Up above are the workrooms: Lacroix’s couture studio employs 25 seamstresses, divided into two divisions: flou and tailleur. Flou is concerned with the draping and the design of things, while tailleurs—tailors—do the very technical sewing, constantly ironing as they go. The rooms are unabashedly feminine: The walls are lined with photographs of newborn babies, birthday parties, graduations. The women themselves are not glamorous—they have the home-rinsed frizzy hair and geometric glasses of the Frenchwomen who live in Le Corbusier–esque buildings on the outskirts of town. They work in almost complete silence and answer questions mostly by holding up their work. One woman is folding a long ribbon of silk into an elaborate pattern of roses, which she stitches onto the hem of a coat; another is building up, layer by layer, a shoulder pad with the elaborate layering of stitches and fabric insulation of an old French technique called picotage. In an all-white room, two seamstresses are already working on a wedding dress due in September, hand-encrusting whisper-thin layers of lace.
Couture clothing is only produced if an order is made. If that happens, the premier of the couture atelier takes 30 measurements of the client’s form and then has a mannequin built in her likeness. While the client is expected to schedule a number of fittings, relative to the complexity of the design, fittings can also be done on this new, true-to-life mannequin. It’s estimated that there are, worldwide, only about 150 customers for couture—the prices begin at about $50,000 for a simple suit. Clients these days come mostly from Asia or the Middle East.
When Christian Lacroix says that he did not do this collection for himself, this is what he’s talking about. “I have my reason to be strong,” he says. “All of them, with this magic in their fingers, they have hours on the Metro back and forth; they might have unemployed husband, or difficult children, they are not on the most beautiful level of the French social scale. But they have this. They have gold in their fingers, and I would like to save them first. Because, you know, this is the heart.”
Why the Falics wanted Lacroix is not entirely clear. Lacroix imagines that the wives Falic became his fans when, earlier this decade, he designed collections for LVMH-owned Pucci. “The wives were very, very, very, very excited,” Lacroix says. “I was doing Pucci, so they were in love because, you know, they are Miami and Florida and all of that.”
There were problems with the Falic Group from the start. According to Lacroix, his new partners began with a long-term view of the company that happily dovetailed with his own: They would cancel the diffusion lines and buy back as many licenses as possible in an effort to shore up Lacroix’s position as a maker of extremely high-end luxury product. He would continue with his biannual ready-to-wear collections, and he would also continue to design haute couture. The brand would have a moment to reposition itself and, ideally, reapproach the licensee market from a newer, more elevated position. This method became popular in the nineties, when Tom Ford did it at Gucci, and then Burberry followed suit. The problem with this strategy is, of course, that it eliminates all of the immediate moneymakers, however modest, in the interest of making even more money later on.
So the Falics shut everything down and decided to open two splashy stores, one in Las Vegas, Nevada, and one in New York. The New York store opened in April 2008 with a giant party at the Gramercy Park Hotel, where Lacroix snuggled between Sarah Jessica Parker and Diane Von Furstenberg at dinner. “The party was perfect,” he recalls. “But the boutique”—overseen by members of the Falic staff—“was a little bit cheap. It was a little bit blah.”
The morning after the opening, Lacroix had breakfast with Simon Falic and was told that, given the financial crisis, the brothers no longer wanted to continue, that they were looking for a buyer for Lacroix.
“I don’t know,” Lacroix sighs. “Maybe all of their money was with Monsieur Madoff.”
The Falics had found a buyer, they said, an elusive Santa Barbara, California, businessman who has a commodities company. “He is like Howard Hughes,” Lacroix says. “He has never appeared. In April, they said that he was poisoned in a Chinese restaurant, so he could not sign. In May, they said that he was stuck in his house, burning in the fires. In June, it was his prostate! I called the French Ministry of Finance and they had never heard of him.” So the Falics, in spite of themselves, remain the owners of the house.