Lanvin Tries (Again) to Turn the Page


PARIS — Fourth time lucky?

Lanvin, one-time fairy tale of French fashion, has flipped and flopped (more often flopped) so many times since Alber Elbaz, the creative director who gave it modern meaning, was fired in 2015, that it has lost almost all identity: going romantically cool under Bouchra Jarrar; weirdly 1980s under Olivier Lapidus; and then silent while a new owner, management team and designer — Bruno Sialelli, an unknown barely into his 30s — got settled.

On Wednesday, in the vaulted environs of the Musée de Cluny, a.k.a. France’s National Museum of the Middle Ages, amid plinths with ghostly carved pillars representing civilization long ago, the oldest French fashion house in continuous existence tried once again for, if not a happy ending, at least a new chapter that someone might want to read.

Welcome to Lanvin, the millennial version. There were so many plotlines going on, it was a little hard to follow.

There were, for example, long skinny knit dresses with deep V necklines, and lemon yellow trouser suits with knit corset waists and knit dickeys that flowed like a stream down the back. There were medieval texts on scarf skirts, and lots of tartan (already starting to be a trend this season; blame Brexit), and some crafty crochet — for both sexes. There were pastel-toned sailor suits with leather neckties for men, and silk pajama pants worn under cropped denim pants so they fell limply over the ankle for women. (Flou and tailoring in one!)

There were face prints on silk caftans trimmed in cellophane gold fringe (some of which fell off onto the runway, like glinting crumbs) and little embroidered foxes (foxes?) on sheer T-shirts and scrims atop lace-trimmed slipdresses. There were giant shoulder bags and cowboy boot/leg-warmer hybrids.

There was so much that it was easier to say what it wasn’t than what it was: not as empty or cynical as the last reboot, but also not marked by the empathetic elegance that once defined the house. There were lots of influences from other brands you might or might not recognize — though not so many that seemed connected to Lanvin’s own history, which is too bad.

It’s not that Mr. Sialelli has to tiptoe around what came before, or put it up on a pedestal. But he does have to know what he, and this brand, stand for. And it needs to be more than a new start. Maybe next time.

One of the stones in the museum that guests filed past on the way to their seats was the dedication stone from the Pillar of the Boatmen, the oldest known monument of Paris, dating from the first century A.D. On it was an explanatory plaque reading: “Three armed male figures, of which one (at left) is gone.”

Perhaps his name was Clarity.


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