Jeanne Lanvin the visionary: French fashion, beauty, and lifestyle
Creativity, class, family and classic French flair – elements that are infused in the brand’s identity – are the very values that Jeanne Lanvin stood for herself, as a woman, as a designer and as an entrepreneur.
“It’s not a lion, and it’s not a horse,” said former creative director, Alber Elbaz, referring to the logo of the iconic French brand Lanvin. Designed by artist Paul Iribe, the logo is in fact a heartwarming image of founder Jeanne Lanvin and her daughter, Marguerite, holding hands.
Born in Paris in 1867, Lanvin unapologetically embodied the ideals of la femme française. With her bold vision, she built a creative and business empire that spanned her versatile interests ranging from:
children’s clothing, and
haute couture, to
Behind each item and collection was a personal story, memory and moment of sensual appeal that inspired Lanvin to create.
Her passion and rigor came across in every aspect of her being, making Jeanne Lanvin’s approach and aesthetic so endearingly and quintessentially French.
Jeanne Lanvin: milliner, mother and maverick
Trained as an apprentice milliner, 22-year-old Jeanne Lanvin opened her first hat shop in 1889 on the mezzanine of 16 rue Boissy d’Anglas and, four years later, procured the commercial lease to move to the celebrated rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. ‘Lanvin (Mademoiselle Jeanne) Modes’ would soon become an address on the radar of every fashionable Parisienne.
With the growing success of her boutique, She became a name to be reckoned with in fashion circles. But unlike many of her contemporaries (Chanel, Schiaparelli, Poiret), Lanvin was a private person committed to family life. Being a mother to little Marguerite most significantly informed her perspective in private and professional affairs.
By first dazzling her daughter, little by little, she will dazzle the world, wrote eminent novelist Louise de Vilmorin. And she did!
When Marguerite was just a little girl, Lanvin began making the most luxurious outfits for her daughter. Taking note, a number of elite and wealthy women began commissioning designs for their own children as well as themselves.
A professional milliner till now, Lanvin saw an opportunity in her newfound success as a clothing designer and decided to devote a part of her store to a children’s department and subsequently the Young Ladies’ and Women’s department.
Her flattering Robe de Style was a welcome and more inclusive alternative to the flapper and garçonne dresses of the time – she became known for her romantic ruffles, sumptuous choice of fabrics, embellishments, and vivid embroidery.
Lanvin’s impeccable designs were the toast of the town and unsurprisingly, won her a seat at the prestigious Chambre Syndicale de la Couture (the Paris Fashion Council) in 1909.
Lanvin: the original French concept store?
Every moment in Jeanne Lanvin’s life had the potential to stir up a pathbreaking idea. The sound of her daughter practicing the piano one day, for instance, inspired Lanvin to create the now-iconic fragrance, Arpège. She followed through on her vision by setting up her own perfume laboratory at Nanterre with perfumer Andrè Fraysse, making Lanvin one of the first fashion houses to manufacture its own fragrance.
An avid traveler, Jeanne cherished the prospect of new and exciting discoveries in foreign lands. One of these was the Fra Angelico fresco, which she spotted on a trip to Florence in the 1920’s. Inspired by the visual, Lanvin decided to open her own dye factory and produce the same cornflower shade which would come to be known as the famous ‘Lanvin blue’, a staple ever since in multiple Lanvin collections.
As the brand took on a new life with each of Lanvin’s ventures, it became clear that Jeanne Lanvin was selling more than a clothing line – she was selling a way of life.
The most convincing testament to her versatility, perhaps, was Lanvin’s pioneering work in interior design. Much before the term ‘collaboration’ was a part of the creative and business lexicon, Lanvin joined hands with architect and designer Armand-Albert Rateau, a graduate of the famous École Boulle.
Together, they opened a ‘pavilion dedicated to the art of living’ at 15 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. The store offered curtains, furniture, rugs, and other home décor items typical of the Art Deco style of the era.
The collection was an instant hit.
Children’s clothing, haute couture, dyes, fragrances and furniture – all under the same label! In today’s era of trendy concept stores like Merci, Ines de la Fressange and Smallable, the idea might seem less bizarre. But for the early twentieth century, Lanvin’s vision for her eponymous brand had to be considered daring.
A visionary and true femme française at heart, however, made her own destiny by following her instincts, staying true to herself and showing appreciation for life, love and luxury.
Jeanne Lanvin: the living legacy
‘Madame’, as Jeanne was fondly christened by her staff, passed away peacefully at the age of 79 in 1946. Lanvin’s daughter, Marguerite, then served as the president of the Lanvin house and continued to design for the brand till 1950. While the brand saw its share of struggles in harmonizing creative and business interests in subsequent years, the leadership of creative director Alber Elbaz was especially notable.
The legendary life of Jeanne Lanvin continues to be revered and celebrated till date.
A 2015 retrospective exhibition in her honor, curated by Alber Elbaz and Le Palais Galliera, brought public attention to Jeanne’s extraordinary story, talent and foresight.
One can still admire the famous ‘Lanvin blue’ at Musée des Arts Décoratifs where Jeanne Lanvin’s Art Deco-style bedroom, designed by Rateau, is preserved in all its glory.
Contemporary runway looks of the Lanvin brand, too, pay tribute to the legacy of its founder. Romantic bows, ruffles, embellishments, and Robe de Style silhouettes, Jeanne Lanvin’s signature design innovations, appear as bold influences in several recent collections.
What are your thoughts on Jeanne Lanvin’s story? Did you find anything particularly French about her personality? Let us know in the comments below.
I graduated from Yale University in 2018 as a History & French major and will be attending law school at UC Berkeley. I am in love with France, its language, people & culture. My passions include art, fashion, food & travel. Check out my venture Art & Style or connect with me on LinkedIn/Instagram.
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