What do we expect from new designers at legendary fashion houses?
For example, as much as Anthony Vaccarello has consciously injected the “Yves” back into Saint Laurent after Hedi Slimane removed it, he is still being accused by outlets like Diet Prada of designing too much along the lines of his notorious predecessor – never mind the fact that Slimane also paid homage to the legendary Yves Saint Laurent. Remember that fabulous Fall/Winter 2016 collection he did right before exiting the maison? The one he conducted in the newly renovated home for Saint Laurent’s two couture ateliers at the 300-year-old Hôtel de Sénecterre? The one that resurrected ‘Le Smoking’ and showed those (still memorable) minis with massive couture accents?
Back to Vaccarello. He has done exactly what new designers are tasked to do: imprint their own DNA on the brand, while respecting house codes. It’s the balance that everyone seems to require. And yet, it’s never good enough for some people, although quarterly earnings tell an entirely different story.
“Damned if you do, damned if you don’t”, as the saying goes.
Lanvin has a much, much tougher row to hoe. Never has a storied Parisian house struggled so desperately to find its way, and it has nothing to do with the talent it has on-boarded in recent years. Okay, that Olivier Lapidus debut was a disaster, but Bouchra Jarrar? What happened to her was a tragedy. Blame the struggle on the managerial oversight that got rid of its star designer Alber Elbaz, and then preceded to dismiss the recommendations of its ateliers in the wake of his unprecedented parting.
Lanvin has a new parent company now, Fosun, and it really seems to care about Jeanne Lanvin’s tremendous legacy. So does its newly appointed Creative Director Bruno Sialelli, who told the press, “I am delighted and honored to join Lanvin, a house founded by a visionary woman who, among the first French couturiers, dared to offer a global universe with a very wide field of expression.”
Here’s the rub: Sialelli comes from a background designing menswear for Loewe. His debut collection for Lanvin is tinged with that eccentric sweep, that tendency to focus on interesting construction and crafty, artisan elements rather than the glamour and ladylike forms that Lanvin has long been associated with.
And here’s a loaded question: what exactly is wrong with that?
When Daniel Lee showed his debut collection for Bottega Veneta, he completely rewrote the house’s aesthetic according to his distinguished background in creating womenswear for Céline. Do what you know.
When Paul Andrew came to Salvatore Ferragamo, he took his experiences at houses like Alexander McQueen, Narciso Rodriguez, Calvin Klein, and Donna Karan, and synthesized them according to Ferragamo’s codes. The results were surprisingly akin to Bottega Veneta – refined, luxurious, and totally wearable. We’re getting collections from designers that are different than what we expect from the houses they are associated with, but what we expect comes from a tradition that no longer makes sense in a weird new world of fashion that changes Creative Directors as often as you change your handbag.
Here’s a point to consider: when a designer comes in and is forced to fill really, really big shoes – like when Karl Lagerfeld entered Chanel – the truth is that the fashion world is always dubious. Yes, even the untouchable Lagerfeld was once panned for his collections at Chanel by respected fashion critics like Holly Brubach. It takes time, error, adaptation, and continued effort to build a reputation worthy of lauded designers like Lagerfeld or Phoebe Philo, for another eye-opening example.
Philo didn’t come into Céline and do the Céline we all covet overnight. She took her time, wrote her vernacular carefully, developed what worked, and eschewed what didn’t. Eventually, she landed on that artsy-smartsy aesthetic that is so well-honed that all you have to do is say “Céline” to conjure it. So when the fashion establishment quickly leaps all over the really fantastic new Lanvin show that Sialelli just debuted at Paris Fashion Week, it irritates us.
The reaction is both quick-tempered and short-sighted. Let the man breathe. Who cares if it looks a little bit like Loewe, and not like the Lanvin archetype you hold in your mind? Evolution is a process. Let’s stop holding these designers back and let them proceed. You never know what kind of magic can flow once someone hits their stride.