With her first collection for Lanvin, Bouchra Jarrar certainly made her mark. Since the 46-year-old French designer was announced as Lanvin’s new artistic director in March last year, she has created fresh, wearable designs for the real woman. That might not sound radical, but under the 14-year tenure of Alber Elbaz, the label came to be associated with extravagant embellishment, flouncy bows and a deeply romantic aesthetic. As if to emphasise this changing of the guard, upon settling into the Lanvin offices – which are located across from the French house’s 128-year-old flagship boutique in Paris – Bouchra stripped down her predecessor’s dimly-lit cocooning interiors, painted the walls white and installed minimalist mid-century furniture. There wasn’t a bow-tie in sight.
With her sensual, feminine clothes designed to flatter the female form – a low-draping back is a signature touch – Bouchra is blazing a trail in other ways too. She is one of two female designers suddenly elevated to the highest echelons of the major couture houses for the first time in decades (Maria Grazia Chiuri at Dior is the other). It is wholly fitting that there’s a woman back at the helm of Lanvin again, because Jeanne Lanvin was an exceptional woman. Like her contemporary Coco Chanel, millinery was Jeanne’s escape from an impoverished childhood, and she opened her first hat shop – Lanvin Modes – in 1889. Jeanne’s daughter Marguerite was her first and biggest inspiration – Lanvin only started designing clothes after the dresses Jeanne made for her daughter were so stylish that clients kept asking for adult-size versions. Even the Lanvin logo is based on a photo of Jeanne and Marguerite in matching party outfits (beat that Kim and North).
Other than the fact they are both female entrepreneurs – Bouchra self-funded her own label after stints at Balenciaga and Christian Lacroix – further parallels can be drawn between Lanvin’s current designer and its founder. While Jeanne Lanvin was the eldest of 11 children, Jarrar is the sixth of seven. They are both firm believers that even the most elegant evening clothes need to be comfortable. A principle that has made Lanvin the red-carpet label of choice for the likes of Natalie Portman, Kate Moss and Nicole Kidman.
Although designing well over a century ago, Jeanne Lanvin was a working woman and a working mother (and a single one at that), so it’s no surprise that the oldest fashion house still in operation continues to appeal to the intelligent, successful woman who wants to look stylish but not over-styled.
35, French, vice president of Positive Planet
Audrey wears Jacket, Dhs17,920; Top, Dhs3,725; Skirt, Dhs18,375; Shoes, Dhs4,290, all Lanvin.
Having cut her fashion teeth at the French maisons of Yves Saint Laurent and Jitrois early on in her career, and carrying French DNA herself, it is no surprise that Audrey Tcherkoff has an affinity with Lanvin. “I discovered Lanvin when I was a student,” she recalls. “I remember reading an article about the greatest French women – Jeanne Lanvin was amongst them. I found her story very inspiring and I became very interested in the brand spirit and its unique creations.” Speaking of great French women, Audrey’s own accomplishments are not to be sniffed at; she first moved to the Middle East to found and develop the Robert Wan pearl producing group in Qatar, but in 2015 felt that she had a bigger calling and made the shift from for-profit to non-profit by becoming a board member of Positive Planet, a foundation that works to fight poverty. Today, inspired by securing her daughter, 20-month-old Mila, a brighter future, Audrey also heads the Positive Economy Forum that brings together the world’s thinkers and change-makers to create a better future for generations to come. She describes her personal style as, “Ever-evolving with a boho twist,” which is why she loves Bouchra Jarrar’s new “more bohemian aesthetic,” but ultimately she feels the house has always been a go-to for women of substance. “To me, the Lanvin woman is the 2.0 multi-tasker who is juggling a high-flying career, her personal life and everything else at the same time. She is strong a role model to others,” Audrey says. Much like herself then.
33, Emirati, vice president, corporate affairs Etihad
Amina wears Coat, Dhs12,245; Necklace, Dhs9,385, both Lanvin. Shoes, her own.
Although she’s the picture of calm at Bazaar’s shoot, Amina Taher claims that’s not always the case. “If I could describe my day in one word it would be ‘chaos’,” she jokes. “I’m not going to pretend I have a perfect work/life balance.” As global head of communications for the UAE’s flag-carrying airline, Amina’s job involves responding to breaking news with the speed and power of a 747. “Today, for example, we’ve been discussing what should we do about the US electronic ban,” she says. “It’s fast-paced and challenging because the industry is always changing.” As the company’s only official ‘spokeswoman’, Amina says that clothes are “hugely important”. She also mentors Emirati entrepreneurs and regularly speaks at women and leadership conferences, so it’s important to look the part. “I describe my style as Emirati with an edge,” Amina says. A long-term Lanvin fan – “it’s my go-to when I’m representing the UAE” – she says that she’s welcomed the change in aesthetic under Bouchra Jarrar. “The clothes seem a bit more modern now and it’s refreshing,” she says. “Lanvin speaks to all women, but because it’s modest and chic it is especially loved in the Middle East – that’s why the royal family wear it. “Last September at New York Fashion Week I went to a Jimmy Choo event and I wore a floor-length maroon Lanvin gown,” she recalls. “I felt so elegant and yet understated. That’s a Lanvin dress for you – it’s eye-catching in its simplicity.” Like Jeanne Lanvin, Amina says she finds inspiration in her daughter (who is now 12). “She gives me fashion tips and is more into labels than me,” she jokes.Her strong sense of family also applies to her work. “Being tough in the airline industry is good when you’re a woman, but you need to harness your emotional intelligence, too. When I bring my teams together at work, I feel like a matriarch bringing together the tribes.”
