Would Karl Lagerfeld be this inspired by Christian Lacroix?
One appeared in 1988, the other, two days ago. Thirty years apart and the crosses aren’t that different, but the designers behind them are.
The cross on the left, worn by Israeli model Michaela Bercu, is attributed to Christian Lacroix, the designer whose very surname means ‘the cross’. The gem-studded cross, which is neither a Latin cross (four equal arms) or a Greek cross (base stem longer than three upper arms), on a collarless couture jacket came to prominence when, in 1988, a young Anna Wintour chose the above left photograph for her first cover of Vogue, which till this day is considered “iconic” as the image saw the poles-apart pairing of a couture top with what would have been sacrilegious then: denim jeans. To make it worse (or controversial, at least in 1988), it was a not-quite-seemly make of jeans—Guess.
Mr Lacroix was, by then, a couture star. A year earlier, The New York Times wrote, “People who follow fashion are saying… Lacroix has come out of the Paris couture, that rarified old world of made-to-order clothes for super rich women, but they are certain his ideas will be copied everywhere. They contend his influence will be evident soon in the stores, no later than this winter, when millions of women will begin to dress his way: in clothes that are unabashedly glamorous and theatrical.” Less than 12 months later, the Vogue cover, pedestrian as it looked, confirmed that.
And now, some three decades after, we’re led to believe, firstly, that women still want to “dress his way”. Last September, there was the surprise collaboration of Christian Lacroix, the man himself, and Dries Van Noten for spring/summer 2020 shown during PFW. It won rave reviews. Still, no one thought of a Lacroix revival. Then in January this year, British label Rixo—unmistakably flashy and unapologetically vintage—paired with the house to release a capsule collection. And there’s also Dutch brand Blanche’s autumn/winter 2020 collection that would also see a capsule with Christian Lacroix. It isn’t known if these are sanctioned by Mr Lacroix as the house that bears his name is now in the possession of the Falic Group, conglomerate behind the duty-free chain Duty Free Americas (after original owners LVMH sold the company to them in 2005), and is helmed by a different creative director. And, secondly, that his ideas still beg to be “copied”. That’s the cross on the right.
The original jacket seen on model Anne Rohart during Christian Lacroix’s autumn/winter 1988 show. Photo: Condé Nast Archive
That cross, worn by French model Othilia Simon, was seen at Chanel’s autumn/winter 2020 show two days ago. Its “iconic” status, however, isn’t certain, if at all possible. Designer Virginie Viard has created an intarsia-knit cross, with the suggestions of gem stones as seen in Mr Lacroix’s, on a jumper. Although not quite a facsimile, the idea is there, and so obvious that it requires no scratching of the head to join the dots. Ms Viard was 26 and was already working for Chanel in the embroidery unit when that cross appeared on the Vogue cover. She would have seen it and remembered it. But presently, she may have thought that others—Chanel’s new-gen customers for whom those pants with press studs that can be unfastened to show limbs are probably designed for—won’t recall or even know.
Chanel was called out for “copying” before. In 2015, knitwear designer Mati Ventrillon, a French-Venezuelan who is based in the Scottish island of Fair Isle, with a grand population of 55, brought the world’s attention to one of the sweaters that look uncannily like hers, seen in Chanel’s Métier D’art collection that was staged in Rome earlier. Chanel did not hesitate with an apology, and concurrently credited Ms Venteillon. Fair Isle is far off the beaten track. It is possible the house didn’t think their indiscretion would be linked back there. Or, presently, to a non-practising couturier. The world is small these days. And is shown to be even smaller when it is instantaneous to see Ms Viard’s source of inspiration. In fashion, time can make us remember more than forget.
This episode is amazing to us, not only because we do not expect such directness and lack of disguise, but also the audacity. The house of Lacroix closed in 2009. It had never, in 22 years of business, turned a profit. LVMH, which backed it since 1987, was reported to have “suffered heavy losses” at the time of its sale to the Falic Group. Although a suffering LVMH is hard to imagine, their pull-out of Mr Lacroix’s business surprised many at that time. The business of high fashion was believed to be on shaky ground until what was thought to be the arrival of a saviour, the house of Lacroix. It is not certain if this Chanel cross is homage to Christian Lacroix or a salute to Anna Wintour, who put the jacket on that Vogue cover and who is also a long-time customer of Chanel. Or merely “translated”, as Hamish Bowles, in his review, tried to kid. Whatever the case, it’s best to resist playing into the translation justification or, worse, the imitation-is-flattery baloney. An idea copied is an idea not one’s own.
Main photos: (left) Vogue/Conde Nast and (right) Alessandro Lucioni/gorunway.com