Jeanne Lanvin is a fashion legend: visionary genius, patron of the avant-garde, she opened the doors of her own fashion house in 1889 – a true feminine pioneer.
Today, Lanvin is the longest-standing French fashion house – yet it remains at fashion’s cutting edge, synonymous with grace, femininity and refinement.
Madame Lanvin started out as a milliner. But the dresses that she created for her only daughter Marie-Blanche were so admired, she decided to launch her own label. Her signature was fluidity, simplicity, shapes cut to follow the natural lines of a woman’s body (at a time when corsetry was still all but imprisoning women). Tomboy skirts, sheath dresses, stunning embroidery, the most luxurious fabrics: these are all Lanvin signatures (and provide a rich vein of reference material for Lanvin‘s design team, today).
In 1924, Jeanne Lanvin captured her style in a bottle. Among the first ‘designer’ fragrances, Arpège wanted to offer her beloved daughter ‘the most beautiful fragrance in the world’, as a 30th birthday gift . The bottle has become an icon: a perfect sphere of black glass, with a narrow neck designed to symbolise the curves of a woman’s body. The gold design on the black glass itself – by famous artist Paul Iribe – is of Jeanne Lanvin tenderly bending down to a young Marie-Blanche.
‘I am not talking about fashion, or budgets, I am talking about perfection’ was Madame Lanvin’s brief to André Fraysse, who created the composition. With money no object, he constructed Arpège around the perfume world’s most precious ingredients: bergamot, neroli, Bulgarian rose, jasmine, violets and ylang ylang, on a base of iris, vetiver, amber and sandalwood. On smelling it for the first time, accomplished musician Marie-Blanche exclaimed: ‘It’s like an arpeggio!’ And of course, there are such tangible links between fragrance and music, with their notes, their harmonies.
It was French novelist Louise de Vilmorin, though, who romantically summed up this creation: ‘Arpège is a musical fragrance that hums a happy song. The fairies recommend it!’ (We love that.) Don’t think of this all-time classic as something only women would wear, meanwhile: as blogger The Candy Perfume Boy observes: The truth is that Arpège has aged rather well and its supple aldehydic floral tones feel strikingly genderless today, making for a throwback floral that would feel perfectly comfortable on any perfume lover (male or female) who may be looking for something with a bit of a vintage edge.’
Haute couturier Bouchra Jarrar is now in the driving seat, having joined Lanvin in spring 2016. (As well as launching her own couture label in 201o, Jarrar worked at Balenciaga under Nicolas Ghesquière, and at Christian Lacroix Couture.)
Today, Lanvin has returned to the centre of the international stage, via collections evoking the movement, flexibility and fluidity of Jeanne Lanvin’s own designs: exquisitely cut, and an embodiment of luxury.
You can still find the House of Lanvin today at their historic address on the Faubourg Saint-Honoré, Paris’s chicest fashion street. The interior was designed by Armand Alber-Rateau, one of the Art Nouveau period’s most famous artists. A glorious place to visit, when you happen to be in Paris.
We also recommend that you visit the Lanvin website’s history section – 125ans.lanvin.com – for much more history and some really fabulous archive visuals.
But what’s abundantly clear is that 125 years on, the legendary designer’s spirit lives on – in fashion, and in fragrance…