Masters & Muses

Christian Lacroix

Interview by Camilla Frances
Images from Patrick Swirc and Christian Lacroix

Christian Lacroix couture atop a Lacroix-designed carpet (left), part of a scenography created at Musée Réattu, Arles. 

Christian Lacroix discusses life after couture, career defining moments and laughing with Princess Diana
 
One of the most iconic couturiers of our time, Christian Lacroix spent his childhood in Provence, drawing and dreaming of the bright lights and elegant ateliers of Paris. By his early 20s he had reached the fabled city, beginning his career at Hermés, and within a decade had opened the House of Lacroix.
 
Lauded for his wholly original aesthetic , which was both operatic and whimsical - and artfully married folk and traditional influences with lavish, theatrical opulence - Lacroix breathed new life into French Haute Couture. Since the closure of his couture house in 2009, he has returned to his first love, costume design, and continues to be prolifically creative, designing carpets, tapestries, textiles, collages and ceramics. Here, he shares memories and stories from a truly fabulous life in fashion, as well as opinions and reflections on art and design. 

 

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A recent 'off duty' portrait of Monsieur Christian Lacroix, surrounded by books. 

The most memorable trip I’ve taken:
Probably Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in the ‘90s: the strong spiritual impact of the roots of three religions gathered in the same area; violence mixed with the extreme joy of living; the beauty of young girls and guys in uniform by day and gorgeously evening clad by night. I remember the attraction of the desert near Jericho; the emotion, for a Christian, of Saint Sepulchre; a dinner with Mrs Leah Rabin, the then-prime minister’s wife, at the French Embassy, newly-decorated by Jacques Grange, and a tea party at her residence. Straight after dinner, she took us from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, in tuxedos and evening gowns, to discover the city by night from King David Terrace to the Lamentation Wall. The following day was Memorial Day when, at points during the day, everything stops, even the traffic. There was also the overwhelming memorial, Yad Vashem, an Armenian church with a leather-covered clapper silent bell, the newly reopened mosque with its golden dome, and so on. All of that in just three days.
 
The best party I’ve ever been to:
Vanessa Van Zuylen’s first ball, for her birthday party, at her Godmother Marie-Helene de Rothschild’s property, Hotel Lambert, Ile Saint Louis in Paris. Wearing sylphid costumes, the Opera de Paris Ballet Company’s ballerinas were welcoming guests along the stairs under fake snow, while an orchestra was playing in the courtyard and a door boy dressed as a white rabbit was taking our hand and leading us to greet Marie-Helene, Guy and Vanessa. In the Hercule Gallery and Salons, by contrast, the waiters had huge red neon spinning bow ties and all the Queens from Scandinavia sat on the stairs wearing huge tiaras, laughing like naughty little girls and smoking like crazy, among all the Parisian socialites, artists and politicians. Everything was perfect, and we danced until 6am.

 

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Recent designs: 'Papillons' carpet (left) and 'Forum' carpet (right) by Atelier M. Christian Lacroix for Ege Carpets.

A moment that defined or changed my career:
The day I was hired by the House of Patou, unexpectedly in late 1981. I was unknown, just a former history of art student with a few seasons’ experience as an assistant designer for accessories, and work in a PR office. And, of course, the day when I met with a friend of a friend, then CEO of Christian Dior for the USA, who organised a lunch for me with Bernard Arnault in December 1986. He decided to open the House of Lacroix one month later.
 
The greatest challenge I’ve overcome:
The end of the couture house in 2009 and struggling to find a new way of doing fashion. Unfortunately, all financial plans fell through, and I dedicated most of my time to stage design. I had already been doing costume and set design since the 80s, along with trains, tramways, hotels, museum exhibitions, scenography and so on, but this became my main occupation. I was following my true childhood dream: designing theatre, opera and ballet.
 
