In a special Lanvin portfolio for Document's Fall/Winter 2020 issue, Piantadosi and Sarah Richardson honor the dynamism of modern motherhood by looking to the French fashion house's origin story
After a century of post-Revolution aftershocks and social unrest, France’s Belle Époque emerged as a time of turn-of-the-century splendor. Artists from around the world flocked to the modernist art capital that had birthed the Fauves and the Impressionists. Balls and racecourses became fashion parades for wealthy Parisians in opulent gowns infused with an adolescent joie de vivre; part woman, part child. Everywhere and nowhere amid this cultural sea change was Jeanne Lanvin. The visionary milliner-turned-couturière had started designing children’s clothing in the early 1900s, after wealthy Parisian mothers noticed the lavish little gowns she had made for her daughter Marguerite and began requesting outfits for their own daughters. Lanvin soon became a sensation with her matching mother-daughter outfits, the perfect embodiment of Belle Époque Paris’s youthful optimism. Yet Jeanne herself was a private and somewhat mysterious figure, unconcerned with cultivating a public image, and rarely attended the social events where her designs were worn. There were exceptions, the most notable being in 1907, when Jeanne and Marguerite were photographed dancing at a costume ball in matching outfits of monochromatic black—a symbol of maternal love that illustrator Paul Iribe used to create Lanvin’s logo in 1923. Marguerite, by then the modern socialite her self-sacrificing mother always imagined her to be, would remain Jeanne’s eternal muse.
Another century later, Lanvin is a multinational pillar of luxury fashion, though its founder remains little-known relative to iconoclastic contemporaries like Elsa Schiaparelli or Coco Chanel. But maybe that’s only a testament to her pioneering experiments in craftsmanship and color. Soon after World War I and the 1918 Flu Pandemic, Jeanne opened her own dye factory where the famous Fra Angelico-inspired “Lanvin blue” was produced. She invented her own impeccable techniques of embellishment and fabric manipulation, and was largely influenced by modern art movements, as well as history and her immediate world. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, Jeanne did frequently socialize with artists, including the young painters of France’s post-impressionist Les Nabis movement.) In a time marked by rebellion and crises, when eternal youth remains aspirational despite another pandemic having the world largely at a standstill, Jeanne Lanvin’s own childlike curiosity and creative vision are as enduring as the maternal bond; responding to the world while transcending it entirely.
In the spirit of maternal sacrifice and creation, photographer Sarah Piantadosi captured 10 mothers and mothers-to-be—spanning the worlds of fashion, the arts, education, and professional sport—for this special Lanvin fashion portfolio appearing in Document’s Fall/Winter 2020 issue. A few weeks after the shoot, Piantadosi asked her subjects to reflect on what motherhood and family mean today, and share their visions for the next generation’s future.
Sarah Piantadosi: We created an image of biblical resonance in the portrait of you; pregnant, sensuous, and clutching a silver apple. In the Bible, God punished Eve by giving her pain in childbirth. Has pregnancy changed your relationship to feminism, politics, or religion in any way?
Cat: In honesty, pregnancy gave me a dualistic sense of feeling both vulnerable and powerful. It forced me to understand those two feelings can co-exist peacefully, even if they are diametrically opposed. Much of religion and politics seems to be so tied up with ‘certainties,’ and I think pregnancy reminded me to embrace uncertainty, fragility, and pain. Having now had my daughter, my view on feminism has only been reinforced. I firmly believe that the world would be enriched by more female energy.
Sarah: You are the founder of Inc Arts UK which strives for diversity inclusion in the arts, with a focus on recruitment and retention. Where did your journey in activism begin and why did you choose to specialize in diversity in the arts?
Amanda: I’ve been lucky enough to both work and play in the best of the UK’s creative and cultural sector: from my early years dancing, through to broadcasting and music-making. Despite the UK having some of the most fantastically diverse cities in the world, and the global best in creativity however, we’re in a cultural apartheid. When it comes to funding, celebrating, and promoting art and culture, all diversity is pushed to the margins. It’s so obvious to me that we all benefit when we bring the two together—diversity of both community and creativity. Inc Arts works to achieve this through research, campaigns, and advocacy. It was my way of mixing things up a little and helping to marry the best of London’s diversity to the best of the capital’s creativity. In doing so, I have realized that no other organization has ever given a public voice to champion, celebrate, and campaign for the brilliant creativity that comes from this rich diversity of people, places, and spaces.
