Shaw-Lan Wang might not be a woman whose name rolls off the tongue for most fashion lovers, but frankly - it should. Shaw-Lan, as the reclusive owner of Lanvin, is actually one of the industry’s biggest players. Madame Wang, as she likes to be known, has given a rare interview to the Financial Times in which she shares her thoughts on the fashion scene, how she came to purchase the world’s oldest fashion house and – of course - on Lanvin Creative Director, Alber Elbaz.
In an age when most fashion companies are owned by mega-conglomerates like LVMH, it’s rare to find a label that is privately owned – but Lanvin is just that. Founded by Jeanne Lanvin in 1915, the label changed hands significantly for twelve years after 1989, when Jeanne Lanvin’s cousin, Yves, sold a stake in the company to Midland Bank, who subsequently sold their share to a company owned by the Vuitton family, who then sold to L'Oréal, who later bought the remainder of the company. Capiche?
Grazia Daily is not totally au fait with the process of buying and selling fashion houses; we prefer to deal more directly with the clothing and accessories, but Madame Wang bought Lanvin from L’Oreal in 2001, describing the process in oddly simplified terms – ‘I have a friend in Hong Kong and he has dressed in Lanvin for more than 30 years. I thought, He would be very proud if I was the owner’ she told the Financial Times. Rrright.
The next bit is the stuff of legend. Elbaz, having heard that Wang had purchased the company, and having left his position at YSL two years before, called the businesswoman out of the blue and asked her to allow him to ‘please wake up the Sleeping Beauty’.
‘I was in Cannes with a friend on a big boat’ Wang remembers ‘Alber called, "Can I meet you?" I say, ‘Of course. I will come to Paris…. He showed me his press book. The first fashion show, he called 'Homage to Yves Saint Laurent'. Good, I thought. He knows respect. I was introduced to a lot of people. But with them I didn’t have that feeling.’ Mirroring Wang’s thoughts, Elbaz told the New York Times in 2005 that ‘Mrs. Wang is all about honor and respect, and she took a chance on me when others wouldn't’. And what a pay off that chance has given her; not only is Lanvin now one of most revered fashion powerhouses in a creative sense, but the label moved into profit for the first time in decades under Elbaz’s direction.
Though Wang said in 2009 that ‘I never see a design. Every time we are in a fashion show, I keep a straight face because I have never seen it before! She is confident in the knowledge that ‘everybody loves Alber’s dresses… Before I [used to] say Alber’s dress is for anyone from 18 to 81’ but it transpires in the interview that she has recently met an 85 year old who wears Lanvin, extending her brackets somewhat.
Neither is Wang fazed by the fashion world and its glamour ‘Alber and my director go the parties. Not me… I don’t like those kind of people or those kind of parties. I am not a jet-set person’.
Oh, and you know how you’d imagine she’s got a closet full of Lanvin? Not the case. Asked in 2009 if what she was wearing was Lanvin, she responded by saying ‘no! I am Chinese. I only wear Chinese outfit… But it’s in the style of Lanvin!’