Last week, The New Yorker profiled Alber Elbaz, the designer of the oldest surviving French fashion house Lanvin.
What I love about Elbaz's designs for Lanvin is his insistence on soignée elegance with a dash of eccentricity and whimsy. Ariel Levy writes that women today want to look "sophisticated and attractive, but not flashy or aggressively sexy" and Lanvin caters to that taste. This is hardly the time for conspicuous consumption—it isn't that Lanvin's clothes are more moderately priced than other designers, but Elbaz's aesthetic is one of a quiet or sedate chic, rather than ferociously or outrageously hip. He describes his work as "classic with a twist"—he does not wish to define trends, rather he wants his designs to be timeless. Levy says that this look is especially fashionable right now: "an elegance that reassuringly summons the past but with some funkiness around the edges that acknowledges our weird present." While many designers seek to make women appear thinner or prettier, Levy says that Elbaz has the ability to make women seem more interesting. Indeed, in a foreward to the Rizzoli coffee table book "Lanvin," Elbaz writes, "The highest compliment a woman can receive is 'My God, she looks smart!' not that 'she's sexy.'" This sensibility is reminiscent of the time in which Jeanne Lanvin herself was working—when The New Woman of the early twentieth century became more self-reliant and the emphasis was on chic rather than prettiness, a self-made sophistication through sartorial choice rather than an innate physical beauty with which one is born. Like Elbaz, Lanvin endeavoured to design clothes that transcended seasonal trends, that would not quickly go out of style but instead could be worn by women throughout their lives. As Coco Chanel once said, "It's not about what's new, it's about what's good."
For a slideshow of Lanvin images (including a collection of precious "Miss Lanvin" porcelain dolls) narrated by Ariel Levy, go the The New Yorker's website.