That Lanvin has been through some rough times is news to no one, having undergone extended tumult since 2015. Here’s where it’s at now: The oldest, continuously-running French couture house – founded in Paris in 1889 by Jeanne Lanvin – is owned by the Chinese conglomerate Fosun International, which has hired the 31-year-old Frenchman Bruno Sialelli as its creative director.
Sialelli comes with a CV that covers women’s design at Acne Studios, Paco Rabanne and a pre-Demna Gvasalia Balenciaga; as well as the development of menswear at Jonathan Anderson’s Loewe reboot. Still, his new role is probably one of the toughest jobs around. The women’s and men’s designers behind Lanvin’s 2001 revival – Alber Elbaz and Lucas Ossendrijver respectively – had both been beloved by the fashion set before their unexpected dismissals and the brand’s fade into notoriety.
The biggest challenge Sialelli faces is perhaps that of defining a direction for the house, without attempting to emulate bygone glories. Sometimes, in order to carve out a future, some ideas might simply need to be jettisoned. With his Fall/Winter 2019 debut, there’s a clear sense of a window being opened; fresh air let in; the dust shaken. Think of that dust as the brand’s weighty heritage, coupled with an in-built demand for bourgeois elegance – elements that Sialelli cut apart and remade for today.
For one, the runway show – held in the monastic halls of Paris’ National Museum of the Middle Ages (how wry) – was coed; a first for the brand. Gender binaries are unsurprisingly passe for the Gen-Y designer. These days, men and women don’t shop exclusively in their own departments. Or as Sialelli put to it Women’s Wear Daily, it’s simply “how we shop today”. It’s perhaps smart for him to tackle the design brief from the consumers’ perspective, given the pragmatic need to bump sales and turn the company’s fortunes around.
To that end, the collection has a bit of everything. Take the opening look: a finely ribbed knit dress in Lanvin blue, cut for ease with a sewn-in capelet. Materially, it’s a step away from the charmeuse and satin tropes of old-world luxury. In place, a new sensuality more in touch with contemporary imaginations.
The tailoring is cool and casual, with tone-on-tone Laduree hues and playful details, such as sailor necklines fastened with a leather ribbon, or wide knit cummerbunds that sit across slouchy pants, creating the illusion of a waist. Prints have never quite been a brand signature, but Sialelli has dreamt up several: a new “JL” monogram; the logo of Madame Lanvin swinging her daughter Marguerite; Babar the elephant from the French children’s book series, and more – most of it decidedly young and on vintage-kissed silhouettes that are all the rage with that very demographic.
So this is #newlanvin – nothing like the Lanvin of the recent past, and evidently shaped by the eclectic tastes and sensibilities of Sialelli. If we are to remember the lore of Jeanne Lanvin founding the label because of the clothes she had made for her daughter, perhaps the only running thread now is that it is rightfully a brand meant for the next generation. Here’s to its bright new son.