It’s a Friday in March. We’re in Paris and the métro is free all weekend. Libération! Non, not quite – it’s free because there is a layer of smog hovering over the capital and authorities need to get people using public transport to clear it. Oh. Even through a haze the city remains impressive, sunlight glinting off gilded monuments everywhere; when you walk through Paris you walk through history.
You can drink in the same bar that Sartre did, whilst your friends text you emojis from the other side of the world. Imagine that. To be in Paris is to live in a film of your own life, somehow, aware of every detail with each tick of your wristwatch. No wonder Lanvin’s Lucas Ossendrijver, who pens the house’s menswear line, describes it as a “fantasy,” though perhaps for different reasons. Lanvin is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year and Paris follows proudly the name of all the best houses, the city is the foundation of fashion.
We meet at three o’clock at Le Meurice. Ossendrijver has ducked out from a fitting for an upcoming collection, and it’s where he’ll return to afterwards. You might be expecting us to talk about signature pieces or silhouettes, but the way Ossendrijver works is more fluid than that. It’s more relevant to talk about mannerism, gesture and the mix of it all; what’s now and next rather than the grandeur of the past. After all, there’s the city for that.
Dean Mayo Davies: So last time you spoke to us you answered our 50 questions and said: “I do not want to know what the future is like, I love fantasising about it.” What is your fantasy of the future and how do your collections address that?
Lucas Ossendrijver: When I think of the future and when I think of what is already going on, it’s almost like men and women are becoming the same. There is a difference of course as everyone knows, but I mean the same when I think about fashion. I see more and more that men buy more like women do and not so much by need. They’re seduced by fashion, they’re interested. Before they always used to buy to replace what they have that’s old, preferably replacing with the same one. [Laughs]. Their mother or girlfriend would buy it, they wouldn’t, they’d be too ashamed. It’s actually quite positive, I’m quite happy because it gives a lot more opportunity for our work. When I think of the near future, it’s those kind of changes I find very inspiring.
DMD: Yes. On a broader level men are using clothes.
LO: I think women may need a new kind of freedom and equality because there’s still a lot of inequality in the workplace, there is a difference in salary for men and women. For women I’d imagine it is much harder to work in a company and get to the top. Those things I hope will be addressed. But at the other end I think men are less afraid and maybe more open than they used to be. They don’t see things anymore as ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine,’ it’s less defined and that is very important.
DMD: There’s very much a fluidity in your work too. Can you tell us about your approach to design?
LO: One collection is always a reaction to the one before. You’ve been working on something for six months and then when you present it on a Sunday morning, it’s kind of a really tense moment. A few hours later I’m in the showroom giving a briefing to the salespeople on the most important looks, how the whole process went, the ideas behind it all, how they can combine it for clients. I explain what is important and give them information to tell to the customers. Also to help them understand sometimes why things are expensive, like the fabrics we develop and the workmanship. After the showroom, where I also see clients and sometimes journalists to do their reviews, I’m so fed up with it. It becomes a number, something that has to be sold, it’s not my baby anymore. When it is in my studio it is very intimate and then all of a sudden it’s a reference. For me it’s a good way to say goodbye to things also, I want to do something else, so from there on you start again.
When I’m working and see the first prototypes and products sometimes it’s a bit too hard or too experimental or too much. You ask yourself, ‘Could I see some of our friends wear it?’, ‘Would I wear it?’ Or ‘Is it just experimental for the catwalk?’ Then you start to reduce it again to something believable or wearable.
In the end there might be an emphasis on what you want to experiment with but it always has to be clothes and to be desirable and wearable. In menswear there are a lot of restrictions which I find very challenging and interesting – it’s always about a shirt, a jacket, a t-shirt and a pant, there are not that many possibilities. I see it as more of an evolution rather than a revolution every season. For me it is slowly, gradually… Personally I like it when I go into a shop that does sort of feel comfortable and I see interesting products but I also see things that I know, that are recognisable. That’s also important, not to scare off customers every season with something completely different.
