The history of fashion goes far beyond Anna Wintour’s reign as editor of American Vogue, Alexander McQueen’s humble beginnings at Savile Row, or Kate Moss’ first photo shoot for The Face. Fashion originated when people started choosing what they wore for style, attractiveness, and comfort rather than functionality or the purpose clothing served in their lifestyles. This can be traced back to the late 19th century and the first couturier, Charles Worth. He shifted the focus of fashion by becoming the proprietor of what was en vogue, sketching and creating original designs for his clientele rather than simply taking orders for their apparel needs. He paved the way for designers, not consumers, to be the dictators of fashion.
It’s no secret that the major evolutions of apparel took place in Paris, as it is still among the fashion capitals of the world. The pioneers of haute couture hailed from Paris, London, and later Italy. Their brands: Chanel, Lanvin, Dior; remain the most influential and luxurious fashion houses today, though many of them began by meeting a basic need—offering an alternative to the constraints of women’s fashion. Often their revolutionary designs weren’t about “fashion” at all, but responses to the era’s current events, which were changing the norms of lifestyle as they new it.
With the exception of a hiatus during World War II, Chanel held her throne over couture fashion for decades until her death in 1971. Sophisticated design sensibilities and her innovative vision of liberating clothing placed Chanel among the most influential pioneers of fashion. Amidst the many marks Chanel made on modern fashion, her legacy succeeds her as a household name, a recognizable quilted handbag, and the unmistakable scent of Chanel No. 5.
Her designs became the pattern for silhouettes of the decade and her robes de style, inspired by 18th century designs, were a precursor to Dior’s “New Look." With an affinity for many avenues of design, Lanvin empire bloomed in the 1920’s, starting with a house dye factory and numerous shops in the home décor, menswear, fur, and lingerie markets. Lanvin’s venture into perfumes, however, generated the biggest growth for the brand. The first and signature scent for the label, Arpege, debuted in 1927 and was inspired by the sound of her daughter Marguerite playing the piano. Lanvin suffered, but continued to design during the Second World War, alongside other houses with similar or worse fates. Now under the helm of Alber Elbaz, Lanvin is the oldest Parisian fashion house. We are reminded of Jeanne Lanvin’s passion for luxury and feminine perseverance with every purchase by packaging in Lanvin’s favorite shade, Forget-Me-Not blue.
Dior designed dresses for the wives of military officers. In 1946 Dior founded his fashion house, disregarding conservation of fabrics and celebrating the voluptuous feminine form. “I have designed flower women,” Dior has been quoted; and although his “New Look” took some persuasion, women soon flocked to his expensive, Belle Époque inspired designs. Through his themed collections Dior dictated the decade’s evolution of style; classic suits, ballerina-length skirts, the H-line (pencil skirt), A-line, and Y-line silhouettes. Paris was reestablished as the fashion center of the world and would continue to produce legendary couturiers like Cristobal Balenciaga, Hubert de Givenchy, and Pierre Balmain—all founders of fashion who are still revered among designers today.