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By Shine Anthony-Dharan

PARIS, 28 MAY 2008 -Ever since attending a rather chi-chi wedding last week, I have been wondering if its possible to be too fashionable for your own good. We all know someone who slavishly purchases anything they have seen in Vogue, or worse, on a celebrity. Within fashion circles, being 'fashionable' is, ironically, considered a major no-no. The insider's holy grail is 'personal style'. This elusive look usually involves something very expensive from next season, thrift store finds, jewelry picked up during an exotic vacation, and a Balenciaga bag. Messy hair, glowing skin and a low BMI complete the ensemble. Accustomed to being perfectly outfitted for every occasion, these women are often surprised by how difficult it can be to find the perfect wedding dress. The bride I saw last week had selected an alarmingly "fashionable" gown. A slinky satin number, it appeared to be both backless and strapless; I shudder to think what was keeping it up. The Manhattan bridezilla spends years dreaming about 'the dress', so why does the final result so often fail to impress?

Nicole Kidman and Kate Bosworth pay retail for their Lanvin.

Bridal wear has long been regarded as fashion's slightly tacky sidekick. Although haute couture shows traditonally close with a wedding gown, bridal wear is never seen during the more influential prêt à porter collections. Most of the major designers steer clear of brides; patrons of Gucci, Prada and Louis Vuitton have to look elsewhere on their big day. The go-to houses for Manhattan brides are Vera Wang, Oscar de la Renta, and Monique Lhuillier. All three make the kind of beautiful, traditional gowns that young girls dream about. But as the number of understated and 'second-time-around' brides rises, a gap has emerged in the market for simple, classic, wedding dresses that look great on women of all ages.

Lanvin Bridal
Photo courtesy of Lanvin, Paris

Thankfully, Lanvin's Alber Elbaz has taken up the challenge. Besieged by newly engaged friends, clients, and colleagues, the designer has rolled out a new wedding collection named Collection Blanche. Drawing inspiration from the house's recent collections, Elbaz uses silk, washed faille, tulle, lace, and chiffon to create a wonderful array of dresses in both long and short versions. There are caftans for brides in the sun, trenches for wives in a hurry, tulle cardigans for the romantic, and pearl necklaces set in tulle for the coquettish. Every piece is wrenchingly romantic and utterly timeless. The Lanvin bride can frame her wedding photos safe in the knowledge that they will look just as lovely in twenty years time as they do today.

Lanvin Bridal
Photo courtesy of Lanvin, Paris

For the Fall 2008 prêt à porter collection, Elbaz presented sparkling cocktail dresses that fell over the body as easily as a T-shirt and billowing gowns in deep purples and greens that caught the wind as they moved. The show was a master class in technical wizardry, design acumen and the sheer love of fabric. At this point, I should point out that the prices at Lanvin are rather eye watering. The simplest of dresses will set you back $8,000 and the real showstoppers could put your firstborn through college. But these were the elusive "investment pieces" that fashion magazines love to hark on about. The effortlessness of Elbaz's wedding dresses means that you can wear them again, to a party or a dinner perhaps. I am reminded of the beautiful Indian custom whereby newlyweds wear their wedding ensembles on their first anniversary.

Lanvin Bridal
Photo courtesy of Lanvin, Paris

Elbaz's rejection of fashion's trend orientated nature has made Lanvin one of today's hottest labels. Rather than sharply changing direction on a bi-annual basis, Elbaz gently evolves Lanvin's signature feminine, elegant aesthetic by playing with volume and texture. The house has influenced how millions of women dress. It was Elbaz who introduced the frayed hems, exposed zips, and voluminous skirts that every mid-market retailer latched onto last season. If you have purchased anything from H&M, Zara or the Gap recently, you probably have something Lanvin inspired hanging in your closet without even realizing it.

Lanvin's influence is all the more remarkable considering that the brand is a relatively small operation. Unusually, the house does not gift its creations to celebrities. Nicole Kidman and Kate Bosworth pay retail for their Lanvin. When Sarah Jessica Parker was shooting in Paris last year, she happened across the Lanvin boutique and ended up almost missing her flight. As Elbaz keeps his design studio above the boutique, he came down to wait on Parker himself. Charmingly, he packaged her purchases in white paper boxes decorated with hand drawn illustrations.

Lanvin Bridal
Photo courtesy of Lanvin, Paris

Such personal touches have long defined Lanvin's philosophy. Founded in 1889 by the Brittany-born Jeanne Lanvin, the Paris couture house was bought in 2001 by Mesdames Wong, Yong, and Meriwux. The new owners brought in Elbaz following his short but successful two-season tenure at Yves Saint Laurent. Fashion was going through a turbulent period. Tom Ford's ousting from the Gucci Group brought an end to the era of the "superstar designer". Moroccan-born Elbaz ushered in a new era with his shy and humble demeanor. A self-proclaimed romantic, Elbaz's goal is to create pieces that evoke a visceral, emotional reaction in his faithful clientele. He is one of those rare designers who can make you believe that slipping into another life is just as simple as doing up a zip. What more could you ask for in a wedding dress?

Shine Anthony-Dharan is a British fashion writer and designer based in New York. He covers fashion, beauty and interior design for Mr. Anthony-Dharan last wrote on Karl Lagerfeld: "Confidential" or Just Plain Confusing?

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