No Man’s Lanvin

Peter Copping
You can’t build a world if there is nothing to build upon, and at Lanvin, the need right now is to re-engage the fashion customer. Photo: Peter White/Getty Images
Lauren Sherman
June 27, 2024

Today’s appointment of Peter Copping to the role of artistic director at Lanvin, the oldest operating French fashion house, was at once completely unexpected and entirely obvious. Copping has had a strangely transparent career. His behind-the-scenes work—with Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton and, most recently, Demna at Balenciaga Couture—is almost as well known as his headliner appointments at Nina Ricci (Puig’s long-suffering brand where he turned out perfectly fine collections) and Oscar de la Renta (a catastrophe, by all accounts, it just wasn’t right). Copping isn’t a self-promoter; I’d even say he possesses reserve, which has served him well.

And yet, I doubt name recognition had anything to do with this choice. Copping has depth of experience making clothes that people actually wear. Today, the fashion executives recruiting creative directors must decide between hiring a curator—a person who knows how to build a world—or a designer, who’s more focused on the clothes than the concept. Very few candidates are a combination of the two, and in recent years, the curators have won out.

Although it’s certainly not a new idea. In The Beautiful Fall, the book about Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent in the 1970s, author Alicia Drake talks about the difference between Lagerfeld the styliste and Saint Laurent the couturier. As the business became more and more about marketing—it was always about marketing, yes, but now there are billions of dollars to be made—world builders have been prioritized.

And yet, you can’t build a world if there is nothing to build upon, and at Lanvin, the need right now is to re-engage the fashion customer. Lanvin still sells sneakers, and its stretchy ballet flat, developed under the late Alber Elbaz, is back in the commercial conversation. But when Elbaz was designing, this was a flou brand; you went to Lanvin for dresses. 

I had predicted that Lanvin deputy C.E.O. Siddhartha Shukla, who joined the brand in 2021, would hire a woman for the long-empty role. After all, it’s a heritage brand, and I assumed he would want to counter the very loud discourse around creative director jobs going only to white, gay men. Then there were the Stefano Pilati rumors, undoubtedly spurred by the fact that Shukla worked with the designer at Yves Saint Laurent. But the reality of the matter is that the lack of female creative director candidates is systemic and needs to be remedied at the assistant level, and the Pilati rumors were nothing more than wishful thinking. 

Copping may not be a woman, but he can design feminine clothing, into the flou. He also has a curiously close relationship to the Lanvin brand, despite never having worked there. It’s a bit convoluted, but there’s a karass of designers with whom he shares houses. He worked for Oscar de la Renta, who also designed for Balenciaga, Copping’s most recent post, as well as Lanvin under Antonio del Castillo. And now, Copping shares both Nina Ricci and Lanvin with Jules-François Crahay. Those synapses were created over decades, and offer another explanation for why Copping was the right choice. 

The Adults

In recent years, the industry has favored the energy of youth, but I predict the tides may turn back in the other direction, with houses investing more up front in experienced creative directors in order to better ensure a fruitful outcome. When has a big risk on a young kid worked out? Remember that Alessandro Michele, Demna, and Nicolas Ghesquière were seasoned by the time they were installed at Gucci, Balenciaga, and Louis Vuitton. Jonathan Anderson was given a small project in Loewe that he transformed into a big one over the course of a decade. As a friend said to me recently, it’s not that Jonathan suddenly transformed the brand into a force; the culture simply caught up to him.

These jobs not only require good ideas and a deft hand, but the ability to navigate the increasingly complex corporate culture that is overtaking the industry, and the only way you know how to do that is if you have been a manager of some kind or another. For his part, Shukla understands that in order to sell more sneakers, and more ballet flats, there needs to be a core constituency who buys dresses, too. Copping will need to act as a servant to this dream customer. 

In the past, I’ve categorized his work as severe, and he’ll need to push back against that instinct, and lean instead into the romance. Lanvin is still dragged down by the weight of Elbaz’s 14 years at the firm—then owned by Shaw-Lan Wang, the Taiwanese media magnate. It’s now the property of Lanvin Group, a subsidiary of the Chinese conglomerate Fosun International, which made a perhaps ill-advised decision to I.P.O. its fashion collection (which includes Lanvin, Sergio Rossi, St. John, and others) in the U.S. in 2022. The stock is underperforming, like many in fashion, trading at around $1.82 per share. The brand actually fared pretty well in its most recent fiscal year, surviving the comedown from a massive Covid bump with just a slight dip in sales. Overall, the group was profitable. 

Of course, even if Copping’s collections are as ravishing as they need to be to generate industry and insider interest, he and Shukla have plenty of hardship ahead of them. With a small brand, fortunately, there are fewer rules. And sometimes, limited budgets force creativity. As more of these empty creative director positions are filled, the executives in charge of the appointments will have to remember that taste—and product-market fit—do matter. It’s Richemont’s Alaïa, LVMH’s Loewe, The Row, Kering’s Bottega Veneta, Phoebe Philo, the in-process reinvigoration of Versace, and the surprise of Bally, that are exciting people. Perhaps Copping can add Lanvin to that list.