38, Tunisian, founder of L’Atelier and Casa Chic
Rym wears Jacket, Dhs10,815; Dress, Dhs10,815; Trousers, Dhs4,025, all Lanvin. Shoes, her own.
Rym Turki is more intimately acquainted with Lanvin than most. Not just because she loves the label, but because in 2001, while in Paris studying for her Masters in marketing and finance, Rym was an intern at the House of Lanvin. “It was the very first year of Alber Elbaz and there such an air of excitement,” she recalls. “I was so fortunate to work on the first runway show and I was given a brooch with black stones to wear as part of my coordinator’s outfit. I still have it and I feel such an emotional connection to that time whenever I wear it.” After her stint at Lanvin, Rym went on to open her own wallpaper and interiors company in her native Tunisia – Casa Chic – and when she moved to Dubai with her husband in 2012, she set up L’Atelier – a fashion and homeware brand. Although she worked closely with Alber Elbaz, she is diplomatic about the new designer. “I liked Bouchra’s work at Balenciaga,” she says. “I think she’s bringing a new and much-needed breath of fresh air to Lanvin.” Rym’s days start with getting her daughter, Sofia, four, to school. “After that I’m managing L’Atelier – developing new products and ideas to keep the collection fresh and exciting. In the afternoon I focus on social media and following up with suppliers. I work a lot from home and move from one sales location to the other, so it is important for me to be very comfortable, but always look stylish.” She says that her Lanvin wardrobe staples like little black dresses and tailored shirts make her feel “sexy and unique” and that Natalie Portman is the ultimate Lanvin woman. “She exudes class, beauty and intelligence.” Rym’s busy day ends with a very important job – bedtime stories for Sofia. “I couldn’t get through the day without her smile.”
34, Jordanian-Canadian, strategy and growth manager at Little Thinking Minds
Salwa wears Jacket, Dhs8,930; Top, Dhs3,530; Trousers, Dhs4,680; Glove, Dhs10,620; Necklace (worn as belt), Dhs6,110; all Lanvin. Shoes, stylist's own.
When Salwa Katkhuda was working in Silicon Valley, the dress code was pretty laid-back. “It was very much that cliché of flip-flops and hoodies,” she laughs. “But I love fashion and trends so I’m always over-dressed. My friends and colleagues make fun of me but I like to elevate a look.” After eight years as a venture capitalist, Salwa decided to join one of the start-ups she’d invested in – Little Thinking Minds. “We develop platforms for children to learn Arabic in a fun way,” she explains. “I realised there was a huge need for Arabic content in the digital world and no one was doing it.” She first discovered Lanvin at 14 years old, when a cousin who was living in London took her to the store. “My cousin was my fashion icon,” recalls Salwa. “She bought the classic Lanvin silk red dress with the bow on the back and I remember thinking ‘When I grow up I want to come back here and get my own’.” Years later, Salwa fulfilled that ambition, buying the same dress in green. It was the start of a life-long Lanvin love affair. “The clothes are feminine and sensual but at the same time very cool.” She’s a particular fan of the accessories. “I like their biker jackets, choker necklaces, cuffs and hand jewellery,” she says. “Bouchra is inspirational. She understands a woman’s body. She drapes a dress beautifully, and cuts a short sleeve that covers the upper arm.” Although Salwa says that being a working mother isn’t easy – “just when I think I have the balance I end up getting over-stretched at work and it all tips” – she says that she gets her energy from spending time with her two daughters, four years old and 11 months. And even high-powered tech entrepreneurs need a digital detox. “If I’m with my kids I take my phone away. When you’re with the people you love you need to focus fully.”
This article originally appeared in the May 2017 issue of Harper's Bazaar Arabia.
Photography: Vivienna Balla at MMG.
Fashion Editor: Gemma Deeks.
Make-up: Hedi Kalmar at MMG.
Hair: Bianca Hartkopf at MMG.
Fashion Assistant: Osheen Abdelwahab.
With thanks to Dubai Design District.