The ‘King of Fashion’
He was born in Paris in 1879. While apprenticed to an umbrella maker as a child, he collected scraps of silk and made dresses for dolls.
When he was a teenager, he sold sketches to the dressmaker Louise Chéruit and other Parisian fashion houses. He was eventually hired by Jacques Doucet in 1898. His first design there was a red cloth cape, of which 400 were sold. An actress used a mantle of his in a play and he became famous.
In 1901, he moved to the House of Worth but the clientele was not a match for him. He soon opened his own house in 1903 and broke with established conventions of dressmaking. He dismissed both the petticoat and corset, making his name with loose-fitting designs. He used a draping technique rather than flat pattern cutting. He was influenced by antique and regional clothing, particularly Eastern styles. There was structural simplicity to his designs which was a pivotal moment in the emergence of modernism, changing the direction of fashion history.
He married Denise Boulet in 1905 and she became his muse for ‘La Garonne’ designs.
Between 1905 and 1910, his hobble skirts became popular; skirts which were narrow at the ankle, restricting movement.
He had a great marketing instinct and threw flamboyant parties to gain attention, including his famous Persian themed Summer 1911 party 'The Thousand and Two Nights', which debuted his harem pants and lampshade dress.
In 1911, Edward Steichen shot what is now considered to be the first ever modern fashion photography shoot with Poiret’s clothes.
He elevated the status of couture to an art form.
At the onset of WWI, he left to serve in the military. When he returned in 1919, the business was on the verge of bankruptcy. New designers like Chanel were creating simple, sleek designs and in comparison, Poiret’s creations now seemed dowdy.
In 1922, he designed costumes for broadway stars in New York.
Back in Paris, he and Denise divorced and his business was in major debt having been unable to adapt to new movements in modernity. He shut his house in 1929, selling off his leftover stock by the kilogram as rags.
He lived out the rest of his days in poverty, working various odd jobs including as a street painter.
He died in 1944, having been largely forgotten in the fashion world. It is said that Elsa Schiaparelli paid for his burial.
The Poiret brand was relaunched in 2018 after a 90 year hiatus with Paris-based Chinese couturier Yiqing Yin as its artistic director.
Jean Patou was born in either Paris or Normandy in 1880 or 1887- the internet is conflicted!
In 1912, he opened a small dressmaking salon called Maison Parry. Patou's designs were striking for their simplicity in comparison to the prevailing fashions, although his biographer quoted him as stating that this change was the result of ignorance rather than any great fashion instinct.
His entire 1914 collection was bought by a single American buyer, “the elder Lichtenstein”.
When WWI broke out, he was mobilized and served as a captain. After the war ended, he re-opened his business, the house of Patou, and had his salon decorated by the leading art deco designers Louis Süe and André Mare.
His early 1920s collections were embellished with colourful folkloric Russian embroidery. He made bell skirted evening dresses in georgette crepe with diamanté embellished fine lace details. Beige was a big colour for him and he was known for geometric patterns. He designed sweaters in 1924 with cubist-style blocks of colour inspired by the paintings of Braque and Picasso.
One of his key contributions was introducing sportswear for women. He designed a daring sleeveless and knee length tennis outfit for French tennis champion Suzanne Lenglen.
By 1922 Patou had introduced sportswear styles for all of his fashionable clientele, who wanted to look sporty even if they did not undertake any form of exercise. The same year he introduced his "JP" monogram on his garments; he was the first fashion designer to exploit the cachet of a well-known name. He has also been credited as the originator of the triangular sports scarf worn knotted at one shoulder.
In 1924 Patou opened additional branches of his house at the fashionable French seaside resorts of Deauville and Biarritz to sell his ready-made sportswear and accessories. The following year he opened a specialized sportswear boutique called “Le Coin Des Sports" within his couture house. This boutique consisted of a suite of rooms, each devoted to a different sport, including aviation, yachting, tennis, golf, riding, and fishing. Patou worked closely with the French textile manufacturers Bianchini-Ferrier and Rodier to develop functional sportswear fabrics. He became known for his use of jersey and box-pleated skirts.
He is considered the inventor of knitted swimwear and designer ties. He popularized the Cardigan and helped move fashion towards the comfortable and natural.
