The votes were unanimous. Reputable fashion critics from publications around the world acrimoniously panned the fall/winter 2016 collection. The collective rumble of disappointment throughout the industry was a clear reverb of mourning for Lanvin’s recently de-throned emperor. Perhaps this was because his exit was still fresh. Perhaps there was more to it.
Cathy Horyn of The Cut claimed that Elbaz’s fourteen years spent re-establishing the veteran maison had been wiped out in a mere ‘15 minutes.’ Fashion may appear to live in the now, but much like a vitamin deficiency, the diet is lacking long before the body feels the absence. Lanvin started suffering at least since 2012, both in brand persona and in that whole ‘money-makes-the-world-go-round’ kind of way, with a €30 million sales decrease between then and 2014. Though this industry that notoriously bases success on numbers, momentarily cast its own tradition aside for Mr Elbaz, where apparently fifteen minutes of Elbaz-less runway was the mother of all failures. And according to Vanessa Friedman from The New York Times, it happened in just seven minutes; ‘About halfway through the Lanvin show – the brands first since it split with its former long-term creative director, Alber Elbaz, the designer who had crafted its contemporary identity – a pall had settled over the room.’
A pall is a coffin-covering cloth.
Whilst I’m partial to a well-crafted metaphor – if at times hyperbolic – it’s safe to say the brand faced at least a very real near-death experience by internal rebellion after Elbaz’s seemingly sudden dismissal. The company’s 330 employees openly declared their loyalty to their former designer without abandon, protesting that majority shareholder Shaw-Lan Wang return to Paris from Taiwan to answer their questions. In a land that is all about who you know and how much you’re liked, it is unclear how much insider loyalty effects the perception of fashion, and is even more vague in such awkward times of change.
In some ways, it’s surprising that with so many rapid changes at such iconic brands, it’s even possible to offer any kind of real context in fashion criticism when brand identities are often blurred amidst these transitions.
Right now, ‘upheaval’ is the trend du jour with the successive departures of several creative directors from enormous fashion houses of late. In some ways, it’s surprising that with so many rapid changes at such iconic brands, it’s even possible to offer any kind of real context in fashion criticism when brand identities are often blurred amidst these transitions. In criticism, context is key, and the case in point is Lanvin where there was little besides bereavement.
But perhaps looking underneath the pall – if you will – reveals a far more subtle commentary at play. When such a venerable director is ousted on the basis of ‘business disagreements’ (to the ongoing detriment of the house), in a time when designers are departing left, right and centre, what does this say about fashion’s bigger picture? Was it indeed mourning or filtered frustration? It will be interesting to see how the industry responds to Lanvin’s pending renaissance under the direction of Bouchra Jarrar, and whether ties of loyalty to the previous designer – or to an industry that once was – are the ones that bind.
REFERENCES AND FURTHER READING
Title illustration by Darya Golova