Couture and Catwalks: How France is the Home to True Fashion and the First Fashion Shows

Couture and Catwalks: How France is the Home to True Fashion and the First Fashion Shows

Lovers and followers of fashion are familiar with the annual fashion calendar. Fashion Weeks in particular are scattered throughout the year and largely dictate the industries direction each season. However, fashion shows were not always commonplace in the world of couture and tailors. Thankfully, miniature dolls have since been replaced by models, and fashion shows decorate our year - under regularly scheduled programming of course. But, with Haute Couture reigning from every corner of the world, and Fashion Weeks calling all the capitals home, are we at all surprised that the true home of fashion is in fact the city of love and lights?



THE FIRST Fashion Parades

One of the first examples of what was then considered Fashion Parades, came from Charles Frederick Worth. Worth revolutionized the method of displaying his designs to customers. In place of the miniature designs that he once created to fit small dolls - as models for his designs - he tailored his designs to real models and had them showcase the dresses. This was a first for his time. Not only did he make changes in the display of these designs, but he was also one of the first to create commercially available products for the public, as opposed to exclusively tailored designs for high-end customers.

Image from Culture Trip


LUCILLE

Lady Duff Gordon, commonly known as Lucille, is also credited for hosting one of the first fashion shows. After having collaborated with multiple theatre companies in creating costumes for their performances, she was inspired to create her own performance of fashion. From this was born the beginnings of private fashion shows for exclusive guests, as well as the first professionally trained models. Notably too, Lucille was one of the few survivors of the Titanic, an anecdote that adds to her rather eccentric reputation.


Taken by Arnold Genthe, New York.


PAUL POIRET & HIS PARTIES

A gouache given by Georges Lepape to Madame Poiret as a souvenir of the “1002d Night”, 1911.

Another Parisian designer that is credited with performative displays of fashion collections was Paul Poiret. Having formerly worked for the House of Worth, Poiret created his own fashion house, Maison Paul Poiret. And while his peer, Lucille, pioneered fashion shows and models, Poiret had a mind for fashion marketing that had yet to be rivaled. His window merchandising and, more significantly, his extravagant parties were successful tools for displaying his designs to the public. His most notable soiree was entitled The Thousand and Second Night, inspired by Arabian Nights. This party prescribed full costume, and served as an event in which Poiret could dress his guests in his own designs and have them inconspicuously model his collection, while sharing cocktails and conversations with members of the high society.

A gouache given by Georges Lepape to Madame Poiret as a souvenir of the “1002d Night”, 1911.

Another Parisian designer that is credited with performative displays of fashion collections was Paul Poiret. Having formerly worked for the House of Worth, Poiret created his own fashion house, Maison Paul Poiret. And while his peer, Lucille, pioneered fashion shows and models, Poiret had a mind for fashion marketing that had yet to be rivaled. 

A gouache given by Georges Lepape to Madame Poiret as a souvenir of the “1002d Night”, 1911.

Another Parisian designer that is credited with performative displays of fashion collections was Paul Poiret. Having formerly worked for the House of Worth, Poiret created his own fashion house, Maison Paul Poiret. And while his peer, Lucille, pioneered fashion shows and models, Poiret had a mind for fashion marketing that had yet to be rivaled. His window merchandising and, more significantly, his extravagant parties were successful tools for displaying his designs to the public. His most notable soiree was entitled The Thousand and Second Night, inspired by Arabian Nights. 

The first time that a parade of designs was seen on American soil was in 1903 when the Ehrich Brothers hosted a fashion show to lure middle class women into the store. Department store fashion shows became more and more common-place in the following years, likely having taken inspiration from the “fashion parades” of the French.