He used American models in his shows, which popularized him overseas and created a sensation in patriotic France. These girls were tall with athletic with ‘boyish’ figures and short hair. He took the American market seriously and it paid off.
Patou did not regard himself as a skilled draftsman. Each season he provided the designers in his "laboratory" with various antique textiles, fragments of embroidery, and documents annotated with special instructions for the styles and colours he wanted to develop. His staff would then develop these ideas and present him with toiles, which he modified until satisfied. At the height of Patou's career in the mid-1920s, he made around 600 styles each season, which he refined down to some 300, which is still enormous by today’s standards.
A show in 1930 earned him the title ‘The Great Innovator’. When every other couturier was still designing short skirts, he sent out a collection with longer skirts.
It had an impact akin to that of Dior's New Look over 20 years later. Even Chanel had to follow suit. Patou and Chanel spent the rest of his life being very publicly, furiously jealous of each other. It has been suggested that one of the reasons Chanel despised Patou was that, to her, he was a fraud. She was a technician who knew everything about making a garment. He knew nothing about the practicalities, was not hands-on and directed rather than created garments, in the way that many top designers work today.
He also developed perfumes and the first sun tan lotion in the 1920s. The perfume business helped Jean’s business survive through the stock market crash of the 1930s. His scent Joy remains the world’s second best selling perfume after Chanel No.5.
He died prematurely in 1936 of an embolism at age 55. His sister and her husband continued the business. Subsequent designers of the house have included Marc Bohan, Karl Lagerfeld, Jean Paul Gaultier and Christian Lacroix. It halted its haute couture collections in 1987 and the business continued as a perfume company. A partnership with LVMH Group was announced in 2018 and the brand was relaunched as ‘Patou’ with Guillaume Henry as artistic director.
Sonia Delaunay was born as Sarah Elievna Stern in Ukraine (then part of the Russian empire) in 1885. Her uncle adopted her in 1890 and she became Sonia Terk. She received a privileged upbringing and studied art in Germany.
She moved to Paris in 1905 and continued her art studies. She married art dealer Wilhelm Uhde in 1908, which gained her entrance to exhibitions. When she met artist Robert Delaunay in 1909, she divorced Wilhelm and married Robert.
She made a quilt for her infant son in 1911, sparking her interest in abstract art, and experimentation with colour and shape.
The term Orphism was used to describe her and her husband’s version of Cubism.
Sonia chose to work increasingly in needlework. She was happy to emphasize her Russian background as the Russian folk arts were undergoing a revival.
Sonia and her family lived in Spain and Portugal during WWI. She designed costumes for a Ballet-Russes production of Cleopatra in Barcelona and founded Casa Sonia, selling her interior and fashion designs. She wrote to Paul Poiret wanting to include his designs in her shop but he declined, claiming she had copied his designs.
Her fabrics were displayed on mechanical moving rollers for full dynamic effect. There were fabric samples, risqué bathing costumes and driving caps for modern girls who drove the newfangled motor cars.
She returned to Paris in 1921, where she made clothing for private clients. In 1923, she made 50 fabric designs using geometric shapes and bold colours. She registered her trademark Simultané- A Russian-French fusion, it rejoiced in the movement and contrast of colours and their loquacity.
She designed costumes for another play, Le Coeur à Gaz, and opened her own fashion studio with Jacques Heim. They had a pavilion at the 1925 international exhibition of art in Paris.
Her famous clients included Gloria Swanson and Nancy Cunard, among others.
She gave a lecture at Sorbonne university on the influence of painting in fashion.
She designed costumes again, this time for film, and haute couture textiles for Robert Perrier. She was forced to close her business during the Great Depression but kept her private clients and took up painting again. She also designed fabrics for the Amsterdam luxury store Metz and Co, and latterly for Liberty.
She worked with Robert on designs for the 1937 International exhibition.
After the Second World War, she was a board member of the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles and continued to work as an artist.
She was named an officer of the French legion of honour in 1975.
From 1976, she developed a range of textiles, tableware and jewellery inspired by her work from the 1920s.
She passed away in 1979 at the age of 94.
Sylvie and Jeanne Boué opened their first shop in Paris in 1899 selling womens’ evening dresses, wedding dresses and lingerie under their maiden name.
