The story of Lanvin began in 1889, at a small hat shop in the heart of Paris.
Jeanne Lanvin had just turned 22 and finished her apprenticeship when she opened her first hat shop in 1889 on the mezzanine of 16 rue Boissy d’Anglas. Even at that young age, the milliner was already enchanting with her talent.
Four years later, Jeanne Lanvin’s crowning point came. She obtained a commercial lease on the prestigious rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré and established her eponymous fashion house. Her success was instant and Parisians would flock to “Lanvin (Mademoiselle Jeanne) Modes.”
The birth of her daughter Marguerite in 1897 turned Jeanne Lanvin’s world upside down.
A tightly-bound relationship formed between Jeanne and her daughter. Marguerite became her muse and Jeanne would use luxurious fabrics to design her daughter the wardrobe of every little girl’s dreams. The elegant Marguerite was quickly noticed by her friends’ mothers, who in turn became customers of the Lanvin fashion house.
Faced with this new success, and as a savvy businesswoman, Jeanne Lanvin opened a children’s clothing department in 1908 and devoted an entire section of her store to this new thriving business.
"By first dazzling her daughter, little by little, she will dazzle the world" Louise de Vilmorin
In 1909, orders for children’s clothing began to exceed those for hats. Jeanne Lanvin felt like it was time for her fashion house to enter into a new era.
In 1909, Jeanne Lanvin opened a Young Ladies’ and Women’s department. Mothers and daughters would come and choose their Lanvin-brand outfits together. Day clothes, evening dresses, coats, and lingerie: Lanvin’s creations enthralled Paris.
Ambitious and determined, Jeanne Lanvin became a member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture (the Parisian Fashion Council) that same year, and thus switched her status from milliner to designer.
Both a mother and businesswoman, Jeanne Lanvin was reserved and distant from social events, and was out of place in the elite circle of Parisian couture.
Jeanne Lanvin had an innate business sense, but she was also a visionary. In 1913, she realized that the success of a fashion house didn’t just lie in its creations.
Jeanne Lanvin opened a Furs department in 1913 and began to offer a never-before-seen service to her clients: the option to keep their furs in reserve for the summer. But she wasn’t about to stop at their wardrobe.
During an event thrown by fashion designer Paul Poiret in 1920, Jeanne Lanvin met renowned architect-decorator Armand-Albert Rateau, who had just graduated from the famous École Boulle. Together they decided to create a pavilion dedicated to the art of living at 15 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. The store offered furniture, rugs, curtains, stained glass, wallpaper, and more in the purest Art Deco style of the era.
When seaside resorts became the in vogue summer destination for the Parisian upper crust, the trend did not escape Jeanne Lanvin. In 1923, she opened the Lanvin Sport department, offering a casual daytime wardrobe made of comfortable materials suited to new pastimes. She designed outfits for swimming, horseback riding, tennis, and even winter sports.
Whether in Paris, Deauville, or Biarritz, Jeanne Lanvin’s shops were never empty. During the Roaring Twenties, the Lanvin fashion house was met with a success that lived up to all of the designer’s ambitions, with 23 ateliers and nearly 800 employees.
Being one of the most respected parisian fashion houses was not enough for Jeanne Lanvin who set off to conquer the world in 1915.
San Francisco International Exposition
Despite the war, Lanvin participated in the 1915 International Exposition in San Francisco. Thirteen French fashion houses, including Paquin, Doucet, Callot Sœurs, and Worth, represented the rise of haute couture and its international influence. The success of this exposition allowed Jeanne Lanvin to establish herself in the United States on a longterm basis.
Paris International Exhibition of Decorative Arts
In 1925, Paris was the center of the artistic world and played host to the International Exhibition of Decorative Arts. It was a golden opportunity for Jeanne Lanvin, vice-president of the Pavilion of Elegance, who was tasked with representing couture and the excellence of French tradition.
Lanvin fashion show on the SS Normandie
The Normandie ocean liner represented the height of French refinement and luxury. In 1935, during its maiden voyage to New York, Jeanne Lanvin held a show with a few pieces from her collection, thus taking advantage of remarkable media exposure.
Exposition of Art and Technology in Modern Life
During the International Exposition held in Paris in 1937, Jeanne Lanvin displayed her most beautiful creations in order to highlight the expertise and technical prowess of the Lanvin ateliers.
Golden Gate International Exposition
The Golden Gate exposition, held in San Francisco in 1939, celebrated the opening of the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge. On this occasion, Jeanne Lanvin displayed her creation “My Fair Lady,” a dress made of white organdy ribbons mounted on tulle. At the time, this feat highlighted the precision of the cut and the exactness and fineness of the workshops’ execution.
The Théâtre de la Mode
At the beginning of 1945, haute couture was threatened by the relocation of its center to Berlin. At 78 years old, Jeanne Lanvin was one of the first to rally around the initiative of Lucien Lelong, president of the Parisian Fashion Council. Directed by Christian Bérard, the Théâtre de la Mode—or “Theater of Fashion”—toured the world in order to celebrate French expertise with miniature mannequins dressed by the biggest Parisian fashion houses.
In 1924, Lanvin perfumes set up shop at 4 Rond-Point des Champs-Elysées. For the former milliner, it was obvious: perfume was an essential accessory on a woman’s dressing table.
The first success was American. The perfume My Sin, formulated by Maria Zède, stood out from the time it was launched in the United States in 1925. It wasn’t until 1927 that a legendary fragrance was born in France: Arpège.
For her 30th birthday, Jeanne Lanvin wanted to give Marguerite, who by then had become Marie-Blanche de Polignac, a unique perfume developed by renowned perfumer André Fraysse. When Marie-Blanche smelled this composition for the first time, featuring notes of Bulgarian rose, Grasse jasmine, honeysuckle, and lily of the valley, she exclaimed: “It’s like an arpeggio.” It was a complete success, and Arpège became the ultimate symbol of Jeanne’s love for her daughter.
In 1933, true to her pioneering spirit, Jeanne Lanvin launched the very first “eau mixte”: L’eau de Lanvin.
Nothing escaped Jeanne Lanvin’s discernment, who became the first parisian designer to launch a made-to-measure clothing line for men in 1926.
When Lanvin Tailor-Shirtmaker took up residence at 15 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, it was the only place in Paris that offered both Men’s and Women’s collections. Suits, ties, pajamas, day clothes, and sports attire: to satisfy her male clientèle, Jeanne Lanvin called upon three great French tailors and entrusted the department’s management to her nephew Maurice Lanvin.
On July 6, 1946, Jeanne Lanvin passed away peacefully at the age of 79. Jeanne—the milliner, the designer, the decorator, the perfume manufacturer, “Madame” as her staff called her—left behind an empire in her wake.
After Jeanne Lanvin passed away, her daughter Marie-Blanche became president of the company and continued to design collections until 1950. Several designers succeeded her with the ambition of keeping the brand’s expertise, state of mind, and excellence intact.