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Societies May Fall, But Prices Do Not

By Author: tearsjoong
Total Articles: 51

WHENEVER the disparity between rich and poor becomes too obscene, as it did during the Victorian era or the Great Depression, a particular story line seems to reassert itself in literature and other media. A rich and cold-hearted magnate (e.g., Ebenezer Scrooge) is met by some lovely person or divine agency whose innate goodness forces the tycoon to realize that his life is miserable because it has been devoted to greed. The miser's heart thaws, the weight of his priorities shifts. In the end, he places less value on the “wealth” part of his personal wealth and more value on the “personal.”

I haven't yet seen this meme repeated in screenplays in this economic downturn, but there may be hints of it in fashion.

After a Taiwanese company acquired the Lanvin label in 2001, Alber Elbaz was given the keys to one of the oldest of French fashion houses. Since then, Mr. Elbaz has been making beautifully cut, “edgy” and ridiculously expensive garments beloved of the kind of absurdly rich people who can shop at places like Barneys or Maxfield without sacrificing necessary dental work.

What surprises most when entering Lanvin's new three-floor shop on Madison Avenue is how packed with merchandise it is, and how intime it feels. At barely a month old, it already evokes a feeling of having been lived in. One gets the ticklish, voyeuristic feeling of being a teenager, trespassing in a rich, eccentric Parisian aunt's intensely personal wonderland of a walk-in closet.

Under Mr. Elbaz, Lanvin has defined itself with lines that are mature without being unsexed, fashion-forward while remaining rooted in classic tailoring. The most noticeable signature is the unfinished edge: frayed lapels, raw hems. At first, it's a little off-putting: the unfinished-looking jackets make you think of something dusty and sun-bleached in a tailor's window. I didn't realize how far Lanvin had gone in this direction until I looked through the black wool dresses for fall. The darts on one dress were on the outside, little folding diamonds above the waistline.

“Heck, I made that dress in home ec, but I turned it right-side-out,” I drawled to Lisa Myers, the darling little vixen assisting me, who was kind enough to laugh.

This is taking high fashion to a whiplash sprint back and forth between the shallow and deep end of the pool, I guess — the interplay of binary opposites. It is not unlike the architecture of the Pompidou Center, where all the plumbing and electricity was radically installed outside of the building in color-coded pipes. (This way, the locus of the metaphysical presence of the dress is all YOU, babe ... I guess.)

I tried on a particular black dress because all the seams were finished, and it had a two-way industrial zipper up the side and a great bustle of an asymmetric peplum skirting around the waist ($3,090). It was a fabulous creation, which did all the things good design can do: hold you together, make you more linear than the sum of your parts. For all its glory, it was a bit on the conservative side. I needed to be a few decades older to really get the right juju out of it. But that's a good thing: It gave me the sense of a vital future in which, in my dotage, I might become not Whistler's Mother, but Whistler's hot aunt.

“You can be 70 and still score in this dress,” I told Ms. Myers, who agreed.

It is perhaps blasphemous to suggest that the worthy Mr. Elbaz's more profound talent is his genius for interior design, which is so articulated in this space that one really wishes Lanvin had a furniture collection.

The lightly pickled parquet floors look as if the lady of the house snowed talc all over them while sashaying from the bath. The mix of furniture is sleek, simple, neo-Classical: upholstered Greco-Roman wooden benches and armless chairs, overlapping zebra rugs. I was told that the blown-glass jellyfish-like chandeliers were selected at Paris flea markets by Mr. Elbaz and his life partner, Alex Koo, Lanvin's marketing director. “What a life,” I sighed.

The third level has a white sitting area, around which are various spangled and shredded components of the Blanche bridal collection. At first, because of the droopy flowers and the fragile-looking nature of one creation in distressed tulle, I thought this might be a reference to Blanche DuBois, but Ms. Myers assured me it was merely French. Still, there was something poignant about the idea of the proto-cougar Blanche finally getting her happy ending, being married in that wilted old ball gown, dancing the Varsouviana, starry-eyed at her besotted groom.

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