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Lacroix, Christian

house licensed collection lines

B. May 16, 1951

Birthplace: Arles, France

Awards: Dé d’Or Award (Golden Thimble), 1986, 1988
         Council of Fashion Designers of America Award, 1987

Christian Marie Marc Lacroix never intended to be a fashion designer. He studied art history at Paul Valery University, in Montpellier, and museum studies at the Sorbonne, in Paris, from 1973 to 1976 where he wrote his dissertation on seventeenth-century costume. However, his love of costume drew Lacroix into the world of fashion instead of museum curatorship.

Lacroix first entered the fashion realm as a freelance fashion sketcher in 1976. Two years later, in 1978, he landed an apprenticeship with Hermés, and in 1980, he became a design assistant to Guy Paulin. From this position Lacroix caught the attention of the House of Patou. The House of Patou, established in 1914, was in desperate need of new life. In 1981 Lacroix was brought in as designer and artistic director for the house, and he brought excitement and, ultimately, controversy to the stoic institution. After six years, Lacroix unexpectedly broke his contract with the House of Patou to found his own house with the financial backing of Bernard Arnault. The House of Patou claimed that Lacroix’s abrupt departure made it impossible to sell his final collection, sued for breach of contract in 1987, and won a $6.5 million judgment against Lacroix.

Embroiled in controversy, the House of Lacroix, founded in 1986, showed its first collection in July 1987. Despite the conflict with Patou, Lacroix was an immediate success. His collection brought new life to couture. His primer collection featured brightly colored crinoline dresses with Louis XIV powdered wigs. Lacroix’s designs embody the spirit of true couture. He draws on his historic costume background to develop decadent garments in luxurious fabrics which are the epitome of conspicuous consumption. He incorporates baroque style and elegance into extravagant one-of-a-kind concoctions with fur, lace, brocade, embroidery, and beadwork.

The attention Lacroix received from his couture collection allowed him to expand into other product lines and licensing agreements. In 1988 he launched his first ready-to-wear collection, which was licensed to Mendes in 1992. This line was followed by a menswear collection (1988), Bazar de Christian Lacroix (1994) licensed to Paciflor, and Jeans de Christian Lacroix (1996) licensed to Gilmar. Other lines developed by Lacroix include hosiery, handbags licensed to Louis Vuitton, men’s eyewear licensed to Carrera Eyewear, clothing patterns licensed to Vogue Patterns (1988), and men’s ties and women’s scarves licensed to Mantero. By 1989 Lacroix had seven accessory lines, which were an important component to the “Lacroix look.” Three of his jewelry collections, The Signature Group, Calucha, and fer forge, were launched in 1996 under license to the Monet Group. Lacroix also expanded into designing china, tablecloths, cutlery, and crystal for Christofle and home textiles for Nobilis.

These secondary lines play a key role in the economic stability of the House of Lacroix. Since its inception, the house has posted annual losses which have accumulated to approximately $50 million. The expansion to other product lines and licensing agreements helps to keep the house standing, but the introduction of the C’est La Vie perfume in 1991 brought additional financial disaster to Lacroix. Instead of using a perfume distributor, Lacroix launched the scent himself. A novice to the perfume business, Lacroix was not aware of the difficulties in marketing a new scent, and he incurred an additional $30 million in debt before canceling the perfume. In 1999 Parfums Christian Dior, which owns the Lacroix fragrance division, signed a licensing agreement with Inter Parfums to produce future Lacroix fragrances. In 1993 Lacroix was acquired by Moët Hennessy-Louis Vuitton (LVMH), but the house has yet to stabilize financially, calling to question how long the house will retain any financial backing.

In the midst of the 1980s recession, Christian Lacroix opened his couture house, the first designer to do so since Yves Saint Laurent in 1961. With the opening of his house, Lacroix brought glamor and elegance back to couture. Lacroix’s path has not always been an easy or a profitable one, but he continues to generate excitement in what many view as a dying institution.

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