My proudest achievement:
Pride was not a common feeling for me until I got my first CDFA Award in 1986, for ‘the worldwide most inspirational designer’ (nothing less!) for my Patou collections, and then a Moliere Award for my costumes in Racine Phedre Tragedy for Comedie Francaise. I felt a new sense of pride since these awards were coherent with my core, and therefore for me had more legitimacy than Golden Thimbles Awards (an important kind of ‘fashion Oscar’ each season in the 80s; I got these for both Patou and Lacroix). I was also proud recently when I achieved two four-floor panels of glass-printed and retro enlightened photocollage (pictured below) in Arles Museum, my favorite spot in childhood and an inspiration my whole life.
 
I would describe my childhood as:
On the one-hand, very rooted in Provence and Camargue traditions – festivals, fêtes, costumes, landscapes, with horses, wild beaches, Provence-perfumed hills – and on the other-hand, more formal – a fashion-conscious-Bourgeois-wannabe-Parisian, elegantly clad in posh, classic ‘50s and ‘60s styles. As a teenager, my dream house would have been a mix of a Pompeii-painted patio, a New York ‘60s penthouse, a 16th century Spanish or Italian villa, an 18th century Provence dining room, a rustic English cottage kitchen, an Agatha Christie or Sherlock Holmes style office, a high Bohemian atelier and a medieval style library.

 

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Four-floor panels of glass-printed and retro enlightened photocollage; Arles Museum, Provence; Christian Lacroix. 

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Four-floor panel of glass-printed and retro enlightened photocollage; Arles Museum, Provence; Christian Lacroix. 

An object I would never part with:
I have so many special but humble things from flea markets, no signature, just popular craft art. But let’s say my Santibelli collection: hand-painted XVIII/XIX terracotta characters of Saints, Virgins and exotic personages.
 
The best gift I’ve ever received:
I think of a little XVIII embroidered engraving of the Virgin embellished with brocades, given to me by my Godfather, Francois Lesage, the famous haute-couture embroider. I loved him. I owe a lot to him, and I miss him.
 
My guiltiest pleasure or greatest extravagance:
It’s confidential! No, I’m kidding, I don’t know. Perhaps a vulgar kitsch silly, stupid almost perverse popular television programme…? But really, I don’t think I’m extravagant; I’ve stopped collecting vintage or designer clothes and shoes. I don’t think I ever did anything really extravagant compared to so many people now, and then.
 
My next weekend-away destination:
I must say that I’m always running so late on all projects that I never travel for leisure. I spent almost a month in Stockholm without seeing anything but the hotel and opera workrooms. I’d love to travel through any little roads in France, then to Italy and Spain, the wild areas, also to Ireland and Scotland. I really love architecture from almost any period, and I’d love to go back to Drottningholm Palace Period Theater, which is such a rare place: Gustavian and both refined and rustic, simple. That’s what I love – sophisticated simplicity! My dream would be a monk cell on a rock in between wild hills and overlooking the sea, somewhere like Catalonia.
 
My favorite flea market or antiques fair:
I used to go to Bermondsey in London, and Paul Bert Serpette in Paris, but really, I prefer hidden little spots that I discover. And I have recently forbidden myself from buying anything else; my storage is full.

 

Detail from Christian Lacroix's glass-printed photocollage at Arles Museum, Provence. 

I feel most confident when wearing:
My oldest pieces from the ‘80s, mainly Ralph Lauren vintage, Dries Van Noten, Margiela and Comme Des Garçons, all last century, or patchwork shirts found in Tokyo. They become like second skins with time. Living in the south of France, I mainly wear long robes Djellabas style, which my friend Eric Bergère makes for me in his Arles workroom, Dou Bochi. Generally, I prefer little unknown labels and second-hand clothes.

