Bruno Sialelli

NR Vol. 12 Change · Autumn Winter 2020
Published · Print Page Unnumbered

Feature · Bruno Sialelli
Words · Ellie Brown

“Being at home, not being able to live a ‘normal’ life, does not mean that you cannot dream, have fantasies, expectations for yourself”

When Bruno Sialelli’s recent collection as Lanvin’s creative director was unveiled back in February, it was rich in a kind of French bourgeois opulence; perfectly coiffed hair, glossy lips, impeccable tailoring and strut with the air of je ne sais quoi. Stylistically, the collection finds its inspiration somewhere between the 1920s with sheer, ankle-gazing cocktail dresses and feathers – and the 1960s; flapper-esque headbands that verge on space age, bouffant femme fatale waves and dramatic eyes. But within barely weeks of show, the glamour and sultriness that Sialelli envisioned for this season were already overshadowed by a wave of another kind. 

There’s little need to dwell on the fact that sales of athleisure and loungewear have soared for the best part of a year now, especially as many parts of the world enter a second lockdown of some kind, as pandemic infections rise and restrictions follow. That doesn’t so much concern Sialelli, however. For one, the AW20 collection took inspiration from the brand’s namesake, Jeanne Lanvin, who crawled out of poverty, the eldest of 11 children, starting as a milliner’s apprentice at age 13, before going on to found the fashion house in 1889.

And of course, Sialelli’s collection could not pre-empt what this year would entail, but pandering to a current demand for soft, comfortable clothing is not on the cards for Lanvin. Has the house had to adapt to a potential shift in customers wanting more casual attire? No, as the creative director explains over email, ‘I do not think this is a mission for a house like Lanvin. Being a couture house – the oldest still in activity today – brings responsibilities.’ Responsibilities, that is, to both ‘the legacy and to the clients.’ 

Since Sialelli took the helm at Lanvin in January 2019, he’s been quick to outline that he intends to elevate the brand’s heritage and Jeanne Lanvin’s legacy. By making his loyal commitment to the Lanvin legacy and client clear, however, Sialelli demonstrates that he truly means business as the brand’s creative director – pandemic, or no pandemic. ‘Being at home, not being able to live a “normal” life, does not mean that you cannot dream, have fantasies, expectations for yourself,’ he explains,

“being dressed up, being elegant, being fabulous remains essential to our lives – even more today, and mandatory tomorrow!”

‘To me, Lanvin is here for those reasons.’ There’s always been a demand and desire for the glitz that Lanvin affords. During the interwar period, when fashions veered towards a rejection of the constraints that lingered from the nineteenth century and loose-fitting dresses reigned supreme, that era at Lanvin is rememberable for the robe de style. It was a look that referenced the romanticism and elegance of the eighteenth century, with full skirts and ornate beading. Not quite 100 years later, that mentality returns to the fore under Sialelli: the SS21 collection was envisioned and created under the first lockdown and is ‘all about elegance, optimism, and joie de vivre, the ingredients of today’s world.’  

That ethos of grace and hope is so deeply woven into the fabric of the Lanvin image that it cannot be compromised. Especially so considering, as Sialelli explains, Jeanne Lanvin’s vision during the interwar years remains synonymous with the “French look” of that time. ‘Still today, when you refer to this period, only Lanvin silhouettes come to mind.’ Jeanne’s eponymous brand ‘brought a very unique style that remains a reference today,’ and Sialelli sees it as being part of his mission as creative director to reimagine that for a contemporary audience and client. For the SS21 collection, staged in Shanghai, the opening look made a resounding reference to Jeanne’s heyday; a bejewelled black robe de style coalescing French and Chinese culture and style. 

After a tumultuous few years at Lanvin, following the departure of the house’s much-respected creative director, Alber Elbaz, in 2015, much pressure lay on Sialelli’s shoulders. He was the fourth designer to head the house in as many years; relatively unknown and only 31 years old, he wasn’t the kind of superstar appointment that has been made at other houses in recent years. This, as it turns out, has landed in Sialelli’s favour. Though he’s keen to emphasise the importance of continuing the legacy that Lanvin has left on the fashion world, the appointment has also enabled him to carve out his own legacy.

With almost three years in the role, how does he perceive the mark that he’s made on Lanvin? Objectively speaking, it is, he says, ‘very difficult for me to answer that!’ But it would be the ‘deep and constant dialogue I initiated with Jeanne Lanvin. Understanding who she was, as a woman, as a fashion genius and as an entrepreneur.’ But also, ‘why she did what she did – the genesis of her story, and what still exists today,’ he explains:  

“I guess I place myself as a filter through which I digest, project, and establish Lanvin today.”

Sialelli’s approach to creating a new look for Lanvin is apparent in the ways he re-uses the brand’s heritage now. For the most recent collection, the brand collaborated with the estate of the French-Swiss art deco artist, Jean Dunand (a friend of Jeanne’s), whose prints perfectly encapsulate that early-twentieth-century fascination and cross-cultural fusion of styles between the west and China. Sialelli’s inspiration for each season comes ‘from everywhere, on purpose,’ from people he sees on the streets, to stand-out iconography. 

Lanvin under its current creative director is the perfect blend of classic, French style and a savvy for knowing what a heritage fashion house should be today. Sialelli has definitely tapped into the power that an iconic look can hold in the twenty-first century (his Instagram is brimming with beautiful close-ups of the Lanvin collections and images that clearly serve as personal inspiration). Whilst the house has had to rethink and adapt to the changes this year has brought, evaluating and reaffirming the Lanvin vision, Sialelli has been using his time differently – doing what he previously couldn’t find time for;

“Looking, reading, listening to things that I would not have managed to prior to these lockdowns.”

And though Sialelli is, like the rest of us, uncertain as to how deeply the pandemic will affect the fashion industry – he is hopeful for Lanvin’s future. ‘My responsibility is to (not for now and, I hope, not in a very long time) hand over the reins to another creative director one day who will come to continue the story we are drafting.’ Despite a few hiccups, Lanvin finds itself as the oldest French fashion house – a feat coupled by the accomplishment of never having lost its distinct charm and elegance.


Photography · TERESA CIOCIA
Interview · Ellie Brown
Casting · Isadora Banaudi
Fashion Assistant · FEDERICA MUSELLA Make-Up Assistant · DANILO MASALA
Hair Assistant · MARTINA PORCELI

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