Tucked in a small attic just a stone’s throw from Lanvin’s boutique on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré – and from the studio of the house’s current creative director Alber Elbaz – is the original office of Jeanne Lanvin. The French designer, who founded the maison in 1889, started out as a creator of children’s clothing, which she began to make almost on a whim for her daughter Marguerite, who still figures prominently in the house’s logo: a dainty illustration of mother and daughter drawn by Paul Iribe.
The office, which is rarely open to the public, is a treasure trove of memorabilia shedding light onto the creative process of Jeanne Lanvin, among them an array of look books – if you can call them that – depicting ensembles from her collections. The designer would ask artists to reproduce on paper every single outfit she conjured up on the bodies of her mannequins and then send these lavishly illustrated tomes to her clients. Even more revealing are the scrapbooks she made after visiting countries such as Italy and Spain. The light blue that has become her signature colour comes from a trip to Italy, where she discovered the blue frescoes of Fra Angelico and fell in love with the hue.
The modest and no-frills space has been preserved fully, and its art deco design makes it look anything but fusty or old-fashioned. Its sleek metallic shelves, rotating mirror, comfortable chairs and large desk, with a cute 3D version of the logo to adorn it – a sculpture of Jeanne Lanvin and Marguerite – wouldn’t look out of place in the studio of any fashion or interior designer today.
As you leaf through one of those bulging sketchbooks, feel the texture of an Indian sari she kept as a source of inspiration or admire a mini diorama of her perfume bottles (including Arpège, her signature scent, created in 1927), you’ll start to understand where the strong femininity, unbridled joie de vivre and timeless elegance of the house and its modern reincarnation under Alber Elbaz originated.
Lanvin was one of the first designers to helm a full-fledged lifestyle brand, with millinery, children’s wear, couture, menswear, fragrances, cosmetics, bridal wear and interiors thriving under her aegis at a time when couturiers weren’t necessarily known for their business savvy. It’s a testament to her resilience and foresight that the house still stands proud on the same corner of Rue Boissy d’Anglais and Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, the oldest fashion brand still operating today and the go-to label for on-the-go women who know that there’s nothing like a perfectly cut dress to make them feel good about themselves.