After the coldest Paris winter in recent memory, one that sent bone-chilling winds rattling throughout the couture and ready-to-wear shows, spring could not come soon enough, literally, and figuratively for the plethora of venerable houses that dot Avenue Montaigne and Rue du Faubourg St.-Honoré. But making what was old, new, is more easily said than done.
Astute Fashionistas would have noticed Karl Lagerfeld, camera in hand, snapping pictures in New York last week. Karl, of course, is somewhat of a magician when it comes to reinventing Chanel season after season, infusing so much modern savoir faire into the label. His hands on approach in rebooting Mademoiselle’s style has translated into a long running success story for the company’s owners, the Wertheimer family.
The same may not be said for the hapless house of Givenchy, which has struggled with finding both an identity and a market niche ever since Hubert de Givenchy’s retirement in 1996. After two messy divorces from British designers Alexander McQueen and Julien McDonald, the newest attempt to makeover the ready-to-wear and couture lines has now fallen to Italian Riccardo Tisci, who accepted the job that was turned down by any number of others, including Alber Elbaz and Zac Posen. His appointment was announced by LVMH during Paris fashion week, but got lost in the marathon. Tisci, who is known in Milan for his couture-like designs, will have his job cut out for him.
At Yves Saint Laurent, the problem is more complex. Following in the steps of an iconic designer, whose name defined high fashion from the 60s until his retirement in January 2002, is further complicated by the fact that the legend is living happily in retirement. At the Lanvin Ready-to-Wear show in early March, Pierre Bergé, cofounder of the house, insisted that the maître was well, dividing his time between his Rue de Babylon Paris apartment and his home in Marrakech. At what is now left of the YSL fashion empire, the ready-to-wear headquarters on Rue d’Artois in the 8th arrondissement, Stefano Pilati has been sewing together the remnants leftover from Tom Ford’s controversial stint at the helm. After an initial collection that met with lukewarm reception, Pilati’s second was more convincing, though hardly a knockout. Perhaps his biggest assets are Carine Roitfeld, Editor-in-Chief of French Vogue, and Anna Wintour on the US side, who have taken to promoting him - a fact that is not surprising given the extensive advertising revenue that pours into both French and American Vogue from the Saint Laurent coffers.
Fashion is one big circle that ebbs and flows with the seasons. What investors savor the most, that springtime of growth and rebirth, is as elusive as the fickle north winds that stubbornly blow cold.