When i was a student, i found an old vintage hand-stitched jacket at a local Amsterdam flea market. Instead of wearing it, I turned the jacket inside out and unstitched the lining. I saw the extraordinarily detailed sewings, trims, and ribbon reinforcements—all this detailed work lay hidden behind the nylon lining. That’s what drew me to men’s fashion—the precision of construction, and how this craftsmanship is practically not apparent on the surface,” Lucas Ossendrijver describes of his initial fascination with menswear, as he sits on the vast rooftop porch of the block long Cité de la Mode et du Design concrete building overlooking the Gare d’Austerlitz.
A light breeze coming from the Seine River breaks through the static heat of a muggy late-July afternoon. It must be a story Mr. Ossendrijver has told many times before, I think, but somehow the sparks in his eyes indicate his excitement in retelling this simple anecdote that defines his design mantra in a personal manner.
Born in January 1970 in Amersfoort, a small city just west of Amsterdam, known for its well-preserved medieval center and its railway junction connecting The Netherlands’ east and west provinces, Mr. Ossendrijver attended the Institute of the Arts in Arnhem. Famous for its fashion programs, the school graduated the designers Viktor & Rolf in the same year as Mr. Ossendrijver. Together, with other classmates, they formed a collective “Le Cri Néerlandais,” banding together their interests for creating a new fashion paradigm.
Shortly after moving to Paris in 1996 (and after briefly working at women’s wear brand Plein Sud), Mr. Ossendrijver joined Roy Kreiberg at Kenzo. There, he learned about the commercial aspects of a designer collection from the planning stage to sourcing fabrics to the fabrication process at factories. Three years later, he moved to Munich to work as the Men’s Design Director for Kostas Murkudis, an alumnus of Helmut Lang who had launched his own eponymous label. Less than a year later, he returned to Paris and went to Dior as assistant to Hedi Slimane.
Dior Homme was Mr. Ossendrijver’s first exposure to a luxury couture house, and while there, he mastered the rigor and precision of applying couture skills to modern ready-to-wear. Eventually, he was put in charge of the “Classic” collection, the bread-and-butter, commercial-friendly products of the fashion brand. In late 2005, Alber Elbaz, the creative director at Lanvin, hired him as the Designer for the men’s collection.
Jeanne Lanvin, who founded the house in 1897, created her fashion-blending culture by bridging craftsmanship (for instance, ribbon embroideries would grace silk-satin dresses). Her fashion was based on personal instincts and creative urges rather than dictated by any outside societal influences. She pioneered the brand as a lifestyle company, involving the arts rather than merely manufacturing clothing, and in 1926, Lanvin became the first couturier to introduce men’s ready-to-wear.
After her death in 1946, the Lanvin company languished for many decades. It was passed between multiple corporate owners until 2001, when Harmonie S.A., a private investor group led by a Taiwanese media magnate Mrs. Shaw-Lan Wang, purchased Lanvin, the longest surviving fashion house, from then owner L’Oréal, and made it a privately-held company once more. Hired in 2001, the designer Alber Elbaz elevated Lanvin—with his feminine clothes upon which his handiwork, cutting skills, and craftsmanship created silhouettes that effortlessly draped around the women’s body—into the most coveted fashion brand.
Ironically, when Lucas Ossendrijver left Dior Homme to join Lanvin in late 2005, his former boss Hedi Slimane’s tailored, skinny black suits were still the apex of style, favored by the likes of Pete Doherty and rockers around the world. By injecting the jolt of rock ‘n’ roll and embracing youth aesthetics, Mr. Slimane electrified the Dior men’s brand and transformed Dior’s traditional business suit into fashion’s coolest and most sought-after label in just a few short years. Mr. Slimane’s Dior Homme virtually defined French men’s style in the new millennium.
