Jeanne Lanvin was born in Paris on 1 January 1867, the daughter of Constantin Lanvin and Sophie White. The eldest of 11 children, she became an apprentice millinerat Madame Félix in Paris at the age of 16 and trained at dressmaker Talbot before becoming a milliner on the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in 1889.
In 1895, Lanvin married Count Emilio di Pietro, an Italian nobleman, and two years later gave birth to a daughter, Marguerite (also known as Marie-Blanche) (1897–1958). The couple’s only child, Marguerite di Pietro became an opera singer, married the Count Jean de Polignac (1888–1943), and became, on the death of her mother, the director of the Lanvin fashion house. Lanvin and di Pietro divorced in 1903. Lanvin’s second husband, whom she married in 1907, was Xavier Melet, a journalist at the newspaper Les Temps and later the French consul in Manchester, England.
Designs by Mme Lanvin in “La Gazette du Bon Ton“, 1915
In 1909, Lanvin joined the Syndicat de la Couture, which marked her formal status as a couturière. The clothing Lanvin made for her daughter began to attract the attention of a number of wealthy people who requested copies for their own children. Soon, Lanvin was making dresses for their mothers, and some of the most famous names in Europe were included in the clientele of her new boutique on the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, Paris.
Designs by Mme Lanvin in “La Gazette du Bon Ton“, 1922
However, her most significant expansion was the creation of Lanvin Parfums SA in 1924 and the introduction of her signature,fragrance Arpège, in 1927, inspired by the sound of her daughter Marguerite’s practicing her scales on the piano. (“Arpège” is French for arpeggio.)
In 1922, Lanvin collaborated with celebrated French designer Armand-Albert Rateau in redesigning her apartment, her homes and her businesses. (The living room, boudoir and bathroom of the apartment was reassembled in 1985 in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris.) For this domicile, Rateau designed some remarkable 1920–22 furniture in bronze. The pair developed a friendship, and Rateau came aboard Lanvin’s empire as manager of Lanvin-Sport, also designing the Lanvin spherical La Boule perfume flacon for Arpège (originally produced by the Manufacture Nationale de Sèvres). To this day, Arpège perfume containers are imprinted with Paul Iribe‘s gold image (rendered in 1907) of Lanvin and her daughter Marguerite. Rateau also managed Lanvin-Décoration (an interior-design department, established 1920) in the main store on the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré.