Fall TrendsLanvin’s Greatest Hits Are Coming Back
“The passion we have, making the clothes, we want to bring that to the customer.”—Lucas Ossendrijver
Lucas Ossendrijver started his tenure at the French label Lanvin as head of menswear in 2006, the year that Facebook opened itself up to public use and Twitter was founded. A lot can change in just 10 short years (everyone knows what became of those two social-media sites), and in-the-know stylish guys know that Ossendrijver has since built an incredibly influential arm of the Lanvin empire in that short time.
We spoke to the Dutch designer earlier this week about his anniversary at the brand—where he's dressed everyone from Kanye and Jay Z to Orlando Bloom and David Beckham—and the small capsule collection Lanvin is releasing to celebrate.
What has changed in the past 10 years since you started at Lanvin?
So much has changed. Men have changed, the way men live has changed. What I also see is that now we do four collections a year, so the need for change is much bigger. Customers, and men in general, are much more aware of fashion, too. They're less afraid, they're much more conscious of fashion, they consume fashion differently. They don't just buy what they need, they buy what they want. In a way, it's like how women buy fashion, which is very different from when I started. It's a positive development, because men's fashion has grown up; there's a more serious audience for it. Before, men would never say they're into fashion—it's almost like they're ashamed—but now they do.
Is it more difficult to be a designer today than it was 10 years ago?
It's more challenging, but I love it. I really don't want to complain about the way it is, and I don't want to complain about the speed of things. It's addictive as a designer; you're always trying to do better. It keeps you motivated. Even if you want to complain about it, there's nothing you can do about it. You can't go back. It's also a new opportunity, because today, as a brand, you have to be so clear about why you do things; you have to constantly seduce customers to buy things. There are so many options for them that you have to be strong to stick out.
In many ways, you were early on the now-popular idea of mixing athletic wear with tailoring, and the high-end tennis shoe. Do you feel like a trendsetter?
Those things were always on my mind, and I think, you don't really "own" things. It's about bringing the right idea, the right product, out at the right time. For me, it was an intuition. For us, we've always been about offering a wardrobe for all events, for all moments of the day. So sneakers were supposed to be in there, tuxedos were supposed to be in there, and for me sportswear is something that I relate to. I love sportswear and I wear it. I wanted to bring the idea of active[wear] and things you could wear outdoors, not just suits. I wanted to bring that to Lanvin and mix it with the heritage. I wanted to erase the boundaries between. You know, it used to be sportswear and this high-tech world, or more elegant, dressy clothes, and I wanted to bridge the gap between. I still work around those ideas.
Was there an archive for you to look back on?
In womenswear there's a huge archive, but in menswear, nothing. That was really strange, actually. But it does make sense, because everything before was all bespoke. It was freeing, because there wasn't a lot of baggage; it gave me a lot of freedom to reinterpret and to define what I wanted to make it.
What was your directive when you got to the brand?
It was very simple—it was two things. One, to create a wardrobe—not just a fashion collection or one line of product, but an entire wardrobe. And second was bring it to the same level as the womenswear, which was a challenge because of what Alber [Elbaz, Lanvin's former womenswear designer] was doing. I think slowly, slowly, we pushed forward. I never really realized, or planned, for things to go this far or to get this big. It's been a gradual, organic growth.
Has the Internet, particularly selling your designs online, been helpful?
For me, it's quite liberating. I love the feeling that everything is available. If people want something, they can find it online. It makes things easier and more accessible, and for clients that's the best thing there is. And for me, I like to see the whole offering, not just what one store might have bought. And people are so informed nowadays; they know what they want.
I will say that I have more difficulty buying our clothes online, because I don't have the physical experience. For sneakers, for T-shirts, for small pieces, it's no problem. But for bigger pieces like tailoring or sportswear pieces, personally I like to try them on and feel them. But I look online, so it does really help.
Is there any collection that was particularly memorable?
The process is always kind of difficult and painful. Designing is all about making decisions, and there are so many choices to make—about a fabric, a shape. There are a few collections I remember. First of all, the first one. It was very small, and we showed in an intimate setting to a few buyers and a few journalists. Then one show, winter 2010, was held at Palais de Tokyo, so we changed the setting—concrete floor, white wall, strong white light, people sat all on one side like stadium seating—and I realized the scale had changed. And I felt more in control somehow. It takes a while, you know, before it feels like your own. That was a key season. I felt like we'd grown that season, and also the way people looked at us suddenly changed. And then, of course, last winter was a key season because it was the first season that Alber wasn't there; it was a difficult season. At the same time, there was also a maturing to that season.
Tell us about the 10-year anniversary collection.
It was just a small capsule, and I wanted to go back to iconic items that are easy to relate to. We did a few sneakers, a backpack, some T-shirts, a sweatshirt—just really easy pieces. There's nothing retrospective, difficult, or conceptual. It's really direct, and I wanted it to be light and fun. So I just went to the number 10 and made a bunch of graphic incarnations of the number 10, and we developed a print and that's what we put on those pieces. I wanted it to be easy and light.
Yeah, one thing about your collections is that they're very romantic; they make you feel something.
That's what we try to do, we try to touch people. The passion we have, making the clothes, we want to bring that to the customer. At the shows, I like the people to be close to the clothes so they can almost touch them. There's a lightness to our clothes—we don't take it too seriously. I like the idea that there's some human warmth in there; it's not so cold and clinical. It's something you want to live in.
What we do is always very worked. There's a lot of detail, a lot of attention to fabric and color and finishings. It makes our clothes expensive, I'm aware of that. I feel obliged to make the pieces we make special enough to justify the price, to justify the investment.
So what's next for you and Lanvin?
It's a turning point, I think, in fashion. It's going fast—there's all these new developments. A lot of people are asking themselves what they do and why they do—should we adapt to a new system, this see now/buy now? It makes you question things, which is good, I think. It's always good to question. It makes you aware of why you do things and why you do them the way you do them. It makes you think about what you do and how to make it special. For us, it's about a dream; it's in the future. That's why I find see now/buy now difficult. We need the time to digest ideas, time to adapt to them. We need journalists and the press. We need things to be explained and judged. All of the information we give out during a show, it should be digested, or else everything becomes flat and it loses the value. High fashion is about a dream, it's not about what's immediate and direct.