But an early morning show on the last Sunday in January, 2006, at a sumptuous salon inside the Hôtel de Crillon, altered this historical trajectory. Large velvet and silk bow ties served as a leitmotif for a casual and relaxed, but elegant, show. Mr. Ossendrijver’s first Lanvin output was a slouchy collection—jackets and coats mixed with pants in gold velvet and Bordeaux silk satin, a light brown lounge coat with a pajama suit, a black cashmere short coat with fur collar, loose black pants, and a v-neck sweater shirt—that broke the hard-edged au courant fashion.
The mastery of craftsmanship is often hidden within the framework of jackets or coats, but Mr. Ossendrijver made his mark with utterly luxurious fabrics in his first collection, ushering in a new definition of French style. But these clothes were not to be mistaken for the minimalist regimen of the Helmut Lang and Jil Sander collections from the mid-‘90s, when subtlety meant bare construction clothes often in plain black-and-white.
In the seasons since that first outing, Mr. Ossendrijver firmly established the Lanvin men’s style of disheveled refinement with clothes made in ultra-luxurious and tactile materials, often made to look old and worn in an effortless mixture: the tuxedo jacket from Spring 2010 was paired with a loose short in nylon athletic fabrics and leather sneakers. A suit jacket from Spring 2007 was draped over a paratrooper jumpsuit with a shirt and tie, and the trenchcoat and two-buttoned suit from Fall 2008 was worn with laced-up boots and high-top sneakers. Small, silk floral petals adorned the lapels of a black short coat and the front of a light gray jacket, which had flare ties frayed at the bottom, peaking out under a light cashmere sweater, all worn with high-top sneakers, in Fall 2007.
This Fall’s collection showed the culmination of Mr. Ossendrijver’s mantra in forging the Lanvin signature menswear style over the past six years. At the studio, he and his team cut, drape, and finish fabrics to arrive at a new jacket silhouette or a different shape of pants. Nowhere are there mood boards, nor are there any exigencies for new trends to dictate a new season like that of other fashion houses, where the inspiration materials are often stolen from the past or from other designers’ previous works.
Rarely has a men’s show, while displaying such complicated techniques, looked so effortless and nonchalant. Linear-layered silhouettes showing just the models’ faces under fedora hats emphasized the classic tailoring and mixtures of functional sportswear elements.
A light gray wool trompe-l’oeil double-breasted suit with flared pants, is, in fact, single-breasted with two magnets hidden in between the double-faced fabric so that when snapped closed, the jacket’s lapels remain slightly open. A charcoal wool double-breasted, knee-length coat with shoulder epaulette is made of fully-canvassed wool—a process called “entoiler.” The jacket of a cropped two-button suit is made with hand-stitching, then stretched so that the white threads are holding the two sides of a shoulder hole—this results in greater malleability for the garment. A light gray wool coat is made on one continuous piece of wool running from front to back including the sleeves like a kimono with removable collar.
The sportswear influence enhances the versatility of the clothes: a navy wool pinstripe duffle coat is attached to a wool coat and can be removed and worn as a sleeveless down vest. Some coats are reversible—the other side has front pockets. Some of the classic slim wool pants have added knee and ankle pads resembling sports pants.
The recognizable details from Mr. Elbaz’ women’s collection—raw edges along the hems, open zippers with the cotton zipper covers sewn outside, and extra fabrics sewn together forming lines along the back of coats, jackets, and the legs of pants—are incorporated into the men’s garments. A cropped sheepskin jacket is made from shaved, dyed, and bleached skin for a worn-in effect and tops off a double-breasted wool seersucker suit. A high-top leather mountain-hiking boot has python and crocodile patches and large shoulder-purse backpacks finish off the collection.
As men are more accustomed to and appreciate the special workmanship of their clothes, this Fall’s collection provides the push to propel Lanvin’s menswear into the same stratosphere as its women’s business. Now, there’s a culture and an understanding of sophisticated fashion in the male zeitgeist. Younger men are getting into the serious sartorial game as well, leaving the streetwear enthusiasm—baggy jeans and big tees, et al—in the late-‘90s. On the street, the Lanvin sneaker is still king among the cognoscenti from Harlem to West Chelsea, from Miami to Los Angeles.
