on board, saying: “He has lots of talent, and I look forward to meeting him.”
Lanvin’s jewelry designer Elie Top, who stayed on through Jarrar’s tenure, declined to comment on whether he intends to stay with the house. Raphael Prieto, president of Lanvin’s works council, also declined to comment on the situation, saying he’s in a “difficult position.”
For her part, Wang anointed Lapidus a “precursor couturier” who “resonates with the aspirations of the company and will be able to take up the challenges of Lanvin in the 21st century.”
It’s an optimistic assessment considering that Lapidus, in terms of track record, has little to go on. The designer during couture week launched what he billed as the world’s first digital couture house, a “micro structure, it’s like a laboratory for couture on the web,” that he plans to continue. But in reality, his main claim to fame being the son of the late French fashion designer Ted Lapidus.
Once labeled the “poet of haute couture,” Lapidus senior shot to fame in the Sixties and was credited with injecting a modern spirit into the couture scene. He counted hipsters Brigitte Bardot, Françoise Hardy and John Lennon among his clients and in 1968 made fashion headlines when he introduced jeans into his couture lineup. “It was Ted, not Yves Saint Laurent, who invented the [tuxedo for women]. He was an inventor of fashion — everything we see in the streets today was introduced by him,” his sister and longtime fashion assistant, Rose Torrente-Mett, told WWD following his death in 2008.
Olivier Lapidus dedicated his inaugural “e-collection” to his mother, actress and model Véronique Zuber, meanwhile, who worked with prestigious couture and jewelry houses.
The Lanvin appointment marks the first major fashion role for Lapidus, 59, who has dabbled in fashion and design projects over the years. A graduate of the Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, Lapidus said he designed Balmain’s men’s line for one season in 1984 before being sent to Japan by then owner, Léon Grosse, to develop the men’s and women’s lines and open shops there. He then took over the design helm of his father’s namesake label from 1989 to 2000 — scooping the Dé d’Or de la Haute Couture award in 1994 — before leaving to go independent.
Jacques Konckier, who acquired the Ted Lapidus brand in 1998 through his company Groupe Bogart, dissolved the label’s couture line in 2000, with his son, David Konckier, taking over to develop the brand’s licenses and fragrance business, Lapidus confirmed.
In 2001, Lapidus established a company in China and worked with several interior design companies while carrying out textile research. Since 2003, he has been based in Paris, and has collaborated on a range of projects including a furniture line with D’Argentat, a line of luminous decorative panels with Dacryl, and a design project for the Félicien hotel.
His approach to design is described as “a dialogue between luxury and innovation,” combining “French prestige and savoir-faire with new technologies.” His research has focused on integrating electronic elements in clothing, such as micro-encapsulated textiles, solar energy, and fractal lace, as well as developing new plant-based fabrics and new printing techniques.
The new direction for Lanvin, he said, “will be about staying on top of the tech while respecting the craftsman’s vision of the house in terms of quality and Parisian mood.
“They are very interested in the new tech which could be one of the sides of the new Lanvin but, on the other hand, Lanvin is traditional house with old ateliers where you can have fittings in a beautiful shop on the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, offering customers a unique service, so we have to mix those two things,” added Lapidus of his new role. “That’s what they asked of me, to make a collection that’s [luxurious] and modern at the same time.”