I’m loathe to be another librarian who writes about fashion, but a couple of gorgeous new books have got me excited. Resurrecting a dead or dormant fashion house under the direction of a hot new designer has been a trend in the fashion world over the last couple of years. Amongst others, Balenciaga, Halston and Biba have all been revived to varying degrees of success. I’m not sure whether this trend is a result of the huge interest in vintage clothing that has also been the rage in recent times, or whether it’s a symptom of the whole noughties nostalgia obsession. The success of a revived line is reliant on the talent of the designer at the helm, and also the motivation behind the revival. In my opinion, the Biba resuscitation seemed an ill planned bandwagon jump, but one of the most successful comebacks has been Alber Elbaz at Lanvin. He’s a designer who clearly understands and interprets the history of his predecessors. He has quite a history to draw on (Lanvin was started by Jeanne Lanvin in 1909) as shown in a beautiful new tome on the house. Lanvin is presented in a nice chronological order, and packed with tons of stunning illustrations, so you can see how Elbaz’s work has been informed by the designs of Jeanne Lanvin.
One of the other big successes in the fashion rebirth world is Balenciaga under the guidance of Nicholas Ghesquiere. Ghesquiere writes the foreword for a new book celebrating the design work of Paul Poiret. Published to accompany the Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute exhibition last year, Poiret is another dazzler. The essays shed light on a designer who was incredibly influential in his time, but is somewhat overshadowed today by Chanel. A pioneer of the anti-corset movement, Poiret had an interesting relationship with modernity. In the early part of last century his designs were viewed as very free and modern, and the theatricality and intricacy of the garments made them popular with avant garde women of the time. However, his unwillingness to adopt the short skirts and less opulent creations that Chanel popularised meant he ended up looking a little old-fashioned. His fascinating wife/muse/model Denise left him, and Poiret ended up broke, working as a bartender and making his suits out of tea towels. It looks like his time has come though, and history will be kind to him.