When we think of the world fashion scene, one city springs to mind before any other and that is the French capital Paris. Dior, Chanel, Hermes, Louis Vuitton, and Saint Laurent all hail from Paris and French designers are the best known in the world. They are renowned for being stylish and technically exceptional, and the reputation of the French fashion industry can be traced right back to the 17th Century.
In the Beginning
The Sun King, Louis XIV, arguably started the fashion industry in France. The Sun King had lavish taste, just look at the Palace of Versailles, and the extravagant way in which he dressed. Louis XIV was a radical thinker, and he understood the value of luxury goods to the French economy. He was instrumental in bringing various industries, like the textile, under his control, and the royal court was now the world police of style. For many centuries France was the leading producer of quality materials and fabrics and a benchmark had been set. Never before had such prestigious textile companies have such a royal warrant or indeed a King that showed so much industry in it.
The 19th Century saw the beginning of Haute Couture which started in France, (which basically means fitted clothes), and the popularity of tailors and seamstresses was so great many businesses opened up in Paris. One of the great names of the time was Charles Worth, and it was an Englishman who was credited with the development of Haute Couture. Worth was the first to open premises on Rue de la Paix but was soon followed by many other fashion houses of the time, such as Madeleine and Paul Poiret. It was not long before Paris had a thriving fashion scene and was at the hub of the world regarding design and textiles. The fashion of Paris was been copied all over the world and people were starting to take much more notice about their appearance.
The most famous of these fashion houses was Chanel, and to say that Coco Chanel revolutionized the global fashion industry is no understatement. She took woman’s fashion and dress and completely redesigned it, first to go was the corset and other bizarre, restrictive under garments. She favored loose dresses and gowns that were free-flowing, and as well as more comfortable; they were designed to make women look seductive, classy, and affluent. Chanel’s designs were everywhere in the 1920’s with the Chanel Look defining a generation. This look was called the Flapper Style.
From 1940 to 1945 during the war years, the fashion industry took a back seat and many clothing manufacturers were caught up in the war effort, producing everything from uniforms to parachutes. When Paris was occupied under the Nazi invasion, it was the death note to the fashion houses. Chanel and many other houses had to close their doors – not out of choice, it must be said, and the U.S saw an opportunity. New American designers and clothing manufacturers were hitting the streets and replacing the gap left by the Paris fashion houses, people like Claire McCardell formed the American fashion scene. In part two of the history of the Paris fashion scene we take up after the war, when the restrictions on rationing were lifted. The people wanted to get on with their lives and Paris once more threw the shroud of war away and Dior led the way.