They were known for their Rococo design sensibilities and creating feminine garments using diaphanous textiles, Alençon and Duchesse lace, embroidery, ribbon work, and gold and silver textiles such as lamé. When they couldn’t locate suitable textiles, they worked with mills to produce their own. The finishing touch of the ribbon rose became an unofficial insignia of the house. Soft colours such as pale blue, coral and cream were favoured.
The sisters lived and worked together throughout their lives. Sylvie lead the creative direction and Jeanne the sales.
They catered to a glamorous international clientele and Jeanne (married name Baronne Jeanne d’Etreillis) opened a second shop in New York in 1915, one of the first French houses to do so. The sisters unfortunately spent a day in jail and paid a hefty fine for not paying taxes and attempting to bring undocumented French workers into the States.
Baronne Jeanne d’Etreillis
Jeanne wrote in an ‘Arts and Decoration’ magazine article from 1922, mentioning that “From our earliest childhood Madame Montegut (Sylvie) and myself have craved the beautiful: our desire first took shape in the collecting of dainty ribbons, soft silks, all luxurious materials, flowers, laces – everything that expressed beauty in form and color. We began by dressing our dolls in the prevailing mode and later found an outlet for our love of the beautiful in creating our own attire.”
The house was at its height in the late teens and 20s. The Eighteenth century inspired ‘Robe de Style’ gown was a staple for their house.
A vast cottage industry of artisans was underway in the eastern Vosges region of France producing lace and ribbon work for the sisters. Due to the amount of handwork and luxury fabrics involved, their dresses could cost around $2,000. A Washington Post reporter was sent to the Boué salon in New York in 1926 to see how much a complete outfit would go for. She spent $53,000 on all the elements of an evening ensemble, which is around $650,000 today!
Their style didn’t develop much beyond the 30s and their customers in the 40s and 50s seemed to be older women with longstanding relationships to the house. It closed its business around 1956/7.
Callot Soeurs opened in Paris in 1895. It went on to become one of the leading fashion design houses of the 1910s and 1920s.
It was operated by the four Callot sisters: Marie, Marthe, Regina and Joséphine.
At a time when a female-run business was regarded with suspicion, if not outright hostility, the Callots made a statement by putting the word “Soeurs” (Sisters) in their company title.
Their mother had been a lacemaker and their father also came from a family of lacemakers. Marie was trained in dressmaking and acted as the lead designer.
The sisters began by selling and working with antique laces and ribbons- using them to enhance lingerie. Their success led them to expand into a full couture business.
In 1897, Joséphine was rumored to have committed suicide.
In 1900, they were featured at the Paris World's Fair.
The house's design repertoire encompassed daywear, tailored suits, and evening dresses, but it was best known for its ethereal, eighteenth-century-inspired evening dress influenced by the East. Their garments drew upon the brilliant fauvist colours and Eastern-inspired design that were a vital part of the visual culture of the period. While this exotic mode is commonly associated with the designer Paul Poiret, the sisters also created clothing that incorporated embellishment and construction techniques derived from Asia and Africa. They were among the first designers to use gold and silver lamé to make dresses.
They were well received at the 1915 Universal Exhibition in San Francisco.
In 1916, American Vogue dubbed the sisters the ‘Three Fates’, and declared them "foremost among the powers that rule the destinies of a woman's life and increase the income of France”.
In response to the proliferation of knockoffs in the 1910s and 1920s, Callot Soeurs regularly placed advertisements in The New York Times listing the official retailers of their designs.
In 1920, Marthe suddenly died and the widowed Regina retired to care for her son. Marie single-handedly ran the house for the next seven years, until her death. In the 1920s, Callot Soeurs established branches in Nice, Biarritz, Buenos Aires, and London. A January 1922 article in Ladies' Home Journal claimed that "Callot probably has more rich clients than any other establishment in the world.”
The Callot look was however going out of style by the mid 1920s.
Marie’s son took over the business but it eventually closed in 1937.
The couturier Madeleine Vionnet was head seamstress at Callot between 1901 and 1906. It was here that she refined her technique in couture. She explained that "without the example of the Callot Soeurs, I would have continued to make Fords. It is because of them that I have been able to make Rolls-Royces."
Callot dresses survive in museums around the world.