Sad end to glittering Lacroix fashion house

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Indy Lifestyle Online

After the razzle-dazzle of the 1990s, when Christian Lacroix was the darling of the world's fashion editors, Tuesday's bankruptcy proceedings were a downbeat end to a glittering adventure.

Only a handful of employees out of over 100 have been kept on to manage the fashion house's licensing deals to pay off creditors in the waning hopes that a white knight would arrive to the rescue.

When Lacroix sent his first models down the catwalk in the chic Place Vendome in Paris on July 26 1987, it was seen as a seismic event in fashion: it was the first couture house to open in 25 years.

New York Times fashion editor Bernadine Morros said at the time: "We've had nothing like this since Dior and Saint Laurent" and hailed Lacroix as "A new star. A new king."

In 1994 Sunday Times fashion editor Colin McDowell credited Lacroix with "almost single-handedly putting couture back on top of the fashion agenda," while commenting presciently that his clothes were "something to gape at rather than buy" - a difference that has had far-reaching effects.

Lacroix brought his native Arles onto the runway, with the vivid Mediterranean palette of fuschia, orange and mimosa yellow, and costumes inspired by bullfighters and gypsies.

His clashing colours and exuberant, over-the-top creations, like his puffball and frou-frou skirts, ran counter both to the Dallas power-dressing of the time and the traditional vocabulary of couture with its understatement and refinement.

But the press went wild and the fact that not many people actually bought the clothes was not seen as a problem.

Over the years he refined his looks, drawing extensively on his interest in the history of fashion. Outstanding collections were like paintings from Madrid's Prado gallery brought to life.

Standing ovations at the end of his shows were not uncommon, and it was a tradition to pelt him with the carnations left on the seats when he took his final bow.

But the decision of the world's number one luxury leader LVMH (Moet Hennessey Louis Vuitton) to sell the label on to the US duty free giant Falic in 2005, albeit with Lacroix remaining as artistic director, was already a wake-up call.

Sales simply never lived up to expectations. The house perfume "C'est La Vie" flopped and a diffusion line "Bazar" was quietly scrapped by Falic, which decided the best policy was to concentrate on the main ready-to-wear label.

Lacroix' last catwalk collection in July was an emotional occasion, already almost a wake, with only 250 guests, less than half the usual number.

The show was put together in no small part thanks to the generosity of admirers - the models who waived their fees, the venue made available by the Paris' Musee des Arts Decoratifs, and the likes of stalwart supporters, among them the master embroiderer Francois Lesage, who helped make so many of Lacroix' ideas a reality and was in tears.

Pierre Berge, right-hand man to Yves Saint Laurent, always predicted that haute couture would finish with him. That proved not to be quite right. But nobody can fail to feel that the writing is on the wall when the likes of Lacroix can no longer survive, and the extravagant dinosaur that is couture has maybe finally had its day.

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