The New York Times has looked deeper into the shocking, unexpected ouster of beloved designer Alber Elbaz from Lanvin, and what it found is neither pretty nor elegant. Since majority shareholder Shaw-Lan Wang kicked Elbaz to the curb, employees on the creative side have been warring in the courts with its business and management side, resulting in what writer Vanessa Friedman calls “a very ugly divorce.”
Starting in 2001, Elbaz reinvented the stagnating French house “from scratch,” then-coworker Natasa Cagalj told the Times, and had evolved it into a prestige brand that was coveted among celebrities and socialites the world over. In getting to the bottom of the justification for firing Elbaz—a move that seemed fairly absurd, given his talent and popularity as a designer—Friedman finds that it mostly seemed to lie in Wang’s unwillingness to invest in Lanvin as a business. And parting so unceremoniously wasn’t unprecedented, Wang having had a similar break from Managing Director Paul Deneve after his appointment in 2006:
Fissures had begun to appear in the relationship of Mr. Deneve and Madam Wang. In 2007, reportedly without telling Mr. Deneve of her plans, she sold the perfume business to Interparfums. In January 2009, Mr. Deneve left — after “diverging opinions.”
It was the beginning of a pattern that would repeat itself: Disagreement would not be tolerated. Those who did, left. Or were asked to leave.
Replacement managing director Thierry Andretta left for similar reasons in 2013, foreshadowing Elbaz’s ouster two years later after a financial lull. And unlike other design houses of similar stature, writes Friedman, Wang has been unwilling to take on outside investors or sell shares in the business in order to help it grow. Yet despite all this, this season’s sales are up, and Selfridges started buying Lanvin back up again after two years. Friedman points out that “ironically (or perhaps purposefully), celebrities have been wearing the brand on the red carpet at an almost unprecedented rate,” and that the Paris works council thinks Lanvin might owe “from €20 million to €40 million in severance, according to a statement from their lawyer in court, a figure denied by the Lanvin lawyers.” And most importantly:
In terms of perception, “the company lost half its value when Alber left,” said Ralph Toledano.
It’s a captivating story, and one that begs the most pressing question: where will the genius Alber Elbaz end up?
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