By Robin Sayers
It was in 1909 that Jeanne Lanvin was admitted into the Syndicat de la Couture—the French organization that formally granted couturier status to designers. So how is the world’s oldest extant couture house celebrating its unprecedented century of chic? By opening a standalone boutique stateside, something the brand hasn’t had since fashion superstar Alber Elbaz was named artistic director back in 2001.
The doors won’t open onto Fifth Avenue, Rodeo
Drive or the Magnificent Mile. No, the address will be none other than Bal Harbour Shops, a fact that might surprise casual observers, but not true Lanvin devotees.
Why Florida? Though Elbaz runs the formidable label from the company’s headquarters on the rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré in Paris, he himself is a product of environs with warmer climes and palm trees: Born and raised in Morocco until age 10, he spent the remainder of his youth in Israel. Just a quick peek at Lanvin’s colorful and exuberant resort 2010 collection, inspired by Acapulco, makes abundantly clear his intense passion for destinations well south of the eighth arrondissement.
Coming to the US will be something of a homecoming for Elbaz, who, after college and serving in the Israeli military, landed in New York with $800 and a dream. His first gig, working for a manufacturer of mother-of-the-bride apparel, proved to be less than glamorous. His big break came when, out of a sea of contenders, Elbaz was selected to assist the most American of designers, the legendary Geoffrey Beene. “I called him in the hospital, about a week before he died,” Elbaz told New York. “I told him, ‘Mr. Beene, thank you for teaching me everything I know.’”
What Elbaz knows is how to dress women, and not just tall, pin-thin 16-year-old models, but rather the entire range the gender offers. “I don’t relate to perfection,” he once told The New York Times. “And neither do the women who buy my clothes.” Writing of Elbaz in Time when the designer was named to the magazine’s prestigious Time 100 list, Natalie Portman called him “the ultimate fashion philosopher/ mentor. He says things to me like, ‘Wear flats. You’re short. It’s much cooler not to pretend.’”
Working under the Lanvin title, Elbaz quickly started producing some of the fashion world’s most coveted pieces, a feat he kept repeating season after season. Just four years into his Lanvin tenure, the Council of Fashion Designers of America named him International Designer of the Year. In addition to Portman, other famous fans here in the States include First Lady Michelle Obama, Chloë Sevigny and Sofia Coppola.
The US joins the short list of countries (China, France, Japan, Morocco, Russia, Switzerland) that boast Lanvin boutiques. The Bal Harbour annex promises to be something truly spectacular: The 21,000-square-foot space mixes the “rough and the refined,” featuring concrete set against wood parquet flooring, industrial spotlights mixed with antique chandeliers, and exposed steel and mirrored panels juxtaposed with 1930s glamour shots. The various collections are also set within unique settings, such as wrought-iron racks and blackened bookcases.
Elbaz has his own signature style, which generally consists of a black suit with high-water pants, black rectangular glasses, black shoes and a bow tie. So, will Elbaz adapt a when-in-Rome attitude when he finds himself in the Miami area? Only time will tell.
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF LANVIN