Jeanne Lanvin and The House of Lanvin

Lanvin fashion house, like all influential French fashion houses, was run by a family for a very long time and also was one of the last one to be managed by the family that founded it.


Lanvin fashion house like all influential French fashion houses was run by a single family for a very long time and also was one of the last one to stay being managed by the same family that founded it. Jeanne Lanvin managed to work as a modiste in the studio of famous Madame Felix and as a dress-maker for Talbot before she opened her own shop on Faubourg Saint-Honoré.


Jeanne had a phenomenal career for a modiste, and her story could be the plot of a Zola novel. She married the Italian Count di Pietro, gave birth to a daughter, then divorced and remarried the popular journalist Xavier Melet, who was later appointed as the French consul to Manchester. Melet supported her in all her endeavours, and it is mainly thanks to his support and coattails that in 1909 Madam Lanvin became a member of the main corporate organization of Parisian haute couture houses, the Syndicat de la Couture, and a fully legitimate couturier. Then the story turns Zolaesque again: it so happened that Jeanne's main model was her only daughter Marie-Blanch. Jeanne had made dresses for her as a child and then as an adolescent. Wearing these dresses Marie-Blanch shone in the high society, and eventually she too married a noble, Count Jean de Polignac. So on one hand, Marie-Blanch was an excellent promoter of her mother's work and on the other hand, the Lanvin dresses she wore drew attention to her, thus making her a standout even among the stars of the Parisian beau-monde, lavished upon by Jacques Doucet, Paul Poiret, and Madeleine Vionnet.


Marie-Blanche de Polignac assumed the managerial role of the family business after her mother's death in 1946. When Marie died in 1958 leaving no children, a spate of designers took a shot at running the House of Lanvin until Meryl Lanvin arrived in the 1980’s to gradually take over the artistic part of the business. She was the wife of Jeanne Lanvin's nephew who was also the heir to Lanvin company. The story of the House of Lanvin in the 1980’s is closely associated with Meryl; it was mainly her who created prêt-à-porter collections up to 1989, haute couture collections since 1985, as well as collections designed specifically for the Lanvin boutique in Paris. Fashion critics compared Meryl Lanvin to Marc Bohan, the art director at Christian Dior at that time, by saying that Madame Lanvin also creates clothes that are chic, and marked by good taste rather than revolutionary ingenuity. Meryl was appointed an art director in 1981 just when François Mitterrand became the president of the French Republic. The luxury goods industry was shaped in the way we know it today during Mitterrand’s France of the 1980’s: the luxury holdings LVMH and PPR, professional top managers who moved from selling yogurts to selling designer clothes, the marketing experts and their sacred knowledge that helped them gradually control creativity, and with gigantic financial and industrial corporations that were ready to make investments. The socialist era gave birth to the new glossy era with large-scale launches of new perfumes, celebrities working for fashion brands under multi-million dollar contracts, blown-out-of-proportions advertising campaigns, glamorous parties for every occasion, and a tight association between a "glossy magazine" and a "luxury company"
Платье Jeanne Lanvin, 1939 год

Back in the 1980s the nature of the old French luxury houses changed forever, and most obviously in that they were no longer family businesses any more. A new generation of businessmen appeared on the scene only interested in seeing return on their investment while the old masters were suspended from management; marketing specialists came along and dismissed artistic directors. In January 1989, Midland Bank management, the new British partner of Lanvin, bought 34 per cent of the fashion house shares and decided to dislodge Meryl Lanvin, on the basis that the company would bring solid returns through her ready-to-wear dresses and perfumes. The announcement was made on May 26 1989. Earlier that month Bernard Arnault, head of LVMH, made his first sensational appointment replacing Marc Bohan, who created Christian Dior collections for almost thirty years, with Gianfranco Ferré. Other yet more scandalous appointments would follow.

The retirement of Meryl Lanvin was not widely publicised of course. Claude Montana replaced her in just one season and created five phenomenal Lanvin couture collections, which were legendary but loss-making. After that a number of art directors came and went like ships in the night, until one day in 2002 Alber Elbaz stormed into Lanvin after his fiasco at YSL; and we all know what happened next. Elbaz sent the fashion house nuclear over the next few seasons, turning Lanvin from a straight-laced, old-school French fashion house into one of the leading global fashion brands as it remains until this day.


This dress was designed at the end of the 1980s or beginning of the 1990s and shows that the legendary Elbaz style with its emphatic lines, rough fit, and extravagance, did not come out of the blue. That crazy lemon shade with those over-the-top black dots were the manifestation of the glamorous self-confident spirit of the 1980’s. Though its complex form goes beyond the power women aesthetic, the decollete has the acute-angle lines, the skirt is made of inlays, and the use of coarse textiles resembles the famed Balenciaga’s silk gazar. However, the key point here is that the combination of colour and shape (a dress and a balloon-sleeved bolero jacket) is what makes this outfit totally capture the zeitgeist. When wearing this type of clothes you must take care in accessorizing since without a doubt you will be in the spotlight.  So don’t go over the top; restrain yourself, for example, by adding just a pair of expressive earrings.

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Author: Elena Stafyeva


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Jeanne Lanvin and The House of Lanvin


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