A Look into the Life of Jeanne Lanvin – a True Fashion First.
French fashion House Lanvin has made headlines during a very public revitalization period. In the past few months, the brand has bid a bittersweet adiou to Creative Director Alber Elbaz after his fourteen year tenure. Following the headline making news was the welcoming of a new, lesser known force, Bouchra Jarrar, Elbaz’s successor. However, long before the headlines another force ruled the empire. Her name was Jeanne Lanvin. How exactly was the brand’s founder, Jeanne Lanvin able to thrust her label into the upper echelons of fashion society? We take a look back – back to the early days and explore Lanvin at its very beginnings.
The house of Lanvin is one of the oldest surviving couture houses in existence. The brands founder Jeanne Lanvin was a milliner by trade and in 1890. At the age of 18 the ambitious designer owned her very own shop. She saved money for three years working under Madame Maria-Berta, a Barcelona based dress maker. Five years later she married her first husband Henri Emile-Georges di Pietro. Their marriage lasted only five years, but the union granted Lanvin her very first muse, her daughter Marguerite Marie Blanche.
Today, Marguerite Lanvin is considered one of most the well-dressed children of all time. She made quite a stir in 19th century Paris as well with her romantic gowns and frocks catching the attention of her peers and their mothers. Soon Jeanne found herself designing dresses for children which led her to open up a children’s store in 1908. At the time, there was not a market for children’s wear; children just wore muted versions of their parents clothing that were easily disposable. A year later, Lanvin naturally expanded its offering to include designer gowns for women.
Jeanne Lanvin’s popularity as a dressmaker soared and she joined the syndicat de la couture, making her an official couturier in 1909. During that period, she entered her second marriage to journalist, Xavier Melet, who later became French Consul in Manchester, England. It was said that their marriage was more business oriented than romantic. Having a husband with status helped fuel Lanvin’s business attracting more women.
By 1918, Lanvin secured an entire building at 33 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honor. The building had nine workshops including two for embroidery. Lanvin became notorious for her beadwork as well as a renowned colorist. She developed her very own shade of blue, Lanvin Blue, symbolizing harmony and delicacy. The shade of blue is still used today.
Jeanne Lanvin was very much a modern creative. She gathered inspiration from the world around her. As a result her business quickly expanded to include menswear, athleticwear, fragrances, and even Art Deco inspired objects for the home. Â By the 1920s, Lanvin was a self commissioned aristocrat. Vogue recognized her success in 1921 by crediting her influence on children’s wear calling it loose and simple, easy to put on and take off again.
Lanvin also attracted many famous actresses of the day. Personalities including Mary Pickford and Yvonne Printemps called upon the designer to create dresses for a total of 17 different television shows and movies. By 1925, Lanvin was made Chevalier de la Legion for her achievements as a self made fashion designer.
Even though Chanel and Patou dominated fashion headlines at the time, designing and perfecting the garconne look and practical fashions for women, Lanvin stayed true to her Romantic design aesthetic. It is said that Lanvin’s legacy is commonly overlooked by fashion historians due to her focus on Romantic gowns, while designers like Chanel introduced androgynous silhouettes, borrowing fashion concerts from Menswear. At the time of Lanvin’s prime in the 1920s, she was already in her 50s, while her counterpart Chanel was younger, thus making a more youthful impact. Society at the time also praised Chanel who’s business was funded by her wealthy lovers, while Lanvin’s business was founded on her own financial means.
By the start of the second World War, Jeanne Lanvin’s health and label started to decline. The difficult economic times made it frowned upon to be extravagant in design. Lanvin passed away in 1946, and her estate was left in the hands of family members and investors including Loral before going private in 2001 under Harmonie. Soon after, Alber Elbaz was appointed creative director and the rest is well – fashion history. It was the achievements of Elbaz that revitalized Lanvin reminding fashion’s historians and fanatics to consider the very foundation of Lanvin; almost as though Elbaz brought Lanvin back to life. The continuity of Lanvin is one of her greatest achievements. Today her business model is still analyzed and practiced.
Now that Lanvin is back in the hands of a woman who is as progressive and elegant as Jeanne Lanvin herself, we can only anticipate great things to come for the label, lest Lanvin not be forgotten.