French Women Designers
We ❤️ Sonia! Sonia Rykiel is one of France’s most notable designers. She began designing clothing in 1961, during her second pregnancy when she just wanted to wear comfortable and flattering clothing. She wanted to show off her bump in style and break from the maternity fashions of the time that in her view, made women feel shame and that they needed to conceal their pregnancies. This was her launch into the fashion world. Once she designed a figure hugging sweater and skirt set for herself, it became in demand by friends and soon enough her signature “poor boy” sweater was on the cover of Elle magazine! Her goal was to dress all women - ageless styles that were as fashionable as they were functional, comfortable as they were classic. She was favoured by actresses like Audrey Hepburn and Catherine Deneuve, as well as the general public. She understood women needed clothing that would carry them through the day. At a time when women were expected to change clothes from day to night, she designed reversible pieces that could be flipped on the go and voila - a new outfit with no fuss! She designed culottes to provide the look of skirts while allowing the movement of pants, sweaters that hugged curves, and removed darts and exposed the seams on the outside for the first time. She was also the first to put slogans and writing on her clothing, like the words “Amour” and “Mode”. Her knits were fun and playful and made for the working woman, clothes for everyday life. We are fortunate to have some of her pieces from the 1980s in our rental collection, and a collection of knit t-shirts and sweaters for sale in our Etsy shop.
Celine Vipiana of Celine
Celine was founded by Céline Vipiana and her husband Richard in 1945. It was originally a made-to-measure children’s shoe business and one of the first luxury brands in the industry. It changed its focus in the 1960s to womenswear with a sportswear approach aiming to focus on functionality rather than the frivolity represented by other brands at the time. The trench coat became the chief product of the house. They were known for sophisticated minimalism and a blend between the casual and the extravagant.
As the foundress herself stated to Interview magazine, the Céline fashion was “comfortable and practical. The woman who travels can bring two light things in a suitcase and these things will keep being clean and flawless”.
In 1973, Vipiana introduced a newly designed logo that featured an intertwined double C design, called the Blazon Chaine, with an intricate centre pattern that nodded to the architecture of the Arc de Triomphe.
Vipiana remained as head of house until her death in 1997.
We have a few of her pieces in the store at the moment including a denim skirt, a wool skirt set and a dress & blouse set.
Nina Ricci, Italian (Paris-based)
Italian born Nina Ricci was a self taught seamstress who began working in fashion at 14. In 1908, when she was 25 years old, she joined House of Raffin in France as a designer with her own workshops, seamstresses and clientele. She stayed there for the next 24 years. She was known for designing clothing for bourgeois French women, but was not known internationally. After Raffin died, her son encouraged her to start her own eponymous label and in 1932 at the age of 49, the house of Nina Ricci was born. Her son handled all of the business and she had full creative control which she maintained until 1954.
We have a beautiful golden 90s skirt suit in the shop.
Gaby Aghion of Chloe
Chloe was founded in Paris in 1952 by Egyptian-born Gaby (Hanoka) Aghion.
She and her husband were of a communist persuasion and rubbed shoulders with the likes of Pablo Picasso when they moved to Paris after WWII.
She was joined in business in 1953 by Jacques Lenoir. The brand is called so after Aghion’s good friend Chloé Huysmans, who she loved to dress.
They offered luxury ready-to-wear, which was a new concept at the time. Gaby is said to have coined the phrase "prêt-à-porter”. She set up her workshop in a maid's room above her large flat.
Her son had this to say:
“She was shocked by how poorly French women were dressed. On the one hand, you had haute couture, for the very high bourgeoisie, but the majority of people were very badly turned out. She invented luxury ready-to-wear.”
‘Much in line with her socialist inclination she would bring quality fashion to the masses. Her vision was astute: soon the ready-to-wear industry would comprehensively outgrow the ready-to-measure products of the elite.’ - (ANUMUSEUM.ORG).
They showed their first collection over breakfast at Le Café De Flore, one of their favourite cafes and the epicentre of young intellectual Parisians of the 40s and 50s.
According to the website of Chloé, Aghion rejected the stiff formality of 1950s fashion and created soft, feminine, body conscious clothes from fine fabrics.
Karl Lagerfeld was the main designer by 1966 and Chloé goes on to become one of the symbolic brands of the 1970s.
Gaby continued to run the business until 1985. She passed away in 2014.
“All I’ve ever wanted was for Chloé to have a happy spirit, to make people happy.”
Elsa Schiaparelli, Italian (Paris-based)
Elsa Schiaparelli was one of the most prominent figures in European fashion in the 1930s. She was a surrealist designer and collaborated with Salvador Dali and Jean Cocteau.
Her collections were famous for unconventional and artistic themes like the human body, insects, or trompe-l'œil, and for the use of bright colours like her "shocking pink".
She was born in Rome to an Aristocratic family in 1890. She was an imaginative, rebellious child and dreamed of escaping the trappings of her conservative parents and a life she considered unfulfilling. She fled to London to escape a marriage with a Russian suitor her parents favoured. There, she met the con-man Wilhelm Frederick Wendt de Kerlor and they married shortly thereafter. They lived off of an allowance from Schiaparelli’s parents but had to leave England when Wilhelm was deported for practising fortune telling. They bounced around Europe before moving to America in 1916. They opened a paranormal consultation business in the hopes of gaining fame. He came under BOI (now FBI) surveillance for his work and also for harbouring pro-German allegiance during wartime. They moved to Boston and continued their activity there. After their daughter was born in 1920, Wilhelm immediately moved out, leaving Elsa alone with a newborn baby. They later divorced and he was mysteriously murdered in Mexico. She returned to New York where she became involved with the Dada and Surrealist art movements.
She moved back to France in 1922 and got an expensive apartment in Paris. She assisted Man Ray with his Dada magazine for a short while before opening a fashion business, encouraged by her friend, the designer Paul Poiret. She launched a collection of knitwear in 1927 featuring sweaters with Surrealist trompe l’oeil images, which appeared in Vogue. Her career really took off with a sweater that gave the impression of a scarf wrapped around the wearer’s neck. The collection expanded and went from strength to strength.
She was one of the first designers to develop the wrap dress. She also developed the divided skirt, the first evening dress with a matching jacket as well as the Speakeasy dress during American Prohibition. She is credited with offering the first clothes with visible zippers, which became a key part of her designs and is renowned for her use of unusual buttons and innovative textiles.
The designs she produced in collaboration with Salvador Dali are among her best known, particularly the Lobster Dress (1937), famously worn by Wallis Simpson.
Her 98-room salon and work studios occupied the distinguished Hôtel de Fontpertuis.
When Paris fell during WW2, she moved again to New York where she remained for the duration of the war. On her return to Paris, she found that fashions had changed and she struggled to regain her footing.
She designed the wardrobe for several films including for Zsa Zsa Gabor’s role in 1952’s Moulin Rouge.
She eventually closed her business in 1954.
She set up another company in 1957 for her perfumes. It is this company that was later bought and is still running today.
Schiaparelli lived out the rest of her life comfortably and died in 1973 at the age of 83.
The failure of her business meant that Schiaparelli's name is not as well remembered as that of her great rival Chanel. However, in her time, she was far more original than most of her contemporaries and widely celebrated for her genius.