For the Love of Lanvin

On the heels of Paris Fashion Week earlier this month, the Palais Galliera unveiled its Jeanne Lanvin exhibition in celebration of the brand’s 126th anniversary. The design house’s well-regarded creative director, Alber Elbaz, co-curated the sure-to-be blockbuster retrospective, and slew of industry heavyweights such as Azzedine Alaïa turned up to show their support for France’s oldest fashion house still in operation.

“I wanted to learn all I could from Olivier Saillard [the museum’s chief curator] and his team,” Elbaz explained. “I think we have managed to create an exhibition around the dream of fashion.”

Upon entering the exhibition, which will be on view at the Palais through August, guests are greeted by what seems like a single spool of ivory silk taffeta backed with the faintest slip of black tulle and an oversized bow cascading down its back. The gown was created for the late 1930s adaptation of Pygmalion, and is otherwise known as the “My Fair Lady” dress.

Lanvin’s popular “robe de style” silhouette with its slightly dropped waist and full skirt—a style Elbaz has often remixed—is also prominently displayed. Many of the fairytale frocks, all incredibly well preserved, are fully encased in Laurence Le Bris-designed mirrored glass drawers, their tops hinged to reflect the creations above.

Languid slips of absinthe green mingle with wraps of blush pink and blue-tinged sea foam silks, their bugle bead appliqués still sparkling over one century later. And across the way, a swath of noir silk, taffeta and velvet gowns, some with gold bouillon accents, align another corner of the intimate hall.

Among the decadent 1920s- and ’30s-era dresses are ephemera including Lanvin’s sketchbooks and children’s dresses made for her daughter and her contemporaries. (The empire was launched as a children’s wear label in 1908; lines for young women and men were added in subsequent years). For all the grandeur, perhaps most evident in the exhibition is the unyielding bond between Lanvin and her daughter, Marguerite—an image of the two from a costume party was immortalized by Paul Iribe, which is still in use as the house’s label today.