Ooh la la, Lanvin!

The house of Lanvin is 125 years old this year. Founded in 1889, it is the oldest French fashion house still in activity.

It is the label I would wear for breakfast, lunch and dinner if I was not a meagre debut author scratching out a blog post to distract from the writing I should be doing, but billionaire wordsmith Danielle Steele juggling five manuscripts at once while the New York Times Bestseller List keeps her spot warm. You may crave the pages of her blockbusters but, as Miss Steele is one of haute couture’s most prized clients, it is the contents of her wardrobe that interest me…


Move over, Danielle. My Lanvin handbag bears the same logo that has been in use since the house’s founding in 1889 and is based on an image of Jeanne Lanvin with her daughter.

Collaged  T shirt illustrations for their collaboration with H&M, the only entry level price point available

Collaged T shirt illustrations for their collaboration with H&M, the closest thing to an entry level price point the company have ever considered

From founder Jeanne Lanvin’s time to Alber Elbaz’s modern day incarnation, the house of Lanvin has both a timelessness and an of-the-moment desirability that, if it could be bottled, would have today’s number crunchers scrabbling about in the dirt of fashion’s front lines muttering of sales projections and global expansion, dousing themselves in it.

Lanvin doesn’t court trends, appeals to 18 year olds and their grandmothers despite only having one womenswear line, and doesn’t have an “accessible price point.” A friend of mine wore a Lanvin satin flower in his buttonhole to our wedding that could have sent us on honeymoon for a fortnight.

Hard to believe Lanvin’s compatriots were Elsa Schiaparelli, Madeleine Vionnet, Jean Patou. Names from the distant past. Patou is long gone, Schiaparelli and Vionnet were too, until recent decisions to reinvent the houses with new head designers at the helm have the fashion world looking to those names again.

Another of Lanvin’s peers, Coco Chanel, whose outré private life once brought her more notoriety than her clothes and whose gender reversing aesthetic caused a stir, was more of a kept woman, at the time, than self made. Jeanne Lanvin, on the other hand, many years Chanel’s senior, was anti-social, devoted to her daughter, private and a product of her own hard work.

“I believe in covered allure,” says Alber Elbaz. “If sensuality is too much in your face, it is hard to digest.”

The Lanvin woman is flirtatious but no bimbo. She’s smart and artistic, with equal access to both sides of her brain. Both aristocrat and commoner, she kicks dust with her patent heels over the line between bon ton and excess. The clothes are compelling and romantic, lush with ornamentation but encased in modern clean lines. They still betray the attention to detail of the founder’s former trade: milliner. Minimalist and maximalist, a Lanvin satin dress is a direct descendant of the panniered gowns worn by the court of Versailles, and the attendant jewel colored variations conjure up Empress Eugenie and her ladies in waiting.

Empress Eugenie

Empress Eugenie

Lush Lanvin

Lush Lanvin

While Chanel wanted to swim, sun bathe, horse ride and smoke with the boys decked out in knit jersey, Lanvin remained on shore, coiffed and emphatically feminine.

Androgyny has no place at her well-set table. But she’s as cool as they come. She just doesn’t have to work so hard to prove it.

Lanvin doesn’t self obliterate every six months. There is no radical departure from one season to the next. You know what you’re in for and yet it’s always something of a surprise.  There is evolution and congruity and an easily traceable link back to 1889.

So, without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, instead of blowing out candles, let’s all sigh collectively and walk–no, perambulate–through their sumptuous gilt-edged archives…

1922-Femme-Enfant-Vogue-14Jan14-pr_b_426x639Lanvin 3Lanvin 2Lanvin 1Lanvin 1LanvinLanvinLanvin 2Lanvin 2Lanvin 3Lanvin 1LanvinLanvinLanvinLanvinLanvinLanvinLanvinMy novel set in the international fashion industry is available. You can buy Silk for the Feed Dogs here.


  1. Fabulous! I love Lanvin — whenever I desire a dress by Lanvin it always happens to be Navy Blue (who knows why…) Everything is well-made and there is a gentle sense of humor that appears now and again (thinking of the totes with fun drawings and flowers). Very ladylike — and perhaps true to the house’s origins.

