While studying at the London College of Fashion, I had chosen, for one of our papers, to imagine an exhibition focusing on Jeanne Lanvin’s “Robes de Style.” At the time, I discovered with much surprise that no retrospective had ever been dedicated to Jeanne Lanvin and what a major impact she had have not only on fashion but on building a whole lifestyle brand. When I learnt about the Palais Galliera’s exhibition, despite suffering from a slight pinch of jealousy (how I wish I could have collaborated on my student years’ fantasy!), I was thrilled to discover how the museum’s curator Olivier Saillard and Alber Elbaz, the brand’s actual designer, had decided to present Jeanne Lanvin’s work.
Although, most people do know the name Lanvin, very little are aware of Jeanne Lanvin’s career and imprint on a contemporary vision of the fashion brand. From milliner and dressmaker for young girls, Jeanne Lanvin rapidly turned into celebrated couturier, lifestyle designer and perfume maker- thus setting the standards for contemporary brands.
Galleria’s display featured over a hundred pieces signed by Jeanne Lanvin – garments and accessories – mostly from the 1920s and 1930s alongside a number of material culture objects such as photographies, personal correspondences, notebooks, drawings…that enabled to comprehend not only the aesthetic and technical virtuosity of the designer but also her personality. Indeed, I believe no other fashion brands has been as inspired as Jeanne Lanvin’s by her personal history and inspirations, the passion she had for her daughter, Marguerite, surely being the most prominent: her signature blue influenced by her love for Fra Angelico, a depiction of Marguerite and herself serving as the house’s logo…Albert Elbaz supervised the artistic direction of the exhibition and chose to present the garments with the help of various themes highlighting key concepts defining Jeanne Lanvin’s style. Thus the display underlined her artistic expertise, her Robe de Style, her iconic “Lanvin Blue”, her hats, her children designs, her jeweled and embroidered dresses, her taste for black and white, her exotic, religious and Art Deco inspirations as well as her evening wear and wedding gowns.
Despite the exquisite embroideries, the nostalgic Robes de Style, the naive mother and daughter identity, Jeanne Lanvin was greatly modern in her approach, creating garments that dared to be loose, diaphanous, bejeweled or at other times, geometric or Japanese-like but also in establishing her brand as a whole lifestyle house. The scenography illustrated her modernity with the use of black steel cases and frames to display the garments in a sort of industrial atmosphere. Yet, what surely captivated me the most was the daring choice of showing certain garments laying flat in mirrored cases opened like a piano. Transforming the garment into a two-dimensional object not only enhances it as an art piece on which the visitor can closely observe meticulous details, it erases its relationship to the body, establishing its shape as a timeless silhouette. Nonetheless I appreciated the trick as it turned the gowns into ghostly “sleeping beauties” as described by Alber Elbaz and, although anatomy was removed from the context, it yet did not negate their humanity as these garments hustled into the cases gave the impression of having just been taken off by their elegant owners after a night out. The use of mirrors and lights created playful reflections that accented the mysterious aspect of those dormant gowns that also evoked the conservation of garments within archives – a hint to the museum’s storage rooms and Lanvin’s incredible patrimonial collection. ( Olivier Saillard had already used this aesthetic for his 2012 Balenciaga exhibition at the Cité de la Mode et du Design)
Finally, what I also enjoyed was Alber Elbaz’s refusal to include any of his designs within the exhibition, letting the sole focus of the display being Jeanne Lanvin and thus avoiding the usual game of comparisons. Alber Elbaz’s participation was “confined” to texts and the scenography which is quite relevant when we know how talented the designer is to imagine the displays of his shops’ windows.
Although according to my personal taste, I believe the exhibition could have been further in evoking all the aspects of Jeanne Lanvin’s creativity: her Art Deco interiors, her lifestyle designs…This exposition is surely one of the most beautiful and interesting I have visited these last months or should I even say, years…
The catalogue: Grossiord, Sophie. Jeanne Lanvin. Paris: Paris Musées, 2015.
One of my favorites: Merceron, Dean. Lannin. New York: Rizzoli, 2007.