Jeanne Lanvin was born on New Year’s day of 1867 in Paris, France. She was the eldest of 10 children of a pair of Paris journalist. She started her career at the age of 13 in the year 1880 at the hatshop of Madam Felix in the famous fashion street of Paris, the Rue du Faubourg Sant-Honore.. Then she trained as a dressmaker at a house called Talbot. In 1889 she started up her own millinery shop in the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore and added womenswear to her line.
In 1901 the Lanvin name was added to the French Fashion Yearbook (or directory of designers) and she became very popular..
In 1895 Jeanne married the Italian aristocrat Count Emilio di Pieror. In 1897 her daughter Marguerite was born. She divorced Count Pietro in 1903. However, she remarried in 1907 to a journalist named Xavir Melet, who later became the French consul in Manchester, England, although Jeanne did not live in England much.
While making hats in the first decade of the 1900’s, she also made dresses for a younger sister and her daughter. Lanvin’s clothes came to the attention of other mothers with daughters, who asked her to make dresses for them, so in 1909 Jeanne began making dresses for sale (in addition to hats) and her reputation grew in Paris as a designer of mother-daughter fashions. As can be seen from the pictures shown here of early 1910’s (Edwardian era in England) of the clothes she made, she made no distinction between women’s and children’s wear, the youthfulness of both being an important aspect of early 20th century fashion.
Jeanne’s love of Botticelli, stained glass windows and Impressionist paintings was the inspiration for her romantic clothes. She dressed the Princess de Lucinge, Sasha Guitry’s four wives, and numerous other celebrities of the day. A tulle collar worn on top of a black daydress, is shown here.
Jeanne Lanvin’s daughter Marguerite was a beautiful child and young adult, adored by her mother, with a brilliant sense of style. Her mother loved to dress her in wonderful creations. In the early 1920’s she made a very aristocratic marriage to a French Count. She was one of the leading fashion icons of the 1920’s and 1930’s. She changed her name to Marie-Blance abd became the Comtesse de Polignac, continuing to wear her mother’s beautiful gowns.
In 1913 Lanvin created her famous “robes de style” based on 18th century designs. These small waisted, full skirted dresses remained popular for many years and were fore-runners of the New Look which Dior brought out just after World War II.
In 1914 influenced by orientalism, she turned to exotic evening wear in Eastern-style velvets and satins. During the 20’s Lanvin made a simple Chemise dress which later became the basic outline for the twenties. Over the following years, she introduced several interesting developments. In 1921 a Riviera collection introduced Aztec embroidery. In 1922 a Breton suit appeared in the Lanvin collection. This comprised a gently gathered skirt, a short braided jacket with lots of small buttons and a big white organdy collar turning down over a red satin bow. A sailor hat topped the outfit.
In 1919, just after World War I ended, Jeanne introduced what was called the “Wartime Crinoline”. It was a big change from the Hobble skirt in fashion just a few years earlier (started by Poiret) and ladies preferred the new mid-calf length fuller skirt, with the waist in the proper place. One of her designs from 1919 is shown here.on the right. With this look, a parasol, a wide-brimmed hat and a fan were compulsory accessories if one wanted to be “de rigeur”. Many of her evening gowns were fringed with monkey fur, ostrich, steel beads, velvet ribbons or silk tassels.
As the 1920’s came in, dancing was the craze, so dresses got shorter, withe fringes at thehem, and a flatter chested silhouette was popular. Hair was much shorter than in the Edwardian decade and so the Cloche hat became popular. Headbands were also a craze to keep the hair in place while doing dances like the Charleston. Jeanne Lanvin kept up with all these new crazes by designing the clothes the young twenties ladies wanted. Jeanne Lanvin dressed film actresses like Mary Pickford, Marlene Dietrich and Yvonne Printemps in the 20’s and 30’s. She also had clients like the Queens of Italy and Roumania, and English princesses.
Her work was easily recognizable by her skilful use of embroidery and her fine craftsmanship as shown here from 1923. She used a particular shade of blue so often that it came to be known as “Lanvin Blue”. For Jeanne Lanvin, women were meant to wear clothes of unabashed feminity, in colours that were pretty, and whose shapes had a “young girl” look. She often set the mood with narrow empire-waisted dresses and long trailing sleeves.
In 1926 a menswear division was opened by Lanvin, and so she became the first couturier to dress whole families including sons and fathers. Her branches were opened in Nice, Cannes and Biarritz.
The fabrics that she used were silk, taffeta, velvet, silk chiffon, organza, lace, tulle, etc. She used a lot of free-flowing ribbons, ruffles, flowers, lace, mirrors, etc., and liked ornamentation like applique, couching, quilting, parallel stitching, and embroidery.
The house of Lanvin, like all other houses, suffered throughout the 2nd World War, although she kept designing.
In 1946, Jeanne Lanvin died at the age of 79. Her daughter Marie-Blanche took over the running of the house, till she herself died in 1958.
Antonio del Castillo, a Spanish designer, joined Lanvin as designer in 1950 and returned the house to great success. He remained until 1962. In 1963 Jules-Francois Crahay, a Belgian designer, took over the reins of the house, and remained till 1984. In 1982 Maryll Lanvin, the third generation of the Lanvin family, started designing for the house.
The Cosmetic giant L’Oreal acquired the house of Lanvin in 1990 and has appointed several designers thereafter.
During the 90’s in addition to presenting his own collections, Claude Montana has also been designing for Lanvin. Giorgio Armani also designed for a while. From 1997 to 2001 Christina Ortiz was the chief designer for haute couture. From 1997 to 2001 Lanvin’s ready-to-wear collections were being designed by ex-Versace, ex-Herve Leger designer Ocimar Versolato.
In August 2001 an investor group led by Shaw Lan Wang, a Taiwanese media baroness, took over the house of Lanvin. They appointed Israeli-born designer Elber Albaz as the new creative director of Lanvin. His first collection was Fall 2002.
Elbaz’s simple, feminine clothing, which has been compared to Lanvin’s 1920s outfits, has been lauded by the fashion press.
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