DMD: All you need is one element you recognise to lead your brain somewhere new. Is tension and accident important to your work?
LO: Yeah, very much. I work a lot with contrasting things, I like combining things that really don’t go together – or in your head rather they don’t go together.
There are things that come from different worlds and I try to combine them, to have them clash, create a newness I like. When I started at Lanvin there was tailoring and there was a little bit of sportswear but I wanted to merge the two, to find a new ground where it’s not tailoring and it’s not really sportswear. It’s tailoring which is less formal and constrictive and at the same time it’s sportswear which is a little bit more elegant and a little bit more dressy. It’s not just a windbreaker or something casual, it’s always dressy. I like to take the seriousness out of the tailoring. Also I experiment a lot with shapes in construction to make it less rigid. Whenever there is an opposition of things, a clash of things you have a kind of a tension and that’s where it’s interesting actually, because there you start asking yourself questions and it becomes new. I think you need those kind of opposites and I love working that way.
DMD: It’s an interesting idea to not define anything as tailoring or sportswear, and create something you can live in in a state of permanent evolution. The line between day, evening and formality – whatever that is today – falls away.
LO: Before, it used to always be about occasions. I mean, you go to work and you wear this, you go to a party at night you wear this, you go to the gym you wear this. But nowadays nobody changes three times a day. In the morning you wake up and dress yourself, you go to the office. Afterwards you go and have a drink with friends. You have to be able to go to a restaurant or to a movie and you don’t wanna change. So you dress yourself once a day and it has to function throughout the day. You have more possibilities but always in an elegant way.
DMD: I never think of jeans at Lanvin.
LO: Of course we have a lot of different product categories but I don’t like it to be divided in those kind of terms. When I do a jean or a jogging trouser it can be just as dressy as a tuxedo trouser. It doesn’t mean that it has to be categorised. I love to break down those boundaries.
DMD: The world has changed a lot with the internet, we’re vessels of information more than ever, news being drip fed to us all the time. Has the internet changed the way you work?
LO: Yes. I mean firstly there is the way that people look at your collection, your work. It’s available ten minutes after the show, people see the smallest detail. If you look at style.com there’s a hundred pictures of detail. [Laughs]. It makes you think about the way you design which is also a danger because you start looking at the screen and how things work on the screen. All of a sudden you are tempted to do really wild things or strong colours.
DMD: Like black is difficult online, even though it’s so elegant.
LO: Yes, exactly. It’s very difficult to see something. Nowadays when we do the styling of the show and make the looks everything is done on the screen. You look at it in real life and then go ‘how does it look on the photo?’ In the end that can be a bit of a danger because a customer doesn’t see himself in a picture, he has to wear these clothes in real life; it’s tactile, it’s about how it feels, and how it makes you feel. The internet is changing a lot of things. Also the amount of information we have. There are so many different things and the difference between high and low is sort of not visible. You see images of very expensive things, you see images of copies from H&M or Zara that on a picture look similar but in real life it’s not the same at all. So it’s all those levels of information that sometimes I think for people can be really difficult to sort out. To be honest I tend to look less and less at the internet and I see it as an open source of information. Which can be good – when you do research you don’t have to travel anymore. [Laughs]. I mean you can find anything you want. That it’s like a giant library is really quite useful but on the other hand you have to filter the information you get.
DMD: You have to be human, dip in and out of it and make it work for you, instead of becoming a slave to the online world – as a lot of people do live their lives, sadly.
LO: And also when I think of fashion and fashion critics. All those sites after the shows, people posting comments and they don’t even know what they are talking about, they can be so mean. A lot of those people don’t understand sometimes why it’s like this, the whole story behind it.
DMD: Yes, they pedal a bizarre face value which is often wrong, there’s no context of art, history or culture. How is your customer base changing would you say? Do you think there are global differences?
LO: No actually, I think there are less and less differences. On the one hand it’s a pity because when you go to Hong Kong or New York you see the same offer. Every store is a concept and every city is the same. I think before it was a little bit more diverse. In terms of culture, you don’t have to go to a restaurant to eat the same thing in Hong Kong as you would here [in Paris]. I don’t want to eat a hamburger in Hong Kong.
