It was crystal clear on my ticket. C-e-14, in Lanvin’s always-impeccable black ink calligraphy.
But the lovely PR ladies, and the charming bow-tied and tuxedoed ushers, kept assuring me that it was, in fact, the decidedly frontline C-a-14. A fact no amount of wobbly schoolboy-French protestations and futile gesturing towards my empty fifth-row seat could overcome.
So I went with it, sat back and enjoyed the spectacle from an unexpectedly close vantage point. And spectacle is what Lanvin IS, almost unwittingly – a brand so influential that its’ regular Sunday morning spot has become the fulcrum round which the rest of Paris menswear week revolves. The vast, fin-de-siecle rotunda of the Bourse de Commerce (once the city’s grain market), ringed with tiers of seats and flooded with morning light, only added to the sense of event: with Ravel’s Bolero setting the stage for an atmosphere that was less that of a fashion show, than of a grand pre-Revolutionary Russian circus.
And revolution – translated into Lucas Ossendrijver’s radical yet powerfully nostalgic terms – was in the air from the moment the first models climbed out of the darkness of the Bourse’s undercroft, blinking in the sudden light in stark bowl cuts and clad in severe, closely fitted tunics and trousers. With echoes of the designer’s time at Slimane-era Dior Homme, dark colours and pinched silhouettes insinuated an unforgiving bleakness.
But this is Lanvin, and as the collection gradually unfurled, melancholy chocolates and blacks blossomed into luxuriously inky blues and burgundies: as though, having stripped away all excess to reveal a puritan minimalism, a fragile note of romance had been found lurking in the embers. Ballet-style cross-collar knits, layered sashes, gaily striped trousers and buttoned military jackets became the tools of a subtly reconfigured evocation of traditional menswear codes.
In the hands of another label, this exercise could have been an excuse for flights of fantasy – but here the insinuations of the past were honed by a sharply contemporary eye, alive to today’s troubled austerity, with two-tone contoured panelling, slick performance fabrics, and intriguingly geeky box-bags.
Unexpected shafts of lemon and ultramarine injected a further dimension – one oozing youthful energy and freedom. (A jolt of colour which, in the wheeling circuits of the finale, only served to highlight the luxury of Lanvin’s signature jewel tones and rich, dark neutrals).
In 2009, being interviewed for The Selby, Ossendrijver was asked to define the essence of Lanvin menswear. The answer was a single word: Emotion. On the evidence of Summer 2012, it looks as though the designer may have nailed the complex spirit of our times once again.
Catwalk images courtesy of Nowfashion. Lucas Ossendrijver and Finale images by John-Michael O’Sullivan
Posted by: John-Michael O' Sullivan
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