'I had no wish," said Lacroix at the time, 'to surround myself with that cold and cerebral design that had been advocated for ages.' This was 1987, when Lacroix was the talk of the town. Having just left Jean Patou, he planned to produce out of nowhere something that had not been seen for a long time: a new haute-couture house. In April he got in touch with the two 'Barbarians'; in July they held their first fashion show. 'It was meteoric,' says Mattia Bonetti placidly. They had to invent a place in three months starting from scratch: a suite o three salons, separated by arches and extending for 350sq m, between a courtyard and a garden. Lacroix adopted his usual manner: graphically, 'graphomaniacally' you might say, issuing ideas, cuttings, torn-out pages and suggestions, which all contributed to a gigantic collage that summed up his idea of the place. As none of the three designers particularly cared for the established codes, the first line of action was established. 'We wanted,' Elizabeth Garouste recalls, 'to give an idea of luxury, without using traditionally luxurious materials', to get away from the banal codes of good taste. Luxury, she says, would be expressed in the flamboyance of color, in the richness of pattern and – Mattia Bonetti adds – in the 'luxury of the handmade', the skilful joinery of the furniture serving as shorthand for the perfectionism of haute couture.
Hence the sophisticated poverty of the materials (Arte Povera was then in fashion): a simple block of wood (but studded with bronze); pieces of branch (but richly lacquered); long drops of natural linen (but hemmed with velvet arabesques); surfaces of terracotta (but enhanced with gold leaf); sofas in simple shapes (but 5m long)... The references intertwine or clash in a sustained assault on the economic orthodoxy of the design of previous decades. It was a return to what 18th-century theoreticians called architecture parlante, one that is expressive of its purpose: not so much in narrative dimension but as portrayal of personal mythology. 'Here,' said Lacroix, 'you will find everything I love: overtones of Jean Michel Frank, the Cocteau spirit, the influence of projects by [Emilio] Terry and a whole host of references to the theatrical aspect of things, but... devoid of any obsession with the past.'
In the opinion of Garouste and Bonetti, these salons marked the beginning of their rise to international prominence. They were, and are, one of the essential elements of Christian Lacroix's 'brand image'. They express a particular moment when it finally became possible, and urgent to move away from the cold functionalism of Modernist orthodoxy. It was a return therefore to the imagination, the dream, the taste for ornament, to the short circuit between past and present. Thirty years have passed. 'That it is dated is a fact,' comments Bonetti, 'that has to be accepted. That you can even immediately date it is great. I have gone onto something else, but I don't repudiate any of what we did. It's not an 'evolution' to move from the Neo-Baroque towards the minimal; I am, at least, dual: I can want something clean and pure one day, and something 'baroque' the next. In matters of style... you don't go from something 'less good' towards something 'good'. The worst errors are committed in the name of progress.
TEXT BY MARIE FRANCE-BOYER, PHOTOGRAPHY BY IVAN TERESTCHENKO, TAKEN FROM THE WORLD OF INTERIORS, JUNE 2010