September 27, 2012 Paris
In many ways it was a case of going back to school, in the shape of the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, for Elbaz. That seat of classicism and the salon in French art was the venue for the Spring show today, but it wasn't simply a pretty, historic setting, it had been an inspiration for the designer. The spotlighted Greco-Roman statuary under the porticos above each end of the catwalk was a clue of what was to come. While the runway was being readied and star power being exercised in the skirmish down below—Kristin Scott Thomas and Catherine Deneuve were among those in the front row—in the Olympian heights above were the still, white, silent images of classical beauty.
Yet what Elbaz provided was something of a cross between the two. In his new agenda for Lanvin, there might have been "purity and precision," as he put it, but he was also quick to emphasize that the collection "was not about control and minimalism." That letting loose seen in last season's offering seems to be part of Elbaz's ongoing plan: a looseness that is unashamedly interested in sex.
What Elbaz declared he was working on here was "deconstructed classicism." In the exploded tuxedo silhouettes, the notion of the smoking collided with the kimono and was tied off with a bow on an obi belt. Yet the designer wasn't using Japonisme as surface style, but more as a contemporary way of looking at the classical approach to dress. It could be likened to the way that the techniques of Japanese prints permeated French art of the late-nineteenth century—as abstract structural solution rather than simple decoration. Asymmetry prevailed; experimentation and the focus on "the square" meant that some linear dresses were held together with mere origami bows, fastened at one side and revealing flashes of flesh. And yet a certain ease in this collection ensured there was also room for a black swimming costume. Worn simply with black trousers, it was one of the sexiest looks.
This was a rebellious sense of classicism, more Manet's sex-drenched Olympia than the (h)armless (forgive the joke) Venus de Milo. As Alber Elbaz said: "Every woman wants to look and be like a star; they don't want to match the wall!" And in the same way it is perhaps better to wear one of his statue prints than to be like one. If it didn't have the immediacy of Elbaz's last collection for the label, this outing still had the same new, spirited approach to Lanvin. There is something in the risk-taking that suits the designer no end. What's more, this collection's themes could prove significant for the season as a whole.