The Reclaiming of Lapidus

Of all the brand revivals, one house remains a family affair. For his return to fashion, Olivier Lapidus is picking up where his father left off. A man of firsts, Ted Lapidus is credited with inventing the unisex look, the safari jacket and designer jeans. He’s also known for his work with icons from Brigitte Bardot to John Lennon. Olivier talks to Hint about his father’s greatest hits…

Tell me about Lapidus Vintage.
Last winter’s debut collection was born of an homage for my father. It was an idea I had a year ago, about a year after his death. When I started, I considered it a timely homage to his greatest years, the seventies. I was 9 or 10 at the time. But I did not necessarily consider doing a line unto itself. So I saw people in Paris, including [fashion doyenne] Maria Luisa, who said I should really do a collection.

There’s a strong Jackie vibe in your spring collection.
When I started looking at the archives, I was struck by his signature from the glory years—top stitching, a purity of line, suspended architecture, the suits, and the anchor. That anchor was his first logo, dating from 1955, and it followed him through the mid-Seventies. I thought it was fun to pick up the logo where he left off. A journalist from Le Figaro wrote at the time that Ted Lapidus has dropped anchor, and indeed my father, like lots of designers of the day, dropped the house anchor in favor of a logo. I also found pictures of stores done in a nautical theme, like steamers, with signature items like peacoats and gold buttons, and notably the masculine/feminine vibe of the postwar years. In the Sixties, the Larousse technical dictionary cited my father’s work as the definition of unisex clothes.

Are these pieces re-editions or new interpretations?
This is an unusual case. When I decided to do this homage, I superimposed my memories on reality. I took from the archives, keeping its spirit and train of thought, but adapting along the way. Another part comes from my memories, as well as the last conversations that I had with my father when, at the end of his life, he was reviewing his past. He was ill at the time, but he wanted to continue. We talked a lot about fashion. He had invented certain things, so there was a sense of patrimony and he wanted to be recognized for that. He had invented shoulder tabs, safari jackets and a unisex style that lasted from just after the war to 1967. When he died, the Guardian and the New York Times both kindly noted that Ted Lapidus was the first to talk about masculine/feminine allure after the war. So this is a kind of rehabilitation of the styles of that day, which is known as the trente glorieuses. It was a fascinating era in fashion. The time between President de Gaulle to President Pompidou saw the industry take off. It was a time of great creativity and our house was a part of that.

Talk to me about the little pleated dress that seems to be editors’ favorite for spring 2011.
The pleated dress was born after the war. It’s a robe-chemisier, or shirtdress. Ted worked a lot with men’s collars for women and he feminized men’s shirts into very supple dresses. Other couturiers, such as Monsieur Balmain, also did shirtdresses, but in a more couture kind of way.

Is it true you’ve spent months trawling eBay to source vintage Lapidus sunglasses?
Absolutely. We recreated a few pairs of glasses for the collection, but for the moment we want to do things in a very restrained way, so it’s something that remains a bit anecdotal. We know that in the U.S. lots of stars have rediscovered Lapidus glasses. The best-known style was the one with the four gold corners. Other designers who shall remain nameless are using them on their sites. My father invented that style in the Sixties by picking up on a style detail from one of his many attaché cases with gold corners. He used them everywhere. This became one of his signatures, but it was sort of celebrated everywhere without attribution. I want to reclaim that invention for Ted.

It’s also said that Lapidus was doing the safari jacket well before it became one of Yves Saint Laurent’s greatest hits.
Of course, Yves Saint Laurent is the king of the safari jacket, but my father explored that territory too, in the early to mid-Fifties. After that, everyone has his way of doing things, and I think that perhaps Monsieur Saint Laurent was considerably more talented than my family at getting his message out. I think that the two houses both handled it in their own way. I am a great admirer of Saint Laurent, he is a monument of fashion. But the reality is that both men took their inspiration from the English army of 1860, the time of Empress Eugenie and Karen Blixen’s novel Out of Africa. It’s the English genius for costume, which is absolute, that was behind the invention of the safari jacket.

Are there other anecdotes woven into the spring collection?
There is always a blazer in the collection. My father cultivated navy and white for summer and navy and gray for winter. Also I gave seersucker a different treatment, by doing it in a floss silk dress, but since that alone was a little pauvre, I enriched it with painting.

How do you see the story evolving?
We are thrilled to return to the U.S. this spring, at Barneys, because Lapidus has not been present at this level for 40 years. The U.S. has always brought good luck for us. The brand was so well-known that my father even once appeared on Saturday Night Live. I think it will take time to flesh out all the possibilities of Lapidus Vintage. At some point it will have to cohabit with a modern line that is rooted in my father’s half-century career in ready-to-wear and couture.