When Bouchra Jarrar’s first collection for Lanvin took to the runway last September, it was one of the most buzzed-about shows of the season. Not only was it a departure into more daytime-oriented looks for a brand known for exceptional eveningwear, but it also marked the debut showing from one of only two female designers currently leading heritage couture fashion houses. Maria Grazia Chiuri at Dior is the other, and it has been decades since a female designer had been in such a position, let alone two at the same time.
With this weight on her shoulders, Jarrar has not only met, but also exceeded the expectations for her inaugural collection, though rising to the occasion is nothing new for the veteran designer. Jarrar cut her teeth as Nicolas Ghesquière’s right-hand woman and studio director at Balenciaga before launching her own eponymous brand and earning the designation of ‘haute couture,’ as appointed by the governing body of the French fashion industry.
She brought her extensive experience with both design and the inner workings of the technical aspects of running a brand to her new role at Lanvin, producing pieces that have wowed both critics and clients alike. “For me, Lanvin is femininity,” she’s said of the label, which is the oldest Parisian couture house in continuous existence. Her appointment also brings the brand full circle, since it was founded by a female designer, Jeanne Lanvin, all the way back in 1889, but hasn’t been helmed by a woman in over 60 years.
The Window recently chatted with Jarrar to get a sense of what drives her. Read on to find out how she came out of the shadow of her well-known male mentors, branched out on her own, and rose to the highest echelons of the fashion industry.
The Window: It’s been said that your appointment to Lanvin has marked the return of the strong female designer and businesswoman to the Paris couture scene. How does that make you feel—does it inspire you or do you take it as a challenge?
Bouchra Jarrar: I think it’s motivating. It’s an empowering choice to focus my work on Lanvin and an honor to develop my creative vision for one of the most beautiful names in French fashion.
Tell us a bit about your upbringing as one of seven children. How were you first exposed to fashion?
Yes, there was a great deal of “life” at home! I was very lucky to be loved so much by my parents. I had to learn at an early age how to live in harmony with other people. Each of my brothers and sisters had their own space and their own place in the family. My mother always liked beautiful fabrics. From the time I was a little girl until I was a teenager, I always went with her to buy her fabrics, which she would give to seamstresses to have her clothes made. She gave me a taste of the pleasure that comes from making things and from creating. But then came the day when I was about 12-years old, when I bought my own fabric so I could make my very first pieces.
When you were younger, did you have any role models you aspired to emulate?
Authors have always inspired me. I am absolutely fascinated by artists and anyone creative. Through their work, these people give me everything that they are.
People are often shaped by adversity—what would you say have been biggest challenges you’ve faced in your career?
I can probably choose three moments from my life that have been very difficult, but because of that difficulty, very formative. First would be when I left my family home and moved to Paris to begin my artistic career. I don’t think that’s easy for anyone who’s close with his or her family, but it meant that I was able to study at the incredible Duperré College of Applied Arts.
Next were the very powerful and wonderful—but sometimes harrowing—experiences I had working with three of the great names in fashion: Jean Paul Gaultier, Christian Lacroix, and Nicolas Ghesquière at Balenciaga. Those experiences led me to open my own fashion house—running a fashion business, including the technical aspects, the responsibility, and the creativity that it demands. But I saw that, for all these designers, it was the creativity that was at the very heart of the business.
Third would be my latest challenge: the immense pleasure, honor, and commitment I have in taking over the creative design for Lanvin. I guess the through line of all three of these moments is that they influenced me creatively, and my creativity is integral to my life. I am a woman designer. I talk to and dress women—that is my mission.
Speaking of working under designers like Lacroix and Ghesquière, can you give us a bit of insight into those experiences?
I very much enjoyed working with both Christian and Nicolas and getting to share in their vision. They’re both strong men and very assertive personalities in the world, and they both embody the style of their brands. With both of them, I was very comfortable because I was the first person with whom they’d discuss their ideas and inspirations. I was incredibly lucky to have been able to bring my own sensibilities and vision to their companies. It was an exercise in style, in that it gave me the chance to broaden and strengthen my range of expertise in design, which I’ve tried to do throughout my professional career. The experience also exposed me to all of the skills and trades that make up the supply chain for a fashion house, and you need to have excellent coordination and flow in these areas to generate the best stability for a company.
Can you tell us a bit about the shift to now running a large fashion house yourself?
For nearly 25 years, I’ve worked in many roles that, ultimately, have opened the door for me to take over the creative and artistic management of Lanvin. But it also meant a major decision: to close my own ready-to-wear and couture business and dedicate my time and energy exclusively to Lanvin. That change, though, gave me great perspective and allowed me to refocus purely on the creativity, the product, and my artistic vision for the entire Lanvin image.
Is there any moment from your professional life that, if you could revisit it, you’d change or do differently?
I know that on my path, at every stage, every event has allowed me to grow, to learn, and to move forward. I wouldn’t change a single thing.
What three characteristics would you say make for a successful leader?
I don’t think I can narrow it down to just three, but there are some important ones: expertise and know-how, having a vision and developing a strategy to see it through, being an excellent coordinator, understanding your business sector, knowing how to bring people together, and respect.
What advice would you offer someone with an eye to advancing their career, regardless of their field?
Learn, understand, and do. Develop your skills. Be loyal and quick-witted. Always be concentrated and focused on what you’re doing. Remember your place. Be connected to those you work with and build a solid team.