Susannah Frankel: Sensitive soul of fashion lost the thread

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The Independent Online

"Lacroix, sweetie," Edina in Absolutely Fabulous often answered when asked what she was wearing, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. Given the circles that the TV satire focused upon, it probably was. The exuberant designs that characterise this designer's work, inspired, he has said, by his southern France childhood, was as integral a part of the upwardly mobile 1980s as the Filofax and the predominance of matt black.

To describe Lacroix's handwriting as maximal – a counterpoint to the greige beloved of Giorgio Armani – would not do it justice. This is a designer who thinks nothing of mixing chartreuse, fuchsia, cobalt and marigold in one garment. Fabric is equally opulent – feathers, furs, lavish jewelled embroideries and brocades are staples of the most understated daywear.

At Lacroix presentations a carnation is placed on each gilded seat and devotees shower him with his favourite, appropriately blousy flower when he takes his bows. The designer's detractors argue, however, that Lacroix has refused to move with the times, that his vision of femininity is so flowery as to have become archaic.

More significantly, where Lacroix contemporaries have spent the past quarter of a century establishing themselves as lifestyle brands, this sensitive soul has not come up with anything as commercial as a must-have handbag, pair of shoes or, indeed, best-selling scent.

Hailing from Arles, this quiet and extremely cultured man burst onto the fashion scene as the creative director of Jean Patou. So enamoured with his designs was Bernard Arnault, chairman of LVMH, that, in an unprecedented move, he set up a couture house in his name. Lacroix had single-handedly breathed new life into a dusty craft-form and it wasn't long before the rest of the world acknowledged his impact – Lacroix is one of only few fashion designers ever to have graced the cover of Time.

In 2005, following the gradual breakdown of the relationship between Arnault and Lacroix, LVMH sold his company to the American Falic Group. While he has designed opera costumes, set designs, hotels and even tramways, his fashion label is still floundering.

However times may have changed, should Lacroix disappear from fashion it would be a great loss. True, there are not many women who want to dress like the brightest and boldest of butterflies but, as anyone who has ever witnessed Lacroix's haute couture collections will be quick to testify, there is a beauty to his sensibility that remains unparalleled.