The triumph of Alber Elbaz at Lanvin wasn’t that he delivered romance, drama, and fantasy (he did) or that he managed to charm a weary audience (he did that, too). It’s that Elbaz created an entire collection that had people saying “beautiful, wearable, desirable.”
Making clothes that look pretty on a professional model, who’s had professional hair and makeup, and whose only job is to walk down the runway and have her picture taken, is one thing. But Elbaz thinks past that to an actual customer who is likely not a 19-year-old sylph. Lanvin is expensive; skirts start at $900, dresses at $1,500, coats at $1,800. There might be a few young women who will buy it; however, the real Lanvin client is a woman with a meeting to go to and a couple of kids and five other places to be right now. She wants to feel beautiful and sexy, but she wants to be able to move, to get in a cab, to stride through her life at full speed and still feel elegant.
That’s the sweet spot Elbaz hit so precisely. A champion at draping, he used his skill (and a gossamer-weight, high-tech polyester fabric) to reinvent clothing’s most basic pieces—blouses, skirts, trench coats—with a sophisticated sexiness. Necklines slithered off collarbones, gowns clung gently to hips, dresses had lavish ruffles. And his confident use of color (giddy, brilliant hues like amethyst, garnet, canary, cobalt) looked both feminine and thrilling.
It’s one thing when the editors give a collection a standing ovation; they’re thinking about how those clothes will look in a fashion spread, not necessarily whether women will wear them. It’s another when the retailers stand; they’re thinking, These clothes might actually sell. When both do it, it’s a phenomenon, and it happened at Lanvin, on the last day of the collections. Everybody thought they were fashion-numb. Then came the show of the season.