Reviving Lacroix; after Years of Creating Unwearable Clothes and Unbearable Losses, the French Designer Label Has Acquired Savvy New American Owners and a Fresh, Streamlined Look. Just Ask Helen Mirren
Thomas, Dana, Newsweek International
Byline: Dana Thomas
For 20 years, the name Christian Lacroix has stood for two things in fashion: complicated clothes and capital losses. But that's about to change. Three American brothers who bought Lacroix from the French luxury group Moet Hennessey-Louis Vuitton (LVMH) two years ago are using their no-nonsense business acumen to reinvent the label. They have pulled the disparate lines into one, cohesive ready-to-wear collection and planned a major expansion into the United States, setting the company on a course to become profitable--for the first time--within two years. "This [restructuring] is what I've always wanted to do," Lacroix says in his immense new showroom in western Paris. "I was on my hands and knees begging my successive presidents at LVMH. It's a complete relief. It's as if I were reborn."
And what a grand entrance he's making. Last week Helen Mirren picked up her Oscar for best actress wearing a Lacroix made-to-order gold lace couture confection. "It held me like two angel hands," she said later. A few days later, Lacroix, 55, presented his streamlined fall-winter 2007-08 womenswear collection in Paris--feminine, dark-hued wool suits and short, jewel-colored satin dresses--and launched a fruity summer fragrance called C'est la Fete (It's Party Time). In April the house will kick off its 20th-anniversary celebrations with an exhibit of Lacroix's clothes at the Villa Noailles museum in Hyeres, France, followed by a show of his theater sets and costumes at the national costume museum in Moulins, France, in June. A major exhibition of his work is scheduled to go up at the Musee de la Mode et du Textile in the Louvre in November--the same month Lacroix will inaugurate his first American flagship store, on East 57th Street in New York.
In France, Lacroix's renaissance is already obvious everywhere--from the nationwide Gaumont cinemas and the new TGV trains to Strasbourg, for which he designed the interiors, to the charming 17th-century Hotel du Petit Moulin in Paris, where every room is done up in Lacroix's signature baroque style. Three more hotels are planned, the first to open down the street from the Musee d'Orsay on the Left Bank in November. Lacroix recently won a competition to design the tramway cars in the southern city of Montpellier--in Mediterranean tones with sea motifs--and he is still busy doing costumes for operas and ballets. Next up: "The Marriage of Figaro" at the Aix-en-Provence festival in July. Lacroix has become so influential in design that in January he was named creator of the year at the prestigious Maison & Objet interior-design trade show in Paris. Last year's recipient was the world-renowned French architect Jean Nouvel. "Not bad, eh?" Lacroix says with a laugh.
Since the takeover by the Florida-based duty-free retailer the Falic (pronounced fay-lick) Group, the changes at Lacroix have been quick and drastic. The company, composed of three brothers from Miami who had made their fortunes with the Perfumania discount fragrance chain and Duty Free Americas stores, hired the French-born, American-educated entrepreneur Nicolas Topiol as Lacroix president. Under Topiol's guidance, Lacroix's lower-priced Bazar and Jeans lines have been dissolved, and the ready-to-wear line is designed to be more readily wearable, featuring basic Capri pants up to pretty lace cocktail dresses, with prices generally ranging from $250 to $4,000. Production quality has been greatly improved. Lacroix opened its first American boutique, in the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, last summer, and has plans for more U. …