Lucas Ossendrijver: The Proposal

Communicating the finer details of well- made, beautiful clothes on the internet is a tricky business in a time when our attention can be so easily diverted by a Buzzfeed list of “The 10 Wackiest Genocides of the 90s!” but for a label like Lanvin Homme, with its raffish elegance and extravagant take on everyday basics (silk tracksuits, python sneakers, double-sided satin kimono jackets), the devil has always been in the detail.

Lucas Ossendrijver – the label’s creative director under the watchful eye of Alber Elbaz – has recently learned that, rather than visiting a store to try on the clothes before buying, customers will just call and pay over the phone after seeing images of the show online. Trying them on for size, or touching the fabrics he might have spent months developing with the finest Italian mills, doesn’t even come into it. The purchase journey is somewhat back to front. “For me that seems a very strange way of buying clothes, but I know that this is the reality now. People look at an image and if they like the image, they buy the clothes,” Ossendrijver says. “I have to think about that.”

Whoever originally said “a picture is worth a thousand words” must have known that Instagram was headed our way. The exact phrase first appeared around 1918 in a newspaper advertisement for an American photographic magazine, and has become a cliché, left to languish in inane Facebook posts or hover around inspirational photographs tweeted a thousand times over. For luxury fashion brands, however, the power is as much with the picture as it is with the product. During the preparations for Lanvin Homme’s Paris show, Ossendrijver takes steps to ensure that the clothes will translate just as well on screen as they will for the seated guests. A picture of a total look on should say “buy me, want me, you need me”, and, as a result, with their louche severity and long limbs, models now have the job of both pin-up and sales person.

Naturally, the design process has been affected by this new manner of consumption, and in his SS15 collection, Ossendrijver amplifies the craftsmanship and handwork to make them more visible to a post-internet generation. Take note of the clothes that look like they are falling apart but are hand-finished in the finest of fabrics. “Everything tends to look the same through a screen,” he says. “It’s hard to tell if a jacket is fully canvased or glued for example, and you would only be able to really tell when you are trying the garment on. The SS15 collection was all about overstating these details. The hand stitching falls undone in places and the saddle stitching on leather jackets is unthreading. We have exaggerated these details to make them much, much clearer.” the screens we spend so long staring into have stunted our ability to appreciate subtlety. “Luxury doesn’t mean anything in itself today,” he says. “It is not about a cashmere sweater or a handmade jacket, it is about fantasy, offering something that has a personality, something slightly different. That is luxury.”

Since Ossendrijver arrived at Lanvin in 2006, a lot has changed. It’s not only our methods of communication that have been ramped up: the world market for menswear is expected to exceed $402 billion in 2014, according to research published by MarketLine earlier this year. “The way men live, the way men buy, the way men enjoy fashion has changed totally since I started, and obviously this has changed the way we work. Menswear has become a grown-up business, a system, and this is good for some things but it might also be killing some of the freedom and creativity we used to have. We used to do two collections a year and now we do four. Doing two meant that you had more time to think and experiment,” Ossendrijver explains.

Looking back at his body of work, it is easy to see uniformity in the proportions of his coats, for example, and in his controlled, sparse use of colour. From one season to the next, there is a vital continuation in the way he considers a total look. He is always proposing a wardrobe: “There are always ideas that come into my mind and the beginning of the season doesn’t always have to start with one big idea. I might see small things that could make me think of a new way of doing a polo shirt for example. I might discover a new detail that I will want to think about more. The bigger story builds from these details. It’s important that it works like that.”

“Working on a collection every three months,” he continues, “you simply don’t have time to redo everything and so a certain consistency is crucial. The show is where we like to change things because that is kind of a laboratory for us where we can experiment but there is not enough time to be able to start from zero every time. Because of the rhythm we have in fashion right now, there is so much out there that, yes, I guess the risk is that things can become bland on some level. My role is to propose. To propose things that are clear.”

Boredom, Ossendrijver claims, is crucial to creativity. “The times you might be at the theatre or at the cinema watching something you’re not enjoying, your mind starts wandering off and you start to think about other things. For me, that’s a very fruitful experience. It allows you to see things more clearly and that is where inspiration comes from... boredom is a motor, it’s an energy and you start things because of boredom.”

Looking back, Ossendrijver’s childhood memories are largely all set outdoors. Growing up in the Dutch countryside he would spend weeks at a time building rafts and treehouses rather than dressing up his sister or sketching clothes. “I was not in contact with fashion. Fashion for me was a fantasy,” he explains. An accomplished drawer, he knew that art school was his only option and it was there he learned that fashion could be a job.

His first year at Arnhem’s Institute of the Arts was free and experimental; wearability and commerce were never discussed as Ossendrijver and his peers were made to focus on self-expression. “At college I was quite technical. I enjoyed pattern cutting because I was and still am very much interested in construction, but our first year wasn’t even about clothes so much,” he says. “My interest in clothes came after I mastered the construction, and I was more into womenswear because it felt so much more expressive. It felt freer. I didn’t even think about menswear until I found a men’s jacket at a flea market and took it apart.” Ossendrijver remembers prising the hand-made tailored jacket open piece by piece in order to understand what was inside: “I wanted to know why it looked the way it did on the outside. I wanted to understand it from the inside out. All of the details inside totally fascinated me. That was when I started making menswear.”

His final collection at university was utterly wearable. “I didn’t want it to be about the visuals or about creating this catwalk image,” he recalls. The whole collection was made in one fabric, all in one colour. Ossendrivjer was purposefully looking to explore how the construction of a garment can alter a fabric’s appearance and mood: “It’s funny because I think the means I have to express and experiment now are obviously very different, but the way I work is very close to that collection. I am very hands-on – I need to feel swatches and I need to feel fabric to know if it is right or wrong. It is so important to be aware of details and proportion.”

Ossendrjiver has to constantly talk about clothes, colours and fabrics, it’s part of the job description. As a result of this, his own wardrobe is dominated by plain jeans, light blue shirts and simple tailored jackets. From Lanvin Homme’s SS15 collection he says he will wear a selection of the tailored, boxy blazers, which were in the beginning of the show, but generally he’s not fanatical about what he might wear on a daily basis. He doesn’t have the time to be: “I know what I want and what will function for me but, honestly, I don’t buy things for myself and I don’t change what I wear a lot.” this philosophy allows him to focus purely on the task at hand. He concludes, “I don’t want to think about clothes 24 hours a day.”

Published in VARÓN VOL.9 A/W 2014

Lanvin Homme photographed by Alex Franco
Lanvin Homme A/W 2014/15