On its 131st anniversary, Lanvin, France’s oldest fashion house in operation, faces an uncertain future. After several years of decay, Bruno Sialelli, its creative director since 2019, seems to have put it back on the path of growth, although it is still a long way from the figures once achieved by Alber Elbaz, and the health crisis must not have helped. The history of the maison begins with Jeanne Lanvin, its founder (Paris,1867- Paris, 1946). According to Lanvin, Jeanne was the eldest of 11 siblings, and from an early age she showed great independence and strength of character. At the age of 13, she began working for a milliner at the Faubourg Saint-Honoré as an errand girl, and thanks to her determination she soon became an apprentice. With her talent and creativity, at the age of 22 she opened her own parisian atelier with great success.
In 1897, during her first marriage, her daughter Marguerite, the great love of her life, was born. Thanks to her, the brand was about to take a new direction: Jeanne loved to design the most beautiful and sophisticated garments for her little girl and this attracted the attention of her clients. And, just like this, Lanvin’s career in fashion began, designing children’s clothes inspired by Marguerite. From there he moved on to creating coordinated outfits for mothers and daughters and, finally, to haute couture. The bond between Jeanne and Marguerite is forever reflected in the house’s emblem, a drawing by Paul Iribe titled “La mère et l’enfant”, based on a photograph of the two at a masquerade ball (see image gallery).
In the following decades Jeanne Lanvin continued to consolidate and expand her empire: sportswear, menswear, furs, perfumes, homewear, etc. until her death in 1946. The keys notes of the original Lanvin style are this specialisation in children’s fashion, the mastery in the use of colour and ornaments (embroidery, ribbons, pearls, crystals…), the so-called Lanvin blue (inspired, it seems, by the works of Fra Angelico) and a particular silhouette, the robe de style, which the firm popularised in the 1920s.
After Jeanne Lanvin’s death, the firm continued under the direction of her daughter and, later, other members of the family. Despite having great in-house designers such as Spaniard Antonio del Castillo in the 1950s and Claude Montana in the 1990s, its fame was gradually fading out.
In 2001, the brand was acquired by the investment group Harmonie S.A. led by Shaw-Lan Wang, a Taiwanese millionaire. Alber Elbaz was appointed Lanvin’s global artistic director and with him the brand rose from its ashes. According to the BOF article Can anyone save Lanvin now? Elbaz managed to turn Lanvin into a star brand known for its feminine values and impeccable cocktail dresses. “Elbaz may have been a taskmaster in the design studio, but he also brought rare business management and team building capabilities to his role”. In addition to that, the menswear line, under the direction of Lucas Ossendrijver from 2005 to 2018, delivered good results and some very successful hits such as the Urban Sneakers with patent leather toe caps or the appointment of Lanvin as tailor of Arsenal F.C.
Following a series of disagreements with Shaw-Lan Wang, Elbaz left Lanvin in 2015. He was replaced, first by Bouchra Jarrar and later by Oliver Lapidus, both hand-picked by Wang with disastrous results. They consolidated the downward trend that was already glimpsed in Elbaz’s final period. Finally, in 2018, Wang sold 80% of a struggling Lanvin to the Chinese conglomerate Fosun, which was quick to appoint a CEO trained in the LVMH empire and began the search for a new global creative director to relaunch the brand once again.
The chosen one was Bruno Sialelli, a young French designer who worked with Jonathan Anderson at Loewe, where he was responsible for menswear. Since his arrival in 2019, his collections have been well received by critics; although in the beginning he was criticised for being too influenced by the spirit of Loewe, he has gradually evolved into a more feminine style aligned with the house core values. Sales seem to support his work, although the Lanvin of today is light years away from the one that amassed 235 million euros in revenue in 2012 under Elbaz command. Sialelli, however, seems dexter in combining Lanvin’s DNA with the aesthetics and cultural references that appeal to today’s luxury consumer. He is determined to strengthen the accessories line, which is essential in today’s luxury market, and has rescued a JL print created in the 1970s by Jules-François Crahay, in a discreet concession to the prevailing, profitable, logomania. After a few dark years, the future looks bright for Lanvin again, but only time will tell whether or not Sialelli’s strategy works out.