In the past year or so, the fashion world has had to deal with a lot of dramatic changes, where the merry-go-round of top design talent can be compared to a game of musical chairs. However, unlike the light-hearted children’s amusement, in reality we’re dealing with some of fashion’s most visible heavyweights and the impact their movements have on their loyal followers.
Compared to a few years ago, the industry is now a whole new ball game; there’s an awful lot of pressure on designers to produce products that actually sell and fulfil the demanding needs of today’s customers. As model-turned-Project Runway host Heidi Klum puts it, “One day you’re in and the next, you’re out.”
Amid all the drama, French fashion house Lanvin, founded by Jeanne Lanvin in 1889, also experienced its fair share of direction change. After the rapid and somewhat shocking departure of its previous designer, Alber Elbaz, Cannes-born Bouchra Jarrar took on the role of artistic director.
“It’s very simple for me in my head,” Jarrar says. “It’s the Lanvin house and it’s Jeanne Lanvin’s story. The only thing that influences me is Jeanne Lanvin. There was Alber [Elbaz], whom I absolutely respect, but that’s the past and now I’m present and the future of the house. It’s very clear in my head. I work with magnificent teams on that.”
Picking up where Elbaz left off after his 14-year tenure at such a respected house is no easy feat, but Jarrar, a name that most industry insiders were already familiar with before her move to Lanvin, is definitely up to the task. “I’m known in Paris as a real couture designer. A lot of people in the world know me through that. Ready-to-wear has to be absolutely perfect in every detail – the choice of fabrics, the finishes and the way it’s produced. With the shows, I had to re-set my vision of quality.
“For the pre-collections, we work hand-in-hand with the head of merchandising. For the show collections I have freedom, but on the side I design a wardrobe to complete and balance the show so everyone gets everything because there’s also an image [that we need to create] and the house has to sell.”
Jarrar’s past includes stints at Balenciaga, where she worked alongside designer Nicolas Ghesquière (now creative director at Louis Vuitton), the jewellery department at Jean Paul Gaultier, and as director at Christian Lacroix couture (the company shut down in 2009). In 2010, she set up her eponymous brand, showcasing collections during Paris Fashion Week, and in 2013 she became an official member of the prestigious Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture.
“My own couture house was where I put into practice all the things I had learned previously,” she explains. “It’s true that I have a lot of experience in fashion. I have experience in ready-to-wear as I was a part of the relaunch for Balenciaga with Nicolas Ghesquière. It gave me a lot of experience in the industry, taught me how to the work in the ateliers and how to complete a project with a team.”
It’s been a few days since her autumn/winter 2017 show, but when we sit down the 46-year-old is relaxed and dressed in one of her own signature monochrome outfits, tailored to perfection. After all, the designer does consider herself to be a “perfectionist with a big heart and passion”.
It’s been little over a year since her appointment at Lanvin, but Jarrar knows where she’s headed. Her last two catwalk collections, both held at Hôtel de Ville in Paris, showcased the designer’s masculine-feminine aesthetic. Sheer tops and ruffled blouses with hints of lace, pleats and draping – all done impeccably, of course – were paired with wide-leg trousers, vests, leather and tailored pieces. We were head-over-heels for Jarrar’s statement chokers and flimsy gold necklaces worn with everything from dresses to dress shirts from her debut collection.
“I am a Parisian designer,” she says. “That’s my position in the fashion world and every time people talk about me they talk about me as a continuity of French couture. The Lanvin woman that I offer today is the Parisian – chic and elegant. At the same time, that woman leads an active lifestyle. She can wear nightwear and daywear but she’s extremely chic and has spirit as well.”
In an industry traditionally dominated by male creative heads, there has been a slight shift in the last few seasons. Recently, a few of the more well-known female figures have bagged themselves top spots at some of the most respected fashion houses in the world – think Maria Grazia Chiuri at Dior and Clare Waight Keller at Givenchy. With feminism being such a much-touted topic nowadays, whether it’s on the news or a slogan on a designer T-shirt (Dior’s spring/summer 2017 slogan “We Should All Be Feminists” comes to mind), Jarrar gives us her own two-cents-worth on the subject.
“It’s more difficult [for a woman to make it to the top of the industry], but that’s absolutely normal. It’s true that when I was nominated at Lanvin and Maria was nominated at Dior – I love Maria – the press were very happy and everybody talked about it.”
Jarrar has done well in the past, working alongside other high-profile designers in big fashion houses and for her own label, but does she have the magic touch for Lanvin? We certainly hope so.