Monday, February 14, 2011

French Fashion History

By Sophie Cheung

When Worth Was King

Charles Frederick Worth moved to Paris from London at age nineteen in 1845. He first worked twelve years at a firm that sold dress fabrics and trimmings where he came to understand how elegance could be expressed through textiles. By 1858, Worth had opened his own dress shop, which became the first haute couture business in France. Within a decade he became the only dressmaker on four continents. The key to his success came from the fact that he specialized not in the construction of women's clothes but in the design. At the time, dress designing had not been an occupation in France and Worth became the connoisseur of French fashion. It also helped that he was a man in what had originally been a woman's business. This meant he was taken seriously and looked upon as an artist. Moreover, the fact that he was foreign made him "classless" in France. This was an advantage not only because the English were highly regarded by the French for their "skillful handling of cloth" but also because he was thus able to deal with high society despite not necessarily being a part of it himself. With Napoleon's rise to the throne, Worth's fame was further boosted by Eugénie--wife of Napoleon--who took a liking to Worth and his designs. Worth also capitalized on the avant-garde art in France where "art for art's sake" became the essential slogan for painters such as Manet and Degas by declaring himself an artist, as at the time "the independent artist who was scornful of any success that smacked of artistic compromise, became the new hero". Worth's sons carried on his legacy and had much success until society changed and royal power and both declined in number and power. However, his name will not be forgotten in the world of fashion-- Worth was the very first to demonstrate the importance of control over the way clothes look.

Chanel's Fairy Tale Success Story

Coco Chanel, who's real name is Gabrielle Bonheur was born on August 1883 into relative poverty. She had a mother that was died while she was young and a father that had abandoned her. Thus, she came to live in a convent where she learned how to sew from the nuns. With a strong sense of fashion from a young age, Gabrielle Bonheur next found a job as a dress maker in a town called Moulin. There, the social life centered around cafe concerts where Gabrielle would always sing her own version of a popular french song called "Qui qu'a vu Coco?". Soldiers who frequented the cafe would call out for the pretty lady who sang "Coco". Gabrielle then decided to use this to her advantage where she eventually became the mistress of a rich young cavalry officer by the name of Etienne Balsan. She eventually came to live on his estate where she would be exposed to the upper echelons of society where her own designs came to be admired by the high society ladies that frequented Balsan's estate.

In 1913, Gabrielle opened her first shop on France's fashionable summer resort area of Normandy Coast with the help of a wealthy English businessman whom she had met. The store was an immediate success due to her taste for simplicity and comfort in women's clothing, in opposition to the unnecessary opulence that had been the standard at the time. With the outbreak of World War I, women working in factories also demanded simple garments that did not hinder their movement. From there, the Coco Chanel established her name in fashion through her legendary, the trademark little black dress, and Chanel No. 5 Perfume. Coco Chanel's designs and creations have thus become famous for their casual elegance.

1 comment:

  1. love coco! and what amazing dresses