Getting people to like and buy the Lanvin clothes Mr. Ossendrijver makes is the ultimate goal, a goal stemming from his initial fascination with the construction of men’s clothes. As we watch the throngs of people crowding Gare d’Austerlitz, leaving Paris for their summer vacations, Mr. Ossendrijver describes the complexities of making a jacket, but aiming for a less conventional elegance—his solution to today’s men’s fashion needs.
When you first arrived at Lanvin, did you have a particular mission in mind on what to do with the men’s collection?
Lucas Ossendrijver: When I started, about six years ago, it was a blank sheet. What we tried to do was figure out what men needed today and what was relevant at that moment. We didn’t want to make a fashion collection. For us, it wasn’t about being cool or trying to bring some kind of revolution to Lanvin, but about making the clothes that we thought were relevant for men today. We thought about defining a wardrobe much like what Jeanne Lanvin did in her time, almost like a lifestyle company before it existed. So we thought about every moment of the day and what, for that moment, men needed; we had a few pants, we had some coats, we had jackets, a tuxedo, a pajama, underwear and some hats. It was really about making a contemporary wardrobe. That was my mission. I don’t really believe in revolution, I believe in evolution. From season to season we adapt and change. We don’t throw away the old ideas, but we try to make them evolve and move forward.
Since Lanvin only had very classic menswear, was it easier for you to start off without a burden of heritage to follow?
Lanvin was actually one of the first brands to do menswear. When I arrived, there was a classic line. Jeanne had important information for men. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, there was prêt-a-porter for menswear, but the image was somewhat dusty. There was always, and I’m very happy about this, a notion of quality craftsmanship. Those were the type of things that further built the brand. I took the quality that was there and tried to modernize it.
I’ve seen all of your shows since the beginning and never had a sense that the collection was designed for anyone in particular. There are no references to the past seeing as how designers like to talk about the ‘60s and ‘70s—this rockstar, that rockstar—and with you, it’s really about discovering the clothes. Is that how you work with the collection?
Yes, I’m very hands-on when I work with my team in the studio. We work on clothes. We don’t really make a mood board with decisions on whether or not we go to the Bahamas next season or if we’ll be Indians after that. For me, it’s about the clothes and how they speak. For me, luxury is something intimate. There is a lot of research that is done and I use my studio as a laboratory to find solutions, to find techniques. Each season, we start from a technique—a shape, a cut, or construction—and then we try to build a story around that. In the end, the story is not what’s most important, but what one must do is make clothes that make people beautiful and make their personality come out. It’s really about the individual person and I’m trying to bring that forth instead of fashion that outshines the wearer. Also, what we try to do with the show is have 40 boys who are 40 individuals. It’s sort of anti-uniform.
That’s really what elegance is today. It’s about people and individualism, not corporate looks and logos.
Exactly. What we try to do is define French elegance. What is French elegance? I think in French elegance there is something about making mistakes. It’s about clothes that you have for a long time, not every season buying a new look from one brand and wearing that. It’s about mixing pieces and, I think, that’s where it gets interesting.
In the collection, a lot of research goes into trying to find fabrics that address how the clothes would look in a certain feel, texture, or material. How important is making the right fabric choice?
Fabrics are always a starting point. Fabric development is extremely important, especially in menswear: the weight, texture, and composition. What you want to do when you work on a fabric is make it speak, so to say. After you have the right fabric, you try and find a technique that works for that specific type. Also, when we do colors, we do individual-per-fabric color, so it’s not like we’re taking one color then applying it to each fabric choice, but trying to look at each fabric’s texture and say, ‘Okay, this red may work in a cotton, but may not work in a wool. This texture may work with a strong color and not with a soft color.’ Every fabric has it’s own color. In the end, when we mix them all for the show, it’s ultimately very rich looking. Again, they’re not uniform, and they’re not all the same. You get a feeling of richness, and I think that’s very important.
How is working with Alber [Elbaz]? Do you interact with him a great deal in terms of your work?
