A vintage photo of Jean Lanvin's dress-filled office.
This year is Lanvin‘s 125th anniversary, and to help mark the achievement during Paris Fashion Week, editors were invited to view the office of Jeanne Lanvin, which sits right above the company’s Rue du Faubourg St Honoré store.
The space is still as it was in the 1930s, and looks very much like it does in this picture. But it’s what you don’t see that’s so fascinating. The house is prepping for an exhibit at the Palais Galliera in 2015, which means Lanvin’s rich history will be on display for everyone to enjoy. But until then, here are eight tidbits I culled from my brief-but-enchanting visit to her workspace:
1. She was one of the first designers to use lamé. Which is also a favorite fabric of her successor, Alber Elbaz.
Dolls fashioned after Lanvin and her daughter, Margueritte.
2. She was a doll maker. Lanvin’s business really started with hats, but for quite a long time she would also make dolls and sell them at fairs. In the office, there is set of dolls depicting the Lanvin logo. (The logo, by the way, is a silhouette of a photo of Lanvin and her beloved daughter, Marguerite.)
3. She employed 1,200 people by 1920. Lanvin hired her own embroiderers, seamstresses and tailors to build the business. Everything was done in-house so that it could be up to her own standards — and exclusive. To put that number in perspective, there are now only about 250 employees working at the corporate office in Paris.
4. She was one of the first designers to do four seasons. And each season would include more than 200 looks.
A look from 1927.
5. She did not begin with a sketch. Lanvin would drape fabric on a dress form and design a garment from there. When it was finished, she would send it to the artist, who would sketch it for the look book. We got to peek through several years of those books, some of which were more than 100 years old. Amazingly, the paint still looked vibrant.
6. She had a diverse business. At one point, the Lanvin portfolio included hats, couture, perfume, makeup, childrenswear, menswear, home and bridal. Sounds like a lifestyle brand, doesn’t it?
7. She was modern in other ways, too. Lanvin ran a nursery on the premises for her employees’ children. She was also married and divorced twice. And she worked up until her death in 1946.
8. She gained inspiration from travel, just as today’s creative directors do. Inspiration trips are such a big part of the design process for so many modern designers, but I always inferred that they were the result of the speedy fashion cycle— it’s more difficult to come up with a creative concept in such a short amount of time, so one must seek outside influences, right? But that’s a naïve way to look at it. Lanvin and her contemporaries were also eager to push themselves. In her office, we saw a printed sari and chainmail acquired in India, as well as Japanese cotton that was transformed into a skirt.