Wednesday, 2 September 2009

The Fall of the House of Lacroix

Fall Fashion Week has rolled around again but one important contributor is missing from the Paris shows: Christian Lacroix.

Image from Magnum

The photography
agency Magnum released some images from past Lacroix shows--a way to remember what has been lost and what can still be saved.

Lacroix did not exactly have a normal path as a designer. He initially went to school for museum studies in Paris but soon caught the eye of the fashion crowd. In the early 80s, he found a job at Jean Patou where he rubbed shoulders with Bernard Arnault, now at LVMH Moet Henessey Louis Vouitton. In 1987, Lacroix received funding from LVMH to start his own line. His first collection rocked the couture world: his bright colors and costuming techniques shook Paris from a dark, tailored rut.

Yet for all the praise he received from the fashion world, Christian Lacroix the company was never succesful. It went through 11 CEOs in about 20 years, Lacroix claiming that none of his backers ever wanted to put enough money into the company. Finally in 2005, the house was bought by the Falic Group, a duty-free airport chain. Obviously this is an odd choice of investor. Perhaps Falic wanted to enter into the fashion world, or it wanted to involve the house in lower-market branding opportunities. Due to the recession, Falic announced the comapany's bankruptcy in May of this year. The house hadn't turned a single profit in all the years of its existence. Falic slashed the company in size from 125 to 12 employees and has mentioned the possibility of selling ties, perfume, and the like in airport shops. This fate may have been averted when Borletti Group, yet another middle-brow investor (this time the owner of two Italian department store chains), placed a bit in late July.

Why is all of this corporate mumbo-jumbo necessary? Only to provide context for a wider trend in the fashion world. As this summer's Valentino: The Last Emperor also pointed out, the fashion industry tends to follow the financial world's business model du jour in ways that are not productive to the artistic process. In the 80s, it was licensing; in the 90s, mergers and diversification (for example, LVMH--both a fashion conglomerate and a champagne producer and exporter, among other things); now, it's public trading on the stock market. As fashion houses like Valentino and Lacroix get bought up by investors looking to turn a profit, artistic license will most certainly be compromised. Lacroix's clothing is clearly art--not always in the best taste, but still art--and commercial interests will only damage his reputation. Whether or not the designer recovers from this particular setback, it is very clear that the fashion industry has witnessed the end of an era.

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