Since 2001 Alber Elbaz’s collections for Lanvin have consistently demonstrated sensitivity towards texture and finish, creating elegant and feminine clothing for the modern woman, who desires the comfort of sportswear and Paris chic. Dress and Necklace is representative of Elbaz’s style that avoids flamboyance and ostentation, and conveys luxury with sensuous textiles and carefully combined fibres.
In his 2006 autumn–winter collection Elbaz modernised iconic fashion forms such as Saint Laurent’s Le Smoking, Dior’s hip padding and Balenciaga’s voluminous tent dresses, with simplified structures. Dress embodies such notions of elegance and ease, reflecting the 1950s little black dress with the use of buoyant silk tulle and a flesh-tone silk underdress. Consistently, Elbaz’s designs are loosely anchored to the body. He replaces the heavy silk taffeta fabrics and architectural understructures characteristic of 1950s garments with lightness, gathering black tulle at the waist and around the torso. A stiff band traditionally used in millinery called ‘crin’ is applied to the hemline, creating fullness within a single layer and replacing more traditional, layered petticoats. The combination of black and flesh-tone reflects Elbaz’s distinctive palette that is limited to rich muted tones.
Elbaz joined Lanvin as creative director in October 2001 and presented his first collection for the fashion house in autumn–winter 2002. Previously, he worked at Geoffrey Beene, Guy Laroche and Krizia. The house of Lanvin has focused on luxury and youth since its inception in 1909. Founder Jeanne Lanvin specialised in clothes for mothers and daughters and made no distinction between women’s and children’s wear, thus establishing youthfulness as central to her philosophy. Subtle colours also became characteristic, uniquely created in her specialist dye factory. Elbaz refers to these traditions, which espoused the taste of the day with a skilful use of intricate trimmings, expert embroideries and beaded decorations in clear colours that became a Lanvin trademark.
Elbaz’s understated trimmings draw on the materials of dressmaking, embodying practical design features with historical references. The black grosgrain waistband on the Dress recalls the inner waistband used in dress construction from the nineteenth century to the 1960s. Through the centre back a heavy ribbed zip is attached on the outside to the light black tulle, overtly displaying the dress’s practical fastening while contrasting textures and colours.
Fashion commentator Sarah Mower observes that Elbaz’s inventive jewellery is in a category of its own. Continuing to draw on the components of dressmaking, in Necklace he uses a grosgrain ribbon with three strands of pearls draped and fastened at three points with diamanté studs. The grosgrain ribbon is tied around the neck and fastened with a button hole, reworking the classic pearl necklace.
Paola Di Trocchio, Assistant Curator, International Fashion and Textiles, National Gallery of Victoria (in 2008)