Lanvin is an iconic label in the pantheon of elegant French labels, but the woman who established it has been somewhat edited out of the picture. Paris’ fashion museum, the Palais Galliera, has put forth a stunning new exhibition to bolster the originator, Jeanne Lanvin, and celebrate the gorgeousness of her vintage creations.
Jeanne was born a legit Parisienne in 1868, one of 11(!) children. She began her career in hat-making and apprenticed for a milliner until she set up her own business in 1885. She grew and pushed into multiple realms, expanding from womenswear into to furs, perfumes and wedding dresses, adding a children’s line, a men’s line and even a sportswear line.
The first garment on display is dubbed the “My Fair Lady” dress, a pretty number featuring horizontal layers of tulle, a black ribbon waist and volume in the sleeves and skirt. The marvels thereafter make the eye careen from confection to confection: a satin robe du soir with geometric bifurcated train, a gold-threaded coat with a peachy silk-satin lining, a rose crepe and silk-satin dress adorned with pearls, beads and metallic thread, a pair of slender black-and-white dresses with synthetic rhodoid neck pieces that add geometry and texture.
Everything is displayed in individual glass vitrines, many with angular propped mirrors to make the details even more distinguishable and magical. The embellishments Jeanne applied created rich detailing, be it the beading on a cream-colored bolero in pale crepe or a spangly silk velvet maillot encrusted with shimmering Swarovski crystals. Even her pared-down garments show immaculate attention to detail: a wool crepe cape du jour, for example, has a thin metal closure that, upon closer inspection, is actually a teensy slithery gold snake.
One room is dedicated to “robes de style”—dresses deemed “a descendant of the wartime crinoline,” characterized by their long flared skirts, tiny waists and fitted bodices. Such dresses were further prettied with flounces, ribbons, rosettes or bows—the ultimate girlish getup. Two especially stunning examples are shown together, including an ivory silk dress with black velvet and pearl appliqués and a taffeta bronze-hued number adorned with a fabric-petal flower.
To complement the legacy of her garments and accessories, images of Jeanne Lanvin are peppered throughout. A black-and-white series by Laure Albin Guillot captures Jeanne in the ’30s testing swathes of fabric, draping a silhouette over a model’s body or just sitting elegantly in her mansion. Another set of photographs, taken in 1912 by Henri Manuel, feature Lanvin’s commercial dressing room, where women swan around in gorgeous gowns. But the best image is one that’s immediately visible in the gallery: a black-and-white gelatin print by François Kollar from 1937. In the photo, Jeanne Lanvin’s hands are slightly veined, but clearly elegant and experienced. It’s the ultimate symbolic shot, honoring the basic tools with which she created everything from meticulous details to an amazing fashion empire from scratch.