How Do You Solve A Problem Like Lacroix?S

Consider the curious case of Christian Lacroix: A wildly influential designer who never turned a profit. A master of color who never did a makeup line. A couturier who never made an it-bag. Here's what might befall him in bankruptcy.

Lacroix's owners, Florida-based Falic Group, bought the foundering house from the LVMH conglomerate in 2005, near the height of both the real estate bubble and the luxury goods boom that easy credit helped fuel. Despite the fact that Falic was best known for its duty free retail chain, it set about an ambitious company restructuring, and opened two new U.S. stores.

Lacroix made certain gestures toward becoming the kind of brand that produced profitable marginalia like sunglasses and perfumes — two scents were eventually produced under license by Avon, and Christian Lacroix did a designer water collaboration with Evian in 2007 — but fundamentally never became the kind of luxury brand that could turn its couture business into a loss-leader. Unlike Balenciaga and Gucci, two other houses revived by the combination of skillful collections, and then astronomical sales of handbags, sunglasses, and watches, Christian Lacroix never quite crossed over. The company restructuring and expansion was completed just as the retail economy as we knew it imploded; there can hardly have been a worse time to be in the business of selling $20,000 dresses than last fall.

Thus the bankruptcy filing this May. Thus the angry interviews. Thus the somber but masterful couture show in July. Though during the bankruptcy court process various companies expressed interest in buying the brand — two seriously, an Emirate sheikh who talked about licensing Christian Lacroix private yachts and Christian Lacroix luxury hotels, and France's Bernard Krief Consulting — neither could produce financial guarantees for the court. So the judge ruled that the Falic Group's plan to deal with the bankruptcy would be approved.

What is the Falic Group's plan? It involves the closure of both the couture and ready-to-wear clothing lines, the firing of nearly all the company's 120 workers, and the brand's continuation only as a name to be licensed.

The brand is not being liquidated, chief executive Nicolas Topiol is keen to point out. This leaves open the possibility that another party might buy the company and revive it as a clothing line — depending on the creative team in charge, and Christian Lacroix's involvement, potentially a good option. Of course, it also leaves open the possibility that the Falic Group might license out the Christian Lacroix name to other clothing manufacturers who have nothing to do with the famed designer from Arles: it's not hard to imagine Christian Lacroix denim, Christian Lacroix lingerie, Christian Lacroix sportswear. The company executives could decide to enter Pierre Cardin territory.

It's not known at this time whether or not Christian Lacroix — who has been working unpaid for over a year now — is intended to be among the 15-20 employees the Falic Group might keep on staff to run the licensing operation, or indeed whether or not Lacroix would want to continue his involvement with the company. But there is nothing to stop him designing for another fashion house, so long as it doesn't trade under the Christian Lacroix trademark. There's a small but tenacious number of designers who continued working in fashion after being dumped from the namesake labels they had founded: Jil Sander, who had the distinction of being fired from her company not once but twice after Prada bought a controlling share of the business, being one. (Sander eventually took on a creative director role at Uniqlo, and does a line of clothing, +J, with the Japanese retailer.) It's far from outside the realm of possibility that Christian Lacroix the person might continue on in fashion, even if Christian Lacroix the brand does not, or does so only under the limited terms of licensing agreements.

It's ironic that Lacroix, one of the designers most identified with the 1980s — at least, the 1980s of pouf skirts (which he famously invented), mixes of bright colors, and graphic prints, if not the 1980s of Armani greige — should experience a business failure just as fashion tastes were flirting hard with the decade of excess. (The Fashion Spot users started a thread tracking Lacroix's influence on contemporary designers, and spied convincing Lacroix-a-likes in the collections of Marc Jacobs, Louis Vuitton, Dolce and Gabbana, and Erdem.) Given he went 22 years without a profit, it might seem hard to argue Lacroix deserves a second chance. But to lose his talent from fashion entirely would be a terrible shame.

Image of Nadja Auermann in a Lacroix dress from Richard Avedon's 1995 editorial "In Memory Of The Late Mr. And Mrs. Comfort", via Paranaiv

End Of A Fairytale: Christian Lacroix Fashion House To Strip Down [Guardian]
A Misfit In The Couture Business [WSJ]