Yes, we communicate a lot actually. His studio is right up the road. For me, it’s very valuable to have him come from outside. He’s not a menswear designer and he has a different eye. It’s very enriching for me, as well, to have someone come over and give an opinion, give a different input or find another solution. Sometimes when you’re in the design process, you only see the problem and it’s easier for him to come in from the outside and see a different view and say, ‘Do you really need this piece? Why would you try to make it work when it doesn’t? Try this or try that.’ That’s our strength; it is a dialogue, not a monologue.
Over the past two or three seasons, there’s been a lot of women’ s wear fabric incorporated into the men’s collection. Was that deliberate?
That works both ways. A lot of the time we do fabric research and I look at what Alber finds and vice versa. I think it’s good for the company to be under one umbrella. We can go from women to men or from men to women and it doesn’t matter. It’s really about what works.
In this Fall collection, there are a lot of silhouettes for jackets and pants. There’s a range of choices from fitted to loose silhouettes.
Fashion, for me, is about options and also what works in real life. We don’t make outfits just for the show. The outfits have to work in real life for real people. When we propose something, we like to have options. A person can have a slim pant with a large jacket or a really tight-fit jacket with a larger pant. It’s really about proposing different options for men so that they can find themselves and make the clothes their own. We are not dictators. We propose.
Do you think men nowadays look more for suits, or for jackets and pants separately?
I think they look for separates, to be honest. When I am in the showroom after the shows, I see how clients buy, and they buy separates. They buy a jacket, they buy a pant, and they combine them. They don’t really buy the suits anymore like they did, and I think that’s very good because you can mix fabrics and colors together. Even if you have a complete look, you can have a pant that’s a slightly different texture or color and that makes it a bit more individual.
Is that a major change in menswear?
Yes! Men are very different from women in that aspect. Men buy for need. They don’t go to a store to shop just for fun. Women do that. They want something that’s new each season, but when men find something that works for them, they go to that store for the same thing. What I see now is that men are a little bit more interested in fashion. They’re not afraid anymore like they used to be. Men admit that they enjoy fashion and like dressing up. It’s very positive.
Every time I visit the showroom, there is a huge selection of shoes. Are shoes the accessory for men like handbags and jewelry are for women?
I love shoes, and I love the craftsmanship of them. As far as accessories for men, shoes are really how you can change a look without wearing something quite outrageous. If you wear a hiking boot or a trainer with a suit, it can completely change how you walk and completely change your attitude. That’s what I really like about accessories.
Especially a hiking boot in snakeskin!
Yes, you’re right. It has to be luxurious!
In the collection, how did the magnetic buttoning come about?
We had to look at sportswear and bring elements of that into tailoring and seriously constructed garments. We looked at zippers and different clothing systems like the magnetic system, and then we tried to use it in a new way. We made those tailored coats really slim-fitted, almost cut with a knife, and close to the body with really narrow shoulders. We then wanted to do something that wraps around the body with little effort so that it almost closes itself. Next, we sewed the magnet on the inside so that you don’t see them on the outside, and it clicks automatically.
So, it’s almost like combining traditional tailoring with new technology.
Exactly! It’s really about mixing the classic with contemporary and proving that the two can live in the same world. When you look at the show, on one hand, you have the tasseled loafer in crocodile, snakeskin, or plain leather, and on the other hand we have the hiking boot, which are quite extreme with elastic wrapping, the application of different clothing systems, and two-toned soles. It’s really about proving that those two can live together.
So you experimented in the studio and found the magnetic buttons to be a new solution.
Yes. It was about how we can make this coat more modern and easier to wear. When you design, it’s about answering those simple questions. For me, designing is also about being generous. I don’t like the idea that you have to concentrate on one thing, because that’s so stressful. I like the process you go through when you have different items or different propositions that, ultimately, results in a story. For me, fashion isn’t linear. It is emotional. It has to do with intuition, and also letting go of things, instead of trying to be so narrow. That’s the way it works with people in real life as well.