DMD: What about designing on a global scale? It’s summer in one part of the world and winter in another at the same time.
LO: It’s like a giant puzzle, there are a lot of needs to address. For winter we need some lightweight pieces for the Middle East, a little bit more midweight pieces for Europe. It’s not different in terms of fashion but different in terms of weight and function. What we offer actually is quite vast.
DMD: It’s the house of Lanvin’s 125th anniversary this year. That’s quite astounding.
LO: Oh yes, it’s amazing! I wasn’t very much aware of it but now every Thursday we share something online from the archives.
DMD: You’re doing your own #TBT [Throwback Thursday], in a grand way.
LO: [Laughs]. It’s actually very touching because all of a sudden you realise you’re part of a much longer history or tradition. It’s very touching to see how the company started, the archive, her [Jeanne Lanvin’s] office and that it’s still there. On a daily basis I don’t think about it but I’m quite happy and proud.
DMD: Are you still based on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré?
LO: Yes, my studio is on the seventh floor, the last two floors in the menswear building.
DMD: It’s strong that the men’s and women’s stores are opposite each other.
LO: And also that it is still on the historic premises. You still feel it actually when you are in the building.
DMD: How long have you been at Lanvin?
LO: Nine years, since 2005.
DMD: So maybe a party next year?
LO: [Laughs]. But I’m not gonna sing!
DMD: How does Paris influence you? What inspires you about living in the city?
LO: Paris for me is a fantasy. I’m not French, I’ve been living here for eighteen years and I absolutely love Paris. But I’ll always be an outsider, so you have a different view, a little bit more distance. I love observing, looking at people, how they behave, how they dress. Now I blend in, I didn’t at the beginning, I really was an outsider, I didn’t know a lot of people, it took me a while to get used to it here and to get my friends here. But I love Paris as a fantasy, Lanvin is one of the most French brands there is, I think, and every season we try to define what it is French, what is elegant, what is chic, what does it mean? English style is very defined, Italian we all know what it is, American we also know what it is. Whereas French, there is something about it that is very unique. It’s still very inspiring to me. I love Paris, I love walking around here, I love looking around.
DMD: Tell us about your working relationship with Alber Elbaz.
LO: It’s a very open dialogue we have with each other, which in fashion I think is very rare, to have two designers that communicate and work together.
It’s like an umbrella, and I think the menswear and the womenswear go together very well under it. It’s not exactly the same thing but it’s the same language. It’s a pleasure working with Alber, and very valuable to have somebody you can talk to. We exchange. Sometimes I go to his fittings for the women’s and we do fittings together for the men’s. I’ve learned a lot and for me it’s been an incredible experience working with him.
DMD: What got you interested in fashion when you were growing up, or in clothes or design?
LO: It was something far away. I lived in the countryside, I come from a small town in Holland. I didn’t have any family that were in fashion, my mother didn’t dress in Chanel or anything. I’m sorry I don’t have that classic story, I didn’t dress my sister. [Laughs]. I would spend my childhood building rafts and cabins from wood. I loved constructing things. My father had a construction company and I played a lot with that. I loved making things with my hands. But then I went to college and that’s where I discovered that fashion was actually something you can make a living out of. I didn’t really know how to or where I’d go, but I knew I had to go away from where I lived because there was nothing that I could relate to. Again it was some kind of fantasy I had. In the end I ended up in Paris. It’s one of the things I’m most passionate about, 24 hours a day I can think about clothes, I can wake up at night and start questioning things I’m doing – is it good enough? Is it right? How can I make it better? It’s really what keeps me going. For me, there’s no other choice possible.
LUCAS OSSENDRIJVER AND LANVIN
TEXT DEAN MAYO DAVIES
PHOTOGRAPHY DOMINICK SHELDON
FASHION CHRISTOPHER PRESTON
HERO 11, SUMMER/FALL 2014