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A Lanvin Manifesto for the Digital Age

Alber Elbaz reflects on the role of designer as image-maker with a collection that produced some particularly memorable — what else? — images.
Lanvin Spring/Summer 2016 | Source: Indigital
By
  • Tim Blanks

PARIS, France — While he was preparing for an upcoming exhibition, Alber Elbaz went through hundreds of the toiles, the bare-bone prototypes, which had been created for his Lanvin collections over the years. In the moment, they rarely satisfied him, but looking back, he was impressed. And that got him thinking about the efficacy of the unfinished, exposing the process of creation. Raw-edged hems are now relatively common sights — we've certainly seen them at Lanvin before — but Elbaz went further with his new collection. Not just raw edges, but basting stitches and fraying tweeds, as unfinished as the loose chignons with the cut-it-myself fringe the models were sporting. And then there was humble calico; sitting beside the duchesse satin that has long been an Elbaz favourite.

He clearly had fun. The combination of high and low, rich and poor let him play a little (being creative with calico and taffeta or leopard print in the same outfit will do that for a designer). But, as usual, he was posing questions every step of the way; to the point where he felt this collection was practically a manifesto for fashion in an age when the digital is dominant. Is timelessness still relevant? How did designers go from being couturiers to image-makers? If you don’t make a noise, can you survive? he wondered.

The answers were in the clothes Elbaz showed. The opener — a white cotton shirt, a pair of black pants — could scarcely be less loud, but its severe chic spoke volumes about the transformative alchemy of design. Even calico could look couture-worthy. There was better to come. “I want to make fashion more democratic,” Elbaz said. So, for women “who don’t want to work out for eight hours a day, or live on salad,” he offered a string of gorgeously toned dresses draped over shapely stretch bodysuits. “If women can buy their own body, maybe the body is the new dress,” he mused. That rather oblique statement aside, these particular looks had a definite ka-pow factor that would work yesterday, today or tomorrow. Meaning that, yes, timelessness is still relevant.

As for noise-making, Elbaz lulled his audience with a passage of perfectly formed black lace dresses, with ballet flats as an innocent addendum, then he pumped up the volume with a series of outfits that consummately defined the designer-as-image-maker. "We have to create a buzz to sell the bag, the shoe, the perfume," Elbaz acknowledged with a smidgeon of rue. So he wove the buzz into flashily coloured dresses and coats that featured… bags, shoes and perfume bottles. And the address of Lanvin's Paris flagship. As a branding exercise, it was relatively subtle, yet still in-your-face enough for some post-show polarising.

Look at it this way: Elbaz was actually having his cake and eating it too, poking fun at the idea of image-making, while making clothes that will undoubtedly provide some potent images when they show up on a screen near you some time soon.

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