Although Jeanne Lanvin was a milliner of some reknown with a tiny atelier atop the Saint-Honoré market and a shop in the rue Boissy d'Anglas in Paris, she might never have become a highlight of fashion history had it not been for an event in 1897 that changed the course of her life: the birth of her daughter Marguerite, French for "daisy".
By 1909 she was a member of the Dressmaker's Union with a flourishing fashion career, much of it still inspired by her daughter, from the daisy motif chosen for the decoration of her townhouse in 1920 to the creation of the perfume Arpège seven years later. The brand logo even depicted the mother and daughter duo, dressed to the nines on their way to a ball.
By the 1920s, the house of Lanvin employed 1,200 people, occupied three buildings in Paris and had seven branches in France, including a a dye works outside of Paris, in Nanterre. Here was where the iconic Lanvin blue originated, a luminous shade originally inspired by a Fra Angelico painting with which the designer was fairly obsessed. She also frequently revisted antique motifs in her work, restyling them in her embroidery workshops, while ample 18th century dresses provided inspiration for her famous "de style" dress.
A visionary, she began collaborating with Armand-Albert Rateau, the famed French decorator and architect of the Art Deco period (the Paris Decorative Arts Musem has many of his pieces) - extending the Lanvin brand to encompass lifestyle, complete with special furnishings for the boutiques at 15 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, the interior of her townhouse in the rue Barbet-de-Jouy and the Arpège perfume bottle's elegant back sphere.
Her equally elegant & high-profile fans included Blanche Montel, the Dolly Sisters, Cécile Sorel, Marie Ventura, Yvonne Printemps and Arletty.
Naturally, Madame was invited to preside over the haute couture sections of many International Exhibitions and in 1938, filmmaker Sacha Guitry awarded the Legion of Honor to the "Ambassador of elegance". After her death in 1946, her maison was run for the next 12 years by Marguerite, or Marie-Blanche as she was now called by her husband, Jean de Polignac.
To see rare video of Madame in action, check out this recently discovered footage of the couturiere making pre-show adjustments to her models prior to unveiling the collection to the press.
- Lesley Scott