Born Brittany, France, 1867
Died Paris, 1946
Jeanne Lanvin’s world-renowned house was based modestly enough on clothes designed for her daughter and the daughters of friends. From such beginnings she became a name which, through her famous perfumes such as ‘Arpege’ and ‘My Sin’, is still widely known today. Efficient and imaginative, she was apprenticed to a dressmaker when only thirteen and became a milliner with Talbot’s at the age of twenty-three. She developed her children’s clothes into a commercial proposition and, just before World War I, began to introduce adult clothing, often based on a mother-and-daughter theme. By the end of the war. at the age of fifty-one, Jeanne Lanvin was the head of a prosperous couture establishment. Although she cannot be claimed as a major design talent or, indeed, a consistent design originator, she answered a need felt in many quarters. Her romantic picture dresses were in some respects above and beyond the vagaries of current fashion changes. Her fame as a designer was consolidated by her introduction of the chemise in the early war years: it was a pointer to the future, not least in the reception it got from the young, who were soon to edge into the position of fashion leaders, ousting their plump mothers. Lanvin is generally claimed as the first designer to open a boutique for men (in 1926).
Lanvin’s administrative ability was recognized in 1937, when at the age of seventy she was appointed president of the Haute Couture committee of the Paris Exhibition. Two years later she was elected the Paris representative at the New York World’s Fair. It was fitting that on her death the firm was taken over by her daughter, Princesse de Polignac — the very daughter whose dresses had, years previously, been the catalyst for the career of Lanvin, the dress designer.
Major perfumes: My Sin (1925); Arpege (1927); Scandal (1931).