Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Guest Blogger Mayra Esquivel: Biography of Jeanne Lanvin, Fashion Designer, 1867 – 1946

Every now and then, we come across someone who is able to share a new perspective on a subject of interest to our readers. Mayra Esquivel is such an individual. A student studying Fashion Design at Pima Community College, Mayra's interest in the fashion designers whose work adorned the fashionable women of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries has led to this biography of Jeanne Lanvin. We hope you enjoy Mayra's article as much as we have.

Jeanne Lanvin, Fashion Designer, 1867 – 1946
by Mayra Esquivel, Fashion Student, Pima Community College

Jeanne Lanvin. Photograph by Talbot.
Jeanne-Marie Lanvin was born in Brittany, France. She was the oldest of 11 children, since her family was really poor she didn’t have much education. When she turned 13, she was employed as an apprentice by a hat maker. Although she was spending more time cleaning the workshop and delivering the hats, she learned well how to make hats, so she started to make and sell dolls hats on her own in the toy stores of the neighborhood. In 1885, at the age of 18, with good business experience and enough savings she opened her own hat company. In the beginning it was difficult, but later on her business was successful, and she was able to expand and move to Rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré, where the company remains.

Jeanne Lanvin got married in 1896 and divorced in 1903. Born of this union was her only daughter, Marguerite. For Lanvin, being a single mother had a negative effect on her business. In 1907 she married a journalist, Xavier Melèt, but it was not a happy marriage; it was considered an arrangement of convenience. They remained married until 1953 when Melèt died.

Lanvin was the first to design children’s clothes. She designed for her daughter, using her as a model, and creating scaled-down versions of clothing for adults. Her hat clients loved her designs and the fact that mother and daughter could wear similar clothes. In 1909, Jeanne began making dresses for sale. She made no distinction between women’s and children’s wear; her designs were youthful, sophisticated, and featured exquisite handmade detail. The demand for her designs persuaded Jeanne to open a couture house selling mother-daughter garments and, thus, started her career as “Grand Couturier.” Since Marguerite was the unofficial model, as she was growing, Jeanne’s collections grew to target additional clients matching her daughter’s age.

Marie Blanche Polignac, née Lanvin
Her designs were easy to recognize for her skilful use of embroidery, fine craftsmanship, and a particular shade of blue, “Lanvin Blue”. The inspirations in her embroidery patterns were influenced by other cultures: from the Middle East, the geometric shapes, vertical rows, and horizontal border patterns; from China, the traditional symbol of longevity. Her designs used silk, taffeta, velvet, silk chiffon, organza, lace, tulle, and included a lot of free-flowing ribbons, ruffles, flowers, and linked ornaments like appliqué, couching, quilting, parallel stitching, and her main touch, the embroidery. Her creations were considered ultra-feminine, with fitted bodices and long, full skirts. The “robe de style” was one of the well-known collections. Features often found in her designs included scooped-necks, drop waists, cap sleeves, or sleeveless bodices, and full skirts with volume at the hips. These designs were comfortable and classic, appropriate for all ages of women. In order to keep the “robe de style” interesting from season to season she updated her designs. In the mid-1920’s they were abundant, including double silhouettes, and three-quarter-length skirts. In the mid-1930’s they came full circle, with floor-length skirts. Even though Lanvin’s designs were not always contemporary, she was an advocate of modernity. She was a designer who didn’t drape or sketch her ideas, and her inspirations came from many art movements.

"It's still raining", fashion plate from La Gazette du Bon Ton, 1915, showing (left to right) tailored suits by Paquin, Lanvin, and Doeuillet and a coat by Paquin.
In 1926, Lanvin added a menswear division, becoming the first couturier that dressed whole families. For the men’s collection, Jeanne hired her nephew Yves and they succeed among ambassadors, members of the Academie Francaise, and aristocrats. Later she launched an interior-design branch, run by designer Armand-Albert Reteau. She created dozens of perfumes, but none of them were commercially successful until she designed Arpège. The perfume was introduced on the 30th birthday of her daughter and it became the most successful perfume. It had the house’s logo on the bottle: Jeanne in a flowing evening dress holding Marguerite’s hands.

The key of her successful career was that she knew her clientele. Jeanne Lanvin was one of the first
designers who created a true empire; her legacy has proven timeless and is one of the oldest surviving
couture houses. In 1946, Jeanne Lanvin died and her daughter, now known as Marie-Blanced, took over the company until 1958 when she died. Now Lanvin is headed by Alber Elbaz. Elbaz is not reinventing the House of Lanvin, he is following and developing the same environment Lanvin did. His sophisticated and delicate designs create a sublime silhouette suitable and flattering for various types of bodies. He is keeping the style of youth, femininity, and beauty, the same as Jeanne Lanvin’s.

Lanvin’s client list includes celebrities as Nicole Kidman, Kate Moss, Chloé Sevigny, Sofia Coppola, First Lady Michelle Obama, Queens of Italy, Roumania and English princesses House of Lanvin has numerous international locations, several in the United States. In 2011 three boutiques were opened in Moscow. They are traditional boutiques making clothes for both mothers and daughters, in honor of Jeanne Lanvin.

Copyright 2013, Mayra Esquivel. Published with the permission of the author. All rights remain with the author.