    • Funny enough, I almost bought a navy blue Lanvin dress last year with an embellished neckline. Ooooh if I had a money tree, all the pickings from it would be spent on Alber’s,and Jeanne’s vision. I’d mix their vintage with their current pieces and be the talk of the town 🙂

      • You already are the talk of the town — in a good way. (OK, the talk of the LES) The only piece of Lanvin I own is the silk, striped, strapless dress I wrote about early in my blog. I had one of the drawing totes, but I sold it on eBay because I wasn’t using it enough for it to take up space…

  2. Peter McLaughlin

    Simply beautiful. Their last show with all the metallics and lamés was the best of the season! And the silk flower your friend wore to your wedding sounds gorgeous and so stylish!!

  3. Ooooh, this is beautiful!! Excellent post and I love the vintage pictures you share here 🙂
    Thank you and have a very HAPPY day! 🙂

  4. Oh, you’re most welcome. We have a collective appreciation of the lovelier things in life, don’t we? They make us HAPPY 🙂

  5. Love this, even though my Alaska fashion sense leaves much to be desired (running tights with skirts and hiking boots). Cheers and happy writing.

  6. I realized it’s your trade but I really love it when you write about fashion. And, until now, I never knew anything about Jeanne Lanvin the woman. Now I need to figure out how to download your book on my iPad in a format that I like (I am a bit of a slave to iBooks).

  7. Thank you! This comment really made me happy–not because you are going to read my book (although I’m delighted about that too!) but because, I suppose, after so long in fashion and knowing so much about the behind–the-scenes which can leave a girl a bit jaded, I wonder if I’m still able to inspire or engage with the subject like I used to and so I’m relieved when I can. When I write about designers that I like, or things that have really influenced or left an impression on me, I guess I can’t go too far wrong 🙂 I appreciate your encouraging comment.

  8. I concur with camparigirl. Loved seeing some of the history of Lanvin here! Great photos. On a different note, is there somewhere here in Dublin I can buy your book? I’m not on board the e-train and Amazon can’t seem to figure out where I live 80% of the time! XOXO – K

    • Thank you indeed! I was just in Dublin a few weeks ago. I love it but don’t know it so well. Ma agent is based there and I had a meeting with her in lovely place called Carluccios with cocktails after in The Bailey. very nice 🙂
      Your best bet is Amazon, I’m afraid. You can buy paperback if you don’t do Kindle (me neither!) I’m sure Amazon can find you; they know everything. They might even send one of their drones with your copy 🙂

  9. I’ve just read my first fashion article. Because it wasn’t a fashion article. It was lots of things – a history, an account of some very well known people, some business philosophy, a marketing evaluation, cameos by the courts of Louis and the Battenburgs. I’m pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed it and given the subject, I can only commend the writing, the angle you attacked it at, your knowledge of incidental information and your personal style and humour. Well done.

    • Oh my goodness, I am pleased and flattered. What a nice way to begin my rainy Saturday. Thank you for your encouraging words and for giving a post on fashion your ever-discerning eye, Mlke. Readers like you make me aim to do better than I might otherwise do. Have a lovely weekend.

  10. Ooh, I feel faint. All that Lanvin at once…especially love the green jacket. Why can’t I find anything that colour anymore? Great post, love that I learned something about a fashion house I adore.

    • Some smelling salts over here, please…quickly!! Fell into a Lanvin swoon, she’ll come round in a few. It happens to us all, Laura, no need to be embarrassed. You’re quite a dainty fainter. xo

      • Thank you for noticing the daintiness of my swoon. I only broke a few ornaments this time and missed the cat entirely. Pinned a few of the pics, just so I could dream.

      • Just be careful you don’t come over all a-quiver again. That Lanvin effect can be lethal especially on us sensitive dreamy writerly types. The cat’s already anxious enough. Look here she comes purringly carrying a stiff backed chair!

  11. In my photo stash I have a picture of the stunning dress bag that their dresses are delivered in..it looks like it hasn’t changed since 1889..one day, I’ll own one and the dress that goes with it. Though I wouldn’t say no to that green jacket either!! xxx

  12. Well, I hope that someone from Lanvin has read this wonderful “anniversary” post which pays tribute to the legacy of such a legendary fashion house ! Thank you very much for following my blog, made in France !

  13. Wow– I must confess an utter lack of fashion sense. Had no clue who Lanvin is, but! I will take one of those red-dot flapper looking dresses. Let me just sell my soul first.

  14. Wonderful, wonderful post…
    such fabulous photos…
    adore all the detail~

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