Awakened by Prince Elbaz
“La Cavallini” evening gown (1925). Patrimoine Lanvin © Katerina Jebb, 2014
The first thing you see when you enter the exhibition “Jeanne Lanvin” at the Palais Galliera is the “My Fair Lady” dress (1939), sculpted – and that’s the right word – from a ribbon of white organdy wound around and around and attached to a base of tulle, a breathtaking piece that seems to vibrate from a distance.
That sets the stage for more stunning surprises to come from Lanvin (1867-1946), who is less celebrated than such contemporaries as Coco Chanel. Alber Elbaz, the house of Lanvin’s current artistic director, who helped curate the show with the Palais Galliera’s director, Olivier Saillard, and was present at the opening, noted that Lanvin “didn’t get the recognition she deserved; her work was so simple.”
Indeed, many of the dresses here are almost nun-like with their simple structure, but they always include a killer detail that turns simplicity into elegant luxury: fur pockets and cuffs and textured fabric for a simple black silk-satin coat, a plastron of ivory cabochons with matching cufflinks on the black “Sèvres” dress, a double train ending in squares topstitched with a geometric pattern for the “Phèdre” evening gown. Other pieces, like “La Diva” evening gown, are distinguished by sumptuous embroidery. This approach
Maison Lanvin drawing: “La Cavallini & Rita” (1925). © Patrimoine Lanvin
reminds me of the way the chicest Frenchwomen dress today: a simple base with perhaps one eccentric or colorful detail.
Elbaz pointed out that Lanvin’s attention to detail was such that in one piece she had a cross worked into the fabric in a place where it wouldn’t even be seen.
When he went into the Palais Galliera’s archives to prepare the exhibition, he found boxes that had not been opened in a hundred years and was impressed by their state of preservation. “I would like to see my work treated this way a hundred years from now,” he said.
He took inspiration from the way the dresses looked lying in their boxes for the design of the exhibition, in which many pieces lie flat on tables and are reflected in mirrors set above them at an angle. “I thought of Sleeping Beauty when I saw them laid out in the boxes,” he said.
Many of the pieces here show the influence of Asia and Art Deco on Lanvin, who was a true architect when it came to cutting a garment. Elbaz pointed out one complex dress held up by its ingenious cut without the help of the wires a lesser designer would have used.
Elbaz calls this a “whispering” exhibition, because of Lanvin’s quiet influence. She may not have been flashy or led a scandalous life, but her clothing would seem to have had a great impact on the idea of French elegance.
Palais Galliera, Musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris: 10, av. Pierre Ier de Serbie, 75116 Paris. Métro: Iéna or Alma-Marceau. Tel.: 01 56 52 86 00. Open Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-6pm (Thursday until 9pm). Closed Monday and public holidays. Admission: €9. Through August 23, 2015. www.palaisgalliera.paris.fr
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