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Robe de style

Silk, metallic thread

Jeanne Lanvin, Paris, France

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In the 1920s, Jeanne Lanvin became known for her feminine robe de style with its full pannier hips, an alternative to the tubular line of Art Deco fashions and their profusion of beads and silk tassels. She was not alone – in the confusion of style that followed the end of the First World War, a number of designers attempted to revive romantic pre-war fashions for evening dress.

As waistlines dropped to hip level in the 1920s and designers such as Chanel, Molyneux and Patou championed simple chiffon dance dresses with deep décolletés, Lanvin’s only accession to modernity was to flair the fullness of her voluminous skirts from the hip. Her style was suited to the nostalgia for the past felt by a war-weary population.

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Lanvin’s style also embodied the femininity of youth with this silhouette and the relatively sparse embellishment, and yet her dresses appealed to women of all ages. This robe de style features her trademark use of intricate trimmings and floral embroideries in light pastel shades. Colour was very important to Lanvin and she maintained her own dyeworks to create her inimitable colours.

Social Culture

Initially working as a milliner, Lanvin began making children’s clothes after the birth in 1897 of her only daughter Marguerite, who became her main source of inspiration. Her fashion house grew out of the slowly increasing demand for her children’s clothes and in 1909 she joined the Chambre Syndicale de la haute couture, the very exclusive world of couture houses.

In 1923, the illustrator Paul Iribe took a sketch of Jeanne Lanvin and her daughter from a 1907 photograph of them at a costume ball, stylising the voluminous dresses. Later reworked as an emblem for the perfume Arpège – released to celebrate Marguerite’s 30th birthday – it has remained the logo for the brand ever since, reflecting the enduring spirit at the heart of the house

Lanvin’s entrepreneurial prowess and willingness to diversify can be seen through the 1920s expansion of her house into bridal wear, fur, lingerie, menswear, sportswear, household goods and perfume. She created a house with the potential for longevity; today it is the oldest established couture house still in operation.

Craft Skills

Jeanne Lanvin found the inspiration for her patterns, embroideries and exclusive colours in travel diaries, ethnic fabrics, and art books. Her work has been described as classical French perfection, embodying the true artistry of the couturierè’s craft with her luxurious materials, detailed embroideries and fine stitching. Her attention to detail is evident in the use of top-stitching, cut-outs and appliqués, which add finesse to her 18th-century style dresses.