Lanvin.. one of the oldest fashion houses in Europe
Lanvin Paris is one of the oldest fashion houses in Europe—and perhaps even in the world. Having reached 127 years of fashion, it’s a wonder that the founder, Jeanne Lanvin, is so unknown.
To herald 1867, Jeanne was born on the 1 January, and she changed the world of fashion forever. The oldest of eleven children, she was an apprentice to a milliner on the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, Paris. By 1889, she had opened her own fashion house there, and her beaded caps and hats soon graced the heads of only the most fashionable Parisian women.
In 1897, she gave birth to Marguerite Marie White, who quickly became her muse and inspiration. While designing matching outfits for her daughter, Jeanne single-handedly created children’s fashion. Parisian mothers wanted in, requesting copies for their own children, and so the Lanvin fashion house was born. The famous Lanvin logo was even created from a photo of seamstress and daughter wearing matching hats at a costume party.
In 1909, Lanvin entered the exclusive circle of French Fashion houses, becoming couture. In 1911, she designed her first wedding dress—a flowing, romantic, sheath style. Her success grew, despite being a quiet lady who stayed out of the limelight, unlike other designers.
Lanvin was part artistic soul and part shrewd businesswoman, and she became the first designer to “consider mode as a life style”. She saw her brand as a universe, and in it she created women’s and children’s clothing, costumes, sportswear, perfume, interior décor, and lingerie. She designed outfits for every moment of a woman’s life, and in 1926 Lanvin also became the first fashion house to offer women and menswear.
Her trademark was quality, both in fabric and embellishments, which were expensive and well-crafted. She traveled widely, and was inspired by Chinese, Japanese, and Persian cultures, weaving these in to her designs. Her use of ribbons, sequins, lace, and ruffles became brand signatures, but she also embraced modern fabrics and techniques.
The quality fabrics and designs lead to her become one of the most popular and influential designers of the 20s and 30s, leading her to gain fame in her 50s. She worked closely with artists and musicians, believing that art was mode. She designed dresses to flatter all body shapes, and developed her signature style—the Robes de Style bouffant dress, in contrast to the popular chemise and flapper styles of the time, with a dropped waist and bouffant skirt.
She was well known for her use of intricate beadwork, embroideries, and trimming over light fabrics with floral patterns, creating a romantic style. Her trademark colour was Blue Cuattrocento—inspired by a Florence fresco. The cornflower blue was described “a hardened piece of heaven in a field of lavender.” To perfect the colour, she had a dye factory built in 1922, and the colour graced every collection.
In 1946, Jeanne died peacefully aged 79. When Marguerite died in 1958, the house passed through many hands. It continued under various companies but experienced a period of decline. It was eventually sold to Taiwanese businesswoman Mrs. Shaw-Lan Wang. The brand was fully revived in 2001 by designer Alber Elbaz—whose imagination echoed Jeanne’s own. Elbaz knew what women want to wear, and in 2005, he brought Lucas Ossendrijver on board to create Lanvin Homme.
In 2009, Lanvin opened its first U.S. boutique, and in 2013, became the official tailor of Arsenal F.C. In 2014, the fashion house celebrated 125 years. In 2016, Bouchra Jarrar replaced Elbaz—presenting a homage to Jeanne in a seasonal wardrobe that perfectly suited the women of Paris. After 127 years, Lanvin remains a multinational, high fashion house that embraces inventiveness and quality.