Sun, 24 Nov 2002

Oldest couture house Lanvin restored

Kunang Helmi-Picard, Contributor, Paris

For the second season Alber Elbaz of the Lanvin fashion house has reinterpreted the style of the oldest Parisian couture house.

Elbaz -- who took over from Yves Saint Laurent a few years ago as the leader of ready-to-wear designs until Tom Ford began his Gucci reign -- is very successful in creating a new look for this venerable Parisian Maison de Haute Couture with its signature fragrance.

The transformation of the brand is complete with the refurbished head boutique at 22 Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honori, around the corner from their original headquarters.

Elbaz, who studied fashion in the United States, said: "I create for women who I know or who I would like to know. I imagine myself in their skin. It is as if I would wear the fashion myself. I don't understand the word 'commercial', but on the contrary I understand women."

The Autumn-Winter collection features classical looks. Coats in double-faced cashmere with a fringed seam and lace blouses with a jabot collar are on show. Even the labels are sewn at the waist to avoid them weighing down the collars, which is an example of couture detail.

Silk mousseline evening dresses are lightly encircled by a leather band at the waist, a repeat of the famous sophisticated drapery of Jeanne Lanvin -- who founded the fashion house in 1889 at 16 Rue Boissy-d'Anglas, close to the prestigious Place de la Concorde.

A soft cloche hat to welcome the year-end chilly weather and some of the handbags remind us of the charming style of the 1950s.

Prices range from 350 euros for a soft leather clutch bag to 3,420 euros for a finely striped leather jacket in soft tones.

Tradition is reinterpreted with vivacity but without too much nostalgia, betraying Elbaz' respect for the past and for the French savoir faire of fashion.

The excitement of Elbaz' collection for Lanvin mounts to a hysterical crescendo. The atmosphere heats up due to the extra lighting. It is well-known that shows in Paris always start an hour later than scheduled on the sought-after invitations.

After the death of Jeanne Lanvin at the age of 79 in 1946, daughter Marie-Blanche de Polignac succeeded her as director of the society.

In 1963 Jean-Francois Crahay was the fashion designer of the label and in 1985 Maryll Lanvin took over. Claude Montana presented five collections from 1990 onwards and then haute couture was abandoned by the house, which instead concentrated on luxury ready-to-wear.

Lanvin was bought by the L'Oreal Group in 1996. First Brazilian Ocimar Versolato then Spanish Cristina Ortiz took over the ready-to-wear line.

Models are still at other venues, wiping off their makeup, before showing up in another look at another show. The invitees may still be trying to find the location, as fashion shows take place all over the city.

Buyers, photographers and fashion journalists -- who have arrived early -- are served multicolored macaroons by smiling young ladies dressed in old-fashioned black waitress uniforms with white aprons.

Of course nobody really had time for even a light lunch. The venue is in a snaking corridor behind the Museum of Mankind in the Cinematheque, where chandeliers sparkle and classic chairs are lined up in double rows on each side of the runway.

Tiny bottles of Lanvin perfume and a makeup mirror in small black bags await the visitors. Discussions begin on which show was the favorite and which designer failed to impress the hardened fashion connoisseurs.

The show finally begins with Madame Shaw-Lang Wang -- a Taiwanese investor who bought the Lanvin brand in August 2001 and installed Elbaz as the new designer two months later -- appearing draped in rows of pearls and an elegant outfit in a frenzy of flashbulbs. She must be delighted.

Elbaz has created instinctive elegance with a look of true haute couture despite the ready-to-wear line. His Parisian women are chic, majestic yet modern, with fake diamond collars sewn onto transparent necklines.

The garments seem light and the fabrics ethereal. There are no seams but fringed edges. Copper and bronze colored threads detail tailored suits, floating knee-high black silk satin robes are evening wear.

The designs look comfortable yet stylish, effortlessly chic worn by models in very high heels.

The palette of colors is subdued, black, gray, rich brown tones and patterns together with some lighter shades. The models' hair is held back by high chignons or turbans of various shapes.

Suddenly the show is over. While some enthusiasts and friends troupe backstage to congratulate Elbaz -- who looks small beside his very tall and slim models -- others rush out to catch a cab or the special bus to the next show at the Carre du Temple, where French Martine Sitbon is awaiting the fashion pack in the capital of fashion.

However Lanvin has made a lasting impression and is surely going to be a hit worldwide, not only in Paris. The collections will be available in Lanvin stores worldwide next February.