PARIS, France — Lanvin is a brand in limbo. Sat front and centre at the show tonight, its owner Mrs Shaw-Lan Wang applauded emphatically at a collection which ultimately missed the whimsical imprint of its departed prince Alber Elbaz, the designer who turned Lanvin into the brand that ladies the world over know and love.
Maybe (just maybe) if what we saw tonight felt new, then it wouldn't have mattered so much. Maybe if it tugged at unknown desires, we could have appreciated the need for new blood at one of France's oldest ready-to-wear houses. But that wasn’t the case for Pre-Fall and, despite no shortage of shimmer and shine, that was the case for the internal design team’s first runway show sans creative director, which felt laboured and lacklustre.
During Elbaz’s reign there was always a method to the madness. He reduced every collection into a ladylike cocktail wardrobe from which sprung the razzle-dazzle party dresses, the deconstructed tuxedo, brilliant costume jewels (Elie Top designed those) and the flashy outerwear with which he helped to redefine the exuberant joy of Parisian luxury. Each of those elements were in place for Autumn 2016, yet like square pegs in round holes, few pieces sung with the fragility and balanced sense of drama and optimism that defined his decadent clothes.
In between the opening look, a shawl collared frilly skirt suit in ice blue silk, and its closing echo (black jacquard encrusted with crystals), many boxes were ticked. There were luscious ombré fox furs amongst the satin peplum blouses and shifts; big trousers came in crushed velvet, and wide shouldered blazers and coats read 1940s or 1980s whether cut in glossy patent leather or a swirling moiré jacquard.
With current studio director Chemena Kamali having jumped ship from Chloé last year, it wasn’t difficult to divine the influence of Chloé designer Clare Waight Keller in the tiered and ruffled evening dresses, except here they appeared as floral brocades, patches of printed velvet and oily, drop-waisted lamé. For nearly fifteen years, it was Elbaz’s deft hand that draped, lined, paneled and sculpted those heady textiles with the lightness of jersey and chiffon. His successors would do well to handle the profound legacy they’ve inherited with the dexterity it deserves.