Walckhoff’s been working at Lacrroix in some capacity or another since 1992. He started as a knitwear designer, moving onto diffusion line Bazar, then to jeans, and eventually menswear. In 2000, he left the company full time to consult for brands like Kenzo, but returned in 2003 when Lacroix began spending more energy working on his collections for Pucci.
The Swiss-French designer has been at Lacroix’s side ever since, through the last two years of financial trouble right, culminating with the company filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in May 2009.
It wasn’t until after Lacroix–the man–announced he was breaking all ties with the company, that CEO Nicolas Topiol and Miami, Fla.-based investors the Falic Group asked Walckhoff to come on as Creative Director.
Walckhoff’s first ready-to-wear collection? Menswear, which is funded by a licensee. Women’s pret-a-porter and couture are part of the future, but not the present.
“We must first pay the debts,” Walckhoff told me over breakfast today at New York’s Gramercy Park Hotel. After a warmer-than-expected reception in Paris, the designer is in town to sell his menswear collection for the first time ever to US buyers. Along with the menswear and bridal licenses, the company is now dabbling in home textiles, sunglasses and stationery as well.
Walckhoff had one of the notebooks, which retails for about $25, with him. He has filled with inspirational collages. The book’s cover is a black and white image of Lacroix’s birthplace of Arles, adorned by lofted felt. The inside of the cover is a black and white stripes, plastered here and there by pink and red carnations. It does look, in the most strangely natural way, very Lacroix.
A notebook may not scream ‘le pouf,’ but Walckhoff believes it’s part of a brand’s evolution. As a devoted member of the house, it was difficult for him to see it all being wasted away because of misdirected pride. “The last two years have been very painful,” he says, and you can see the sadness in his eyes. “There was no money, and there was no harmony.” Much like the rest of us, it was difficult for Walckhoff to watch Lacroix’s lack of concern for his financial problems. For years, he struggled to see beyond the couture; to offer the same magic in more affordable items.
But after the sadness, comes hope. “The Falic brothers proposed that we go on, and I believe that the brand can succeed. It’s a personal conviction,” says Walckhoff. “When you mention ‘Christian Lacroix,’ people open their eyes wide with excitement,” he says. “But no one believes that they can actually own Lacroix. I want to change that.”
For instance: Recently the designer was sitting in the lovely Georges Restaurant in Paris, when a gentleman came up to him and admired his black velvet blazer. “It’s Lacroix,” said Walckhoff. The gentleman said, “Oh well, then I can’t afford it.” Walckhoff said, “If you can eat in this restaurant, you can afford this blazer.”
Indeed, price points are not wild for the Lacroix menswear collection–they’re comparable to other ready-to-wear labels, not couture. Pants range from $260 to $310; jackets are $1,100 to $1,400; suits are $1,600 to $2,300.
But it’s less about the cost for Walckhoff and more about offering access to a brand that’s almost as much a part of him as it is Mr. Lacroix. “When Lacroix hired me, I didn’t know anyone. I wasn’t the ‘son of a friend, of a friend.’ That’s how our company is–everybody is different; accepted for who they are. And I want everyone to be able to enjoy the brand.”
(View 50 plus images from the Christian Lacroix menswear Spring 2011 look book after the jump.)