Christian Lacroix – couturier, fashion historian, carnation-lover and all-time hero of Edina from Absolutely Fabulous – takes Louise Brealey on an alphabetical trip through his life in la mode…

A is for Arles

Christian Lacroix was born in the Southern French town in 1951, “We were totally cut off from everywhere. Ancient traditions were still very alive: old ladies wore their buns tied up with lace and velvet ribbons.”

B is for Bustles, Bows and Bullfighters

In 1987, Lacroix got the ultimate fashion accessory, his own couture house. “The press reaction to the collection was incredibly exciting. But I was moved because my mother and all my friends from the South were there. They acted like they were in a bullfighting arena and shouted ‘Holé! Holé!’ at the models, who were having so much fun to be gypsies and bullfighters!”

C is for Carnations

Guests at a Lacroix show always find a carnation on their chair. “I remember going to the market with my grandmother as a boy and seeing the endless stalls selling fish, bread, fruit and, everywhere, carnations…”

D is for Daring

Asked what sort of woman wears a Lacroix gown, the couturier answers “a daring one”. “My clothes are like costumes,” he continues, “helping people to play their own characters in a life that might be tough.”

… and for David Lynch

One of Lacroix’s favourite filmmakers. “I love his way of mixing reality and sur-reality,” he explains. “I feel that my own dreams and nightmares belong to the same territory. And Twin Peaks… oh-la-la.”

E is for the Eighties

Given that his own label has been described as the epitome of 80s excess, it comes as a surprise to learn that Lacroix was “not so in love with the 80s” in fashion terms. “For me it was the era of Dynasty and Dallas, a decade of big spenders and new money, open-minded, but a little bit vulgar,” he says.

F is for Freelance

Lacroix is happy to be what he calls “a mercenary for hire”. Highlights of his non-couture CV include designing the stewardess uniforms for Air France in 2002; the interiors of a third generation of TGV trains in 2003; and rooms in several Parisian hotels including Le Petit Moulin. He is now working on designs for a new tramline in Montpellier.

G is for Gypsies

The gypsies of Provençe have held Lacroix in their thrall since he was a small boy, but as a designer he has had to struggle with their overweening influence. “After the first collection people had it in mind that the House of Lacroix was the House of the Gypsies, the House of the South.”
H is for Haute Couture

When Maison Lacroix became the first haute couture house to open in Paris since Gaultier in 1976, its director was hailed as fashion’s new Messiah. The international press went ballistic: ‘Vive Lacroix! There’s been nothing like it in 25 years,’ proclaimed The Sunday Times.

…and for History

As a boy, he would spend hours poring over old fashion magazines in his grandparents’ attic: “My grandmother was born at the end of the 19th century and she used to talk to me about her own grandmother who was born in the 18th century, whom she knew… so I always felt very connected to the past.”

I is for Infamy

In the 90s, Jennifer Saunders made Lacroix the favourite designer of her comedy creation Edina Monsoon, Absolutely Fabulous’ ghastly fashion-victim heroine. “I really enjoyed being caricatured through AbFab. I’m not saying my fashion is vulgar, but it is not based on so-called good taste, and it is a bit loud for some people.”

J is for Jean-Jacques Picart

It was PR giant Jean-Jacques Picart who made possible Lacroix’s meteoric rise in French fashion. In 1987 Picart persuaded financiers to stump up the $88 million needed to begin Maison Lacroix. “That was the beginning of Lacroix,” insists Picart. “It was like a shout.”

K is for Knighthood

In 2002 the designer was awarded the Chevalier de la légion d’honneur, the highest decoration in France. “I was proud but I was feeling that it was a little bit undeserved,” he confesses.

L and M are for Love and Marriage

He has been married to Françoise Roesensthiel since 1989. The pair met in Paris in 1973 – when Lacroix was a student at the Sorbonne and Roesensthiel an assistant at Jean-Jacques Picart’s PR agency.

N is for New Collection

“The new collection is inspired by The Princesse de Clêves, a French 18th century novel that I love. It has the feeling of Jean Cocteau’s film La Belle et La Bête, but with short skirts.”

O is for Oscar Wilde

“I read that Wilde felt that Basil, the painter character, was his true self: modest, sensitive and shy; and that the cynical and hedonistic Lord Henry is who people thought Wilde was…I loved this because it reflected my own experience: people were always thinking I was somebody else, a bit more loud or more eccentric than I was.”

P is for Le Pouf

The Lacroix puffball skirt or ‘pouf’ was an instant fashion classic. “I was alone in a hotel in Florence, cutting up some old fashion engravings from the 1880s with bustles, and I was playing around and I had the idea to cut the skirt like a mini-skirt and to put some modern legs underneath.”

Q is for Quotation

Lacroix has two mottos. Jean Cocteau: “What the public criticizes in you, cultivate. It is you.” And Nietzsche: “One must still have chaos in oneself to give birth to a dancing star.”

R is for Ready-To-Wear

“It was a relief to be free of LVMH and it was a good opportunity for me to learn to fight,” he says. “What we are trying to build now is to stay credible in the luxury field. To do that we have to be even more exclusive.”

S is for Sketching

“I sketch every day.” He doesn’t carry around a notebook, preferring instead to scribble with biro, felt-tip or ink on the back of scrap-paper: “I am a bordel [a mess],” he laughs.

T is for the Theatre

“As a child I lived by proxy through movies, literature, theatre. So my real life was when the curtain was up, when the lights were down. Escapism is one of my favourite English words. And nowadays the dreams of the child I was take form in my job, which is not only couture, but theatre costume design. I do one production a year.”

U is for Ups and Downs

Black Monday, the biggest stockmarket crash in history, happened just nine days before Lacroix’s New York debut in October 1987. “Everything became minimal,” he recalls. “Just a few months later, even the richest women I knew – who’d all worn big poufs and big jewels and big hairdos – were in menswear with black glasses.”

V is for the Virgin Mary

Lacroix’s mother wanted him to be a priest.: “I hate anything connected with the Pope, I think it’s terrible his attitude to sex and AIDS. But I love to be in churches and in the South we have a deep love for the Virgin Mary. People talk to her as if she were a real woman: ‘You’re a bitch, I prayed to you but you didn’t do anything for me…’”

W is for Wedding Dress

Each Lacroix show ends with a bride: “A wedding dress epitomises every woman’s dream of being centre stage; as though it were the theatre or ballet.”

X is for XCLX

“My name doesn’t belong to me I was so embarrassed,” he laughs. “When the time came to add my signature to the contract, I hadn’t thought what to call the company. My lawyer had XLX as shorthand for my name on the front of his case file, so we went for a variation on that!”

Y is for Yves Saint Laurent

“He influenced us all. The first time I saw his face and his work was on the cover of Paris-Match in 1958. I was seven years old and even at that age I could see these girls were not the usual French elegant woman. This very tiny, thin guy became such an important old man: he helped French fashion to enter modernity. And he was so, so nice. I loved his voice, his culture… the mass was very emotional. I never loved him as deeply as I did during his funeral.”

Z is for Zeitgeist

Do you think you are in tune with the spirit of the age? “I love discovering anything brand new; I love to feel the breeze of the moment… I strongly believe that both past and future coexist in the present.”
The Recontres d’Arles photographic exhibition, guest curated by Lacroix, runs until September 14. rencontres-arles.com


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