VOGUE ON THE FRONTLINES

As the first World War took its toll across the world, Vogue was pioneering luxury fashion in America. Then editor, Edna Woolman Chase, endeavored to host a grand fashion show in New York to display the skills of American designers. With the war potentially jeopardizing the Parisian boutiques and fashion houses, she encouraged New York dressmakers to create their own collections to be featured in Vogue - in place of the usual Parisian designs. Not only did the event bring attention to the American designers, it also initiated the production of ready-to-wear fashion in the United States, where previously this had been focused in the fashion capital of Paris. The event was hosted in Paris the following year, so as to maintain the relationship between French designers and Vogue.

His window merchandising and, more significantly, his extravagant parties were successful tools for displaying his designs to the public. His most notable soiree was entitled The Thousand and Second Night, inspired by Arabian Nights. This party prescribed full costume, and served as an event in which Poiret could dress his guests in his own designs and have them inconspicuously model his collection, while sharing cocktails and conversations with members of the high society.


The first time that a parade of designs was seen on American soil was in 1903 when the Ehrich Brothers hosted a fashion show to lure middle class women into the store. Department store fashion shows became more and more common-place in the following years, likely having taken inspiration from the “fashion parades” of the French.

VOGUE ON THE FRONTLINES

As the first World War took its toll across the world, Vogue was pioneering luxury fashion in America. Then editor, Edna Woolman Chase, endeavored to host a grand fashion show in New York to display the skills of American designers. With the war potentially jeopardizing the Parisian boutiques and fashion houses, she encouraged New York dressmakers to create their own collections to be featured in Vogue - in place of the usual Parisian designs. Not only did the event bring attention to the American designers, it also initiated the production of ready-to-wear fashion in the United States, where previously this had been focused in the fashion capital of Paris. The event was hosted in Paris the following year, so as to maintain the relationship between French designers and Vogue.

This party prescribed full costume, and served as an event in which Poiret could dress his guests in his own designs and have them inconspicuously model his collection, while sharing cocktails and conversations with members of the high society.


The first time that a parade of designs was seen on American soil was in 1903 when the Ehrich Brothers hosted a fashion show to lure middle class women into the store. Department store fashion shows became more and more common-place in the following years, likely having taken inspiration from the “fashion parades” of the French.

VOGUE ON THE FRONTLINES

As the first World War took its toll across the world, Vogue was pioneering luxury fashion in America. Then editor, Edna Woolman Chase, endeavored to host a grand fashion show in New York to display the skills of American designers. With the war potentially jeopardizing the Parisian boutiques and fashion houses, she encouraged New York dressmakers to create their own collections to be featured in Vogue - in place of the usual Parisian designs. Not only did the event bring attention to the American designers, it also initiated the production of ready-to-wear fashion in the United States, where previously this had been focused in the fashion capital of Paris. The event was hosted in Paris the following year, so as to maintain the relationship between French designers and Vogue.

"PRESS WEEK"

Image from Council of Fashion Designers of America .

Despite Edna Woolman Chase’s inspiration of the American fashion industry, up until the 1940’s many in the industry still relied on France for inspiration for new designs and collections. However with the outbreak of the second World War, travel became impossible and the international fashion industry hit a bump in the road. In 1943, the American government enlisted Eleanor Lambert, fashion publicist, to host a fashion show to showcase the variety and skills of American designers. Then known as “Press Week”, this became what is now recognized as New York Fashion Week. In its origins, the week was a means to create a public flurry around what the American designers could produce, while today the week displays designs from fashion houses around the globe. And despite Paris being the home and heart of fashion even today, the fashion event and calendar that dictates the industry in every manner was born in the streets of New York.

Surprisingly even, Paris was not that quick to follow New York in its adoption of a bi-annual week of fashion and couture. Following Milan (1958), Paris Fashion Week was only established in 1973 by the French Fashion Federation.

© Leonard Freed / Magnum Photos

There is little doubt that the heart and soul of fashion belongs in Paris. This is particularly due to the fact that design houses can only be considered “Haute Couture” on the condition that they have an atelier of 15 or more employees in Paris itself. While fashion is a global experience in the world we share today, and fashion weeks are scattered throughout the year and across a multitude of continents, there is no doubt that fashion, at its’ heart, belongs to Paris.



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