On Tuesday afternoon, Christian Lacroix presented what very well may have been his last haute collection, perhaps his last of any sort, for the house he launched from his poufy Patou springboard back in the high-flying Eighties. The show was perfect.
Chez Lacroix’s receivership status stands in harsh, obvious alignment with the now-horrific economy: The man considered the purest of Paris’ remaining couturiers, its heart and soul even, has had the financial floor dropped from beneath him in a manner painful for us to watch, let alone for him to go through. The process smacks of harbinger: Couture as we know it will, in all likelihood, change dramatically in the near future.
Yet Lacroix’s woes started before those of the greater economy. Long ago he gave himself over completely to the métier’s sheer beauty, romance and boundless extravagance, any hint of temperance be damned. If his evening creations were the stuff of glorious dreams, a day jacket, all beribboned and jeweled brocade, might have been plucked from an 18th-century portrait. Magnificent, yes, but even as the shows awed endlessly with their beauty, they often offered no hints of real-world restraint.
On Tuesday, Lacroix did more than hint. He showed a breathtaking collection that, while utterly signature — not one item could have been conjured by anyone else — was completely reality-based and wearable, from start to finish. Though apparently a product of necessity — the coffers are pretty much empty — the newly sedate collection looked as haute as ever, yet now utterly suited for life beyond a dream sequence. Lacroix’s ultradecorated Basque jackets became a saucy spencer with jeweled pockets and a gold-buttoned military affair; an asymmetric draped cocktail dress had a controlled spill of jewels down the front; a drop-waist coatdress looked almost stark. But the biggest surprise was evening, almost all black and linear (save for a remarkable full-skirted, flamenco-influenced knockout), his passion for decoration as subtle as a point d’esprit fichu, and for color, a single vibrant, well-placed ribbon. One couldn’t help but wonder if, had Lacroix embraced this mood a few years ago, it would have taken him to a different place than the one he’s in now.
Now, Lacroix must hope for a buyer in the worst of times. Then again, fashion has always attracted adventure-seekers. To the deep-pocketed and curious: Consider this collection one spectacular employment pitch.