Having climbed one of the long curving staircases of the Palais Galliera in Paris, I am welcomed by a mother and child embracing. This is not your typical family scene, but the black and gold figures of the Jeanne Lanvin logo, designed by Paul Iribe in 1909. Illustrating her design ethos and inspiration, it mirrors one’s welcome into her open arms.
Walking into Olivier Saillard’s carefully curated exhibit, I am met by a world of glass cases, each displaying a beautiful specimen of Lanvin’s legendary career. Some gowns lie flattened for us to examine, pressed like daisies in a hymnbook or butterflies pinned in a collector’s study, all beautifully reflected in the adjoining mirrored screens. Others stand erect on mannequins, which stare unseeing at the passers by, socialising in the salons of the Musée de la Mode.
Each dress, gown, manteau, robe de style, mariée, or grand soir, reveal a fascination with decoration and trimming, exotic and ethnic embroidered motifs, crystal and pearl, ribbons and roses. Exquisite, light fabrics, often very simply cut, seem to play merely a supporting role to the jewelled rainbow of colours - black against white, blue in all its myriad forms, Fra Angelico, bleu - azur, lavande, vitrail, marine, and metallics. Even the bonnets, or enfant-jeune fille ensembles, where her career began as a contemporary to the younger Gabrielle Chanel serve as demonstration of her eternal style.
The 1925 L’Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriel (now shortened to Deco!) marked the moment when modernism popularised abstraction and geometry, and Lanvin, ever the innovator, had exhibited cubist sweater designs alongside her signature gowns. Their simple upper bodies emphasised their full skirts, and proved reminiscent of eighteenth-century corsets and panniers. By the end of the thirties, Lanvin’s gowns became more dramatic, utilising plastics and new artificial materials.
To enter Lanvin’s world of haute couture, we only need to visit the first half of the twentieth-century. Although Lanvin is the longest reigning haute couture fashion house, still extant and flourishing today, she herself did not live to see the fashions change after the Second World War, or thanks to the freedoms of the sixties. That being said, her effortless style and legendary design still flow through the streets of Paris; Lanvin is eternal.
Leaving the exquisite refinement, delicacy and enchantment reminiscent of La Gazette du Bon Ton and Diaghilev’s Les Biches, I am deposited at the bottom of the long curving staircase, feeling like Cinderella after the ball, delivered once more into the Paris of today.
Jeanne Lanvin exhibition is at the Palais Galliera Musee de la Mode de la Ville de Paris from 8 March - 23 August 2015.
Painting: Portrait of Jeanne Lanvin by Clémentine Hélène Dufau, 1925