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At Lanvin, Fashion of Tomorrow

By Timothy Hagy

PARIS, January 25 - At some point during the last year or so, fashion's hermetically sealed crystal bauble shattered: it may have been when François Pinault bid adieu to Tom Ford, it may have been when Jil Sander's quit2, or it may have been Monday in Paris couture week, when the rumors of Helmut Lang's departure from his own label were confirmed by Prada. A new era has crashed in, coming as silently as the tsunamis that ripped through the southeast Asian coast.

The world has changed, and fashion has changed with it. I honestly do believe that there are at least two designers that have seen the wave building, and they are Hedi Slimane for Dior Homme, and Alber Elbaz for Lanvin. Ironically, the two were handpicked by Pierre Bergé and Yves Saint Laurent to run opposite ends of the Rive Gauche line in the 1990s.

On Tuesday afternoon in couture week, Alber gave a handful of editors a sneak peak at what is coming for Lanvin's Ready-to-Wear line for Fall / Winter 2005-06. The timing of the showing was certainly auspicious, falling as it did midway through a couture season, which is practically hanging on by life support, and even more so, if you stop to think that Alber has found a way to channel all the ephemeral beauty of the past into a contemporary wrapping. Women have changed with the times, and they are no longer ornaments by the side of powerful men, but have become intelligent, working, human beings that know exactly what they want. And Alber understands that, and so he's created a line for chic, elegant women.

So we filtered into the gold-chandeliered Salon de Batailles in the Hôtel de Crillon on a frosty January afternoon to see what is ahead. Sun blazed through the southern window like a laser beam, a crystal vase overflowed with lavender roses, and Alber said "I'm not showing, just sharing. It's like couture used to be - new cuts, new ideas and new patterns shown selectively."

At the time when America's image is tarnished worldwide, leave it to Alber to take Americana (the dream, the freedom, the real spirit of the country) and use it as inspiration for a collection. Starting with cowboys, T-shirts and sportswear, he is tranferring those ideas into a new international language, assembled in a French atelier. In a fine, thin silhouette, his theme is lightness: using layers of organza, streams of fringe, and weightless skirts that gently flare. One heavenly creation - a suit with pearl buttons paired with an organza fringe skirt and wrapped in unctuous mink - had Glenda Bailey, Editor-in-Chief of Harper's Bazaar, applauding with delight. If that reaction is universal, and it certainly should be, Alber will have started to put all the broken pieces of the bauble back together again.


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