 

My signature scent:
Vetyver from Diptyque after many years wearing Armani, Comme des Garçons, Lacroix, Hermès, Men’s Club, Chanel and Balmain, pour un homme. I used to change scent each season to keep memories alive, but the main fragrances disappeared or changed their ingredients. Sometimes, in the street, I smell a very special, simple fragrance. I don’t know which perfume it is, but it’s a mix of what shaving cream used to smell like 60 years ago and a simple timeless soap. For women, and remembering my grandmother, I love the Old Guerlain perfumes.

 

My go-to recipe:
I only know how to do my grandmother’s recipes: aioli; îles flottantes, (‘floating islands’); wine-marinated beef, or with an anchovies, capers, garlic and cream sauce. She also did this yellow cake covered with the most delicious bitter black chocolate, and another with chestnut, caramel, chocolate and whipped cream.

 

My all-time favorite fabric:
To wear, all types of genuine cottons – vintage, old, authentic. As a designer, I loved thick, silk taffetas, faille, satin, duchesse, all fabrics that enable you to build an architecture in space. For my home, linens in the south of France, and traditional crispy silk or chintz in Paris, from classic French or English makers.

 

A one-of-a-kind Silk Taipe Carpet, depicting a dragon; Christian Lacroix. 

The person I call for good advice:
A very special friend who doesn’t want to be named! I follow his intuition when I need advice. Or [the director, curator and performer], Olivier Saillard, one of my best friends. He ran Palais Galliera, the Parisian costume and fashion museum, and is now at J. M. Weston, and doing performances for Pitti Immagine. He joined us in Arles with his husband, Gael, who works for Balenciaga Museums. Olivier’s last bit of advice to me: “Wait for the right project, go with your gut, or choose the most unexpected one, out of your comfort zone.”
 
The person I call for a good time:
I have the best time with my wife, we still laugh like children after half a century. Olivier too (I have just organised a lunch with them both), or my other best friend, [the writer and publisher], Patrick Mauriès. We wrote several books together when he was at Thames & Hudson, on furniture and decorating trends since the mid-1960s. We are too old now for all-nighters, and we have lost so many exhilarating, witty, whimsical friends to Aids, age and accidents, after many decades of going out in Paris and the south of France.
 
My dream dinner party companion:
Some of my most unforgettable dinners were when I was sat next to Princess Diana, laughing like teenagers. At official dinners, we would laugh at some of the guests’ behaviour, and I’d share gossip about some of the French guests she’d ask about. One night, she was wearing a dress of mine and I had to discreetly do up the buttons at the back during courses, without looking at what I was doing since all the audience was watching us. We were not so “official”, and she got the giggles. I never met Cecil Beaton or Diana Vreeland; I would have loved to have been seated next to them for a dinner party! And of course, many ghosts: Chanel; Balenciaga; Proust or Wilde.
 
Ideal interiors in three words:
Special (a mix of high and low decor, created over time).
Genuine (reflecting the owner and place).
Cosy (kind of a nest, favoring several small rooms rather than a huge loft or grand space).
 
Distasteful interiors in three words:
Decorated (by somebody else, hiding your personality behind fake, ‘edgy’ stuff).
Cold (all iron, concrete and fake-contemporary).
Classic (‘good taste’, or supposed to indicate good taste).

 

Lacroix Ceramics: A one-of-a-kind ceramic work made exclusively for Poterie Ravel in Aubagne, France. 

 

Just one more thing... 

 
One master: Balenciaga.
One muse: My wife.
One city: London.
One artwork: Antoine Raspal, The Sewing Workshop, 1760 at Musée Réattu, Arles.
One book: Too many… Anything by Jean Cocteau.
One museum: Arles Museum, or Wallraf-Richartz Museum in Cologne.
One shop: Manufactum in Berlin, or Liberty in London
One song: Anything by The Beatles – Michelle, Here, There and Everywhere, Strawberry Fields Forever. All timeless.
One color: Red
One flower: Carnation
One word to describe your style: So Lacroix! Kaleidoscopic? Composite?
One word to describe Cabana: So Cabana! Genuinely rooted in spaces and times.

 

 

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