Who is Olivier Lapidus? This was the question that greeted Lanvin’s late summer announcement that Paris’s grande dame maison was welcoming a new creative director. The Frenchman is a relatively unknown name in top-tier fashion, even with a family legacy that counts the pioneer of unisex dressing in its ranks (Lapidus’ father, Ted, is widely considered to have introduced original genderless style to the populace).
Lapidus’ backstory is a tale of ingenuity and innovation; he spent time as the artistic director of Balmain Homme in the 1980s before moving, rst to Japan for three years, and then back to Paris where he helmed his father’s house for a decade. A stint in Beijing followed, which was peppered with lifestyle and interior design, before his second return to his native France where collaborations with fashion houses continued.
That was until a phone call from the notoriously private Shaw Lan Wang – owner of Lanvin since 2001 – came. “The telephone rang, and Madame Wang was talking to me, and she said, “Olivier, it is time.” “Time for what?” “It’s time to work together”, she said. And she said, “I want to see you at six”, so I came at six. Then she explained to me the situation at Lanvin.
“After three seasons, very di cult, but already in the past it started, since 2012 the turnover was decreasing. And so, it was the next generation of this problem. She said to me it was a kind of challenge, if I want to help her to do something for Lanvin. Reset the system. And then I had seven minutes and 35 seconds to answer. I talked to my family, and we found an agreement, and we said, ‘OK, let’s do it’”.
While there is no point guessing the reasons why Wang would get in touch with Lapidus, it’s something that, honestly, brought us a feeling of relief when we spent time chatting to him in a cavernous room at the label’s Parisian showroom. Why? In today’s mad fashion circus, big-name brands are now eclipsed by their big- name designers.
The lethargy is palpable; what happened to clothes being the star of the show? Why have we become so shocked by the arrival of anyone who isn’t one of only a handful of names? We should be tired of stagnation, and welcoming blood – young or old – with a di erent story, a trajectory away from the cloned mould many others feel compelled to follow. No, there’s nothing wrong with being a well-known name at a top-tier brand. But wouldn’t it be nice to look beyond our own closed borders? Isn’t that fashion’s great legacy, inclusivity?
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And for precisely this reason, a long, pacey conversation with Lapidus was refreshing. His is the definition of an inquiring mind, darting every which way – into patents, future markets, the end of book-reading and the rise of new technology – and always coming back to how Lanvin is affected by the modern world.
“Today, every customer wants to be unique, so the problem for the industry is to find a way to make an industrial process that makes people feel that they are unique. It’s an open field; it’s a mutation,” Lapidus says. “There is an acceleration. It’s not only the speed of the time; it’s the speed of the acceleration of the time. So, when you have the heritage of the oldest house of France, 130 years, like Lanvin, this is the first question you ask yourself. What’s the next step? Shall we continue the same process? So, this was what I try to answer now.”
Lapidus knows his fair share about asking questions of fashion. His experience in pushing the boundaries of tech in garment design is unique; he has never come at it purely from an aesthetic point of view, more as a consideration of the vast opportunities new technology provides in the creative process. For example, Lapidus introduced optical fibre into fabric in the ‘90s, a fashionable innovation later adopted in the fields of luminotherapy, a light-based medical treatment, as well as automotive and aerospace engineering.
I ask him about his original experiences of presenting this idea. “[At first] it was a big scandal in France,” he says with a shrug. “And now they use it to cure baby jaundice. They use it in satellites. Very, very high-tech. You have all these industries out of this invention that I made with those people. In the ’90s the perception was very negative from the press. The journalists, they didn’t like technology in couture. [There were] a lot of critics about this. So, I quit.”
And now? “The oldest couture house of France is going to use the newest technology to promote its brand,” Lapidus says. “It doesn’t mean that your fabric is going to make light, no, it means that maybe it can be a new classic, maybe it can be something you twist from the past to make something more contemporary, but you use the web to promote it, to show it. The web now is going to be one of the keys of the future.
“Fashion is theatre, and the internet is cinema. The future of our business is cinema; it is moving.” It was particularly interesting, then, that for his rst collection for Lanvin, spring/summer 2018, he chose to show on an old-school raised stage. Was it a gesture to his reverence to the historic past (don’t mistake Lapidus’ passion for innovation as disdain for heritage), or perhaps a physical elevation intended only to promote the clothes and the clothes alone?
Beyond the show format, there was enough to talk about with the designs themselves. “In August,” Lapidus recalls, “I was alone in Lanvin and I started to draw, draw, draw. I had no time. No fabric, nothing. In 42 days I made the collection; shoes, bags, belts, jewellery and fashion.” And from those 40-odd days’ work came a show that received a mix of
reactions from assembled guests. “The fashion show, some people, they hate it, some people, they love it,” he explains. “So, you have two kinds of reaction. Also, the past of the house makes things a little bit complicated for this rebirth. There are people who like or dislike the show, but if you go on the web to see what the people think of the last Lanvin collection – the real people – 99 percent love it.”
The divide between the two sides of the collection was easy to nd. On the one hand, modern minimalism, often in black and a variety of fabrics. And then the prints. Logos have been galloping down runways for a few seasons (ex-creative director of the maison, and a man beloved by most of the fashion world, Alber Elbaz, made one nal statement when he stamped the name of Lanvin across looks in what was to be his last show), and Lapidus took them on, too.
“What was important for me was to nd the DNA of the brand, to find some sleeve effects, some cuts, and also the logo because I wanted to make the logo for the bags with the “JL” [initials] that Madame Lanvin had in 1920. Jeanne Lanvin was very modern, very contemporary. That’s also what I want to do. Make something young, fresh.”
Lapidus refers to the past and future constantly as we speak. His respect for the brand’s founder Jeanne Lanvin is unmissable. Her name litters our conversation: how she provided for her clients, her incredibly modern outlook, even her favourite colour (black). And yet, Lapidus is unflinchingly driven by modernity and pushing forwards – not without reason, it’s worth adding. “The panel of creativity today is higher than ever, and also the technology of creation. Young people, they will change the world, for sure, through and with this technology.”