"Where there's a clash of opposites, there's tension," says Lucas Ossendrijver, designer of menswear at the storied French house Lanvin. "That's when things become interesting."
This push-and-pull -- between the masculine and feminine, the casual and ceremonious, the exaggerated and understated -- has become the crux of Ossendrijver's imprint at the label. When he first arrived at Lanvin in 2006, there was little for him to look back on to use as a starting-off point. "In terms of image, it was blank," he says, referring to the lack of an in-house menswear archive. "But it was positive, actually, because it gave me freedom to think and rethink what would be relevant."
His directive was simply to "propose a contemporary wardrobe." However, the designer couldn't foresee how successful his stamp on the brand -- the way he would impart a rakish but sporty ease into traditionally stuffy formalwear -- would prove to be. The fruits of his labor are best exemplified by Lanvin's new three-story men's stand-alone flagship -- which opened this fall in a townhouse on Manhattan's Upper East Side -- the first in the U.S.
Ossendrijver eyes the street for inspiration, studying stylish Frenchmen and how they assemble their outfits, and builds upon that foundation with collections that meld athleticism with classicism: Double-breasted blazers are paired with silk-chiffon track pants; lightweight suits decked with grosgrain pipings feature raw-cut, frayed edges; and his sporty sneakers have proven to be a coveted commodity, seen on everyone from David Beckham to Usher. And while the clothing and accessories are steeped in luxe details, their swagger is grounded in a subtlety that sidesteps the trademark showboating preferred by other labels. Perhaps Kanye West put it best when in his song "Illest Motherfucker Alive" he name-dropped a "Lanvin thousand-dollar tee with no logos."
Now residing with his longtime boyfriend in Paris, Ossendrijver works alongside a small crew of craftspeople. Lanvin is one of a handful of luxury labels not owned by a large conglomerate, something that Ossendrijver takes pride in: "I love being in the studio, working with my team on new ideas and solving problems." Still, he acknowledges that it's not painless. "Designing is chaos," he says, smirking. "People think it's very linear, but I've learned to be open to change until the last minute, where the whole six-month process, which is very intimate and personal, suddenly becomes very visible. Ten minutes after a show, everyone can see it on the Internet, every stitch."
Yet Ossendrijver seems well suited for the voracious fashion cycle. "I'm impatient, so it works for me," he says. "Every six months you get the chance to improve, to start again and try to do better than the last time."