Sarah: You modeled in the ’90s, working with some of the decade’s most iconic photographers like Corinne Day and David Sims. Now that Elfie is a model, what advice have you given her?
Rosemary: Work hard, be yourself, and make sure you have fun with it!
Sarah: And what advice would you give all young models in the post-#MeToo era?
Rosemary: Know your worth. Nothing or no-one should compromise your self confidence. I met some of my best friends during this time of my life. Find your gang and look after each other.
Sarah: Your photography book No System documents a nomadic period of your life in the ’90s when you traveled to illegal raves all over Europe, capturing a sense of joy, moment, and communal living that feels increasingly vital today. How has this experience shaped what family means to you?
Vinca: Even as a young child I had a strong sense of identity and as I reached my teenage years, like many others, I looked outside my family for connection. I found what I was missing in the traveling community. This community became my extended family and I felt a strong sense of belonging with my friends on the road. The lesson I learned was that we have the choice to make our family.
Sarah: Could you tell us about the Malaika School you founded in 2007 in the Democratic Republic of Congo? What galvanized you to take action at that particular moment in your life?
Noëlla: Malaika is a community-driven ecosystem that can be duplicated in any context across the globe. My dad passed away when I was five and my mother couldn’t afford to look after me and sent me to live with relatives in Europe. I returned to Congo aged 18 and was shocked to see the poor conditions my mother was living in and many children not in school, so the vision for Malaika was planted in my heart. Malaika comprises a free primary and secondary school for 370 girls, a community center that provides education and sport to 5000 youth and adults, an organic agriculture programme, and we built and refurbished 20 wells that provide over 30,000 people with clean water.
Sarah: I remember on set you told me that your son JJ had seen a lot more than most people his age have. What is your wish for your children?
Noëlla: My children, JJ and Cara, have visited Congo with me each year and spent the summer weeks there. They have seen the challenges the locals face in the rural village where there is no infrastructure, no clean water, safe roads, or electricity. They have witnessed firsthand the difference an education can make to people’s lives and have also benefited from the resilience and strength of the people in Kalebuka. I wish for my children to continue to give back throughout their lives. They currently donate their birthdays to Malaika and love to get stuck in when we visit Congo.
Sarah: You feature regularly in the arresting photographs and performances of your son, the artist Ryan Skelton. How would you describe his work, and your collaborative relationship?
Jacqueline: Ryan has always been very individual in both his style and opinions. He has always liked to express himself artistically, whether it be clothing, photography or the dramatic arts. I would describe his work as very much true to Ryan and his ideals. Every project he undertakes is different and I enjoy and look forward to seeing, hearing and sometimes participating in his latest ventures, many of which we discuss beforehand. Ryan likes to sound his ideas out to me and I in turn enjoy providing advice and sometimes a little bit of drama!
Sarah: As a successful creative director, working with the most inspiring visual creators is part of your job. In what ways do you consider the power of the image as a mother?
Sara: The power of image is at the heart of everything I do in my line of work, and so naturally this awareness is part of my consciousness as a mother. Im lucky to be able to raise my son in such a culturally and visually diverse city as London, whilst making an effort to surround him with imagery that reflect his Senegalese and Swedish heritage. By giving him access to this diverse visual frame of reference we are allowing him the freedom to develop his own unique perspective and sense of self. How powerful is that?
Talent Gaia Orgeas at Premium; Rosemary Ferguson at Models1; Elfie Reigate at Kate Moss Agency; Amanda Parker and Harvey Parker at 11:14 Agency; Vinca Petersen, Lily Breuer, Ryan Shelton, Jackie Shelton, Noëlla Coursaris Musunka, JJ Masters, Bianca Williams, Zuri-Li, Sara Hemming, Malick Hemming Sy, Katy England, Wolf Gillespie, Lux Gillespie, Cat Hocking. Hair Neil Moodie at Bryant Artists for Biolarge. Make-up Ammy Drammeh at Bryant Artists using Dr. Barbara Sturm. Set Design Miguel Bento at Streeters. Photo Assistants Dan Douglass, Barney Curran. Digital Technician Adam Richardson. Stylist Assistants Lauren Coppen, Reina Ogawa. Hair Assistant Tom Arnett. Make-up Assistant Quelle Bester. Set Design Assistant Claudia Dorothy. Production Holmes Production. Casting Directors Svea Greichgauer and Jean-Michel Mergey.