The Fascinating Evolution of French Fashion
If you are a fashion enthusiast, then you’ll likely agree that France and fashion, though two different words, are synonymous. Paris, which is obviously the capital of France, is also popularly known as the fashion capital of the world. It’s where the fashion industry was born and where many of the globe’s most talented and famous designers got their start.
French artisans and designers were the first to construct actual businesses around fashion and French design could be seen around the world as early as the 17th century. The global popularity of French fashion exploded because of the unique ability of French designers to present clothing that represents class and elegance. Read through this blog to find out more about the history of French fashion. We'll also dig into some of the most famous designers throughout history whose names have influenced fashion not only in France, but all over the world.
Designers Who Influenced French Fashion
Paul Poiret, a French fashion designer, is believed to have introduced fashion as we know it today. He opened his own fashion house in 1903, and introduced a modern way of thinking about fashion for women. The first garment he produced was a red cloak with grey silk lining, which he went on to sell 400 versions of. However, he was best known for his signature creations - ‘La Perse’ coat, ‘La Rose d’Iribe’ dress and the ‘Bois de Boulogne’ dinner dress. These classic designs were featured in The Metropolitan Museum of Arts Costume Institute's 2007 exhibition, “Poiret: King of Fashion”.
Poiret’s designs represented the world’s transition into a new century, a new era of life. His innovative thinking and divergence from traditional dress gave women’s fashion a new life. While he initially moved away from traditional clothing styles and launched several collections with flowy styles, his designs ultimately did not keep pace with the changing times and in 1929, his fashion house was closed.
Coco Chanel, arguably the most famous French designer in the world, opened her very first shop in 1910 in Paris and dominated Parisian haute couture for almost 60 years. She proposed a more wearable fashion for women that included pants and offered clean silhouettes.
Chanel made clothes that were not only beautiful, but comfortable as well. Because she created clothes that women really wanted to wear, her designs became the pinnacle of trendy fashion in the 1920s. Chanel is also credited with the creation of the little black dress, or LBD, a staple of fashion history that remains a critical component of every fashionista’s closet. Somehow, she was able to reinvigorate the idea of what a boring, or even somber, black dress could be and turn it into a chic statement of simplicity and elegance. I would even say it’s the inspiration behind the popular minimalist capsule wardrobes of today.
Not only famous for the LBD, she also pioneered the garçonne look, the phenomenon of menswear translated into a fashion statement for women, which became extremely popular in high fashion during the 1920s. Chanel’s unique way of pairing sophistication and comfort with blouses, oversized jackets, and trousers brought an air of empowerment and independence to women’s fashion.
These days the Chanel brand may be most famous for vintage handbags, but Coco Chanel brought her unmatched eye for elegant design to every facet of women’s wardrobes.
Elsa Schiaparelli was an Italian-born designer but made her mark on the Parisienne fashion scene where she launched her couture house. As a preeminent rival of Coco Chanel, she found inspiration in mundane places and created whimsical designs during bleak times of war and solemnity.
She was one of the first designers to develop the wrap dress in 1930, creating a shape and flow that would flatter all body types. She is also known for her divided skirt, the precursor to shorts, which shocked the tennis world in 1931 and caused quite the scandal in England. Her expertise extended the full range of women’s fashion and she was celebrated for pieces that included swimsuits with integrated bras, evening dresses with matching dinner jackets, designs in “shocking pink”, and the mad cap. With designs so clearly focused on fun and flattery, it’s no surprise that one of her most famous pieces was the ‘speakeasy dress’, which provided a hidden pocket for a flask.
Still popular today, Dior is a luxury fashion brand originating in France, and founded by Christian Dior in 1946. A bit late to the game, he debuted his first collection, ‘The New Look’ in 1947. In this collection he introduced unique silhouettes with shorter, fuller skirts, tighter waists, and accentuated busts, a look that defined fashion in the 1950s. His new approach to fashion was a major post war turning point in Fashion History. Dior’s designs embraced femininity and the house adapted to the changing pulse of fashion much better than the many of the French designers who came before him.
Although Dior himself tragically died at the height in his popularity in 1957, other famous names like Yves Saint Laurent carried on the Dior name, although not always in his traditional style. The house of Dior dressed, and continues to dress, countless celebrities including Ava Gardner, Princess Diana, and Marion Cotillard.
No celebrity red carpet is complete without Louboutin’s iconic red-soled stiletto heels. Christian Louboutin remains one of the most famous French designers in the modern fashion lexicon. Growing up in France and rubbing elbows with pop culture icons of the ‘60s like Mick Jagger and Andy Warhol, Louboutin eventually became an apprentice of Roger Vivier, who allegedly invented the stiletto. Under his tutelage, Louboutin learned skills that would propel him to success as a freelance designer working with French fashion houses Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent.
Eventually opening his own shop in Paris in the 1990s, Louboutin wanted to elevate his designs but wasn’t sure how. The inspiration for his famous red soles came from his assistant’s simple act of painting her nails. One of his shop’s earliest customers was Princess Caroline of Monaco and his popularity among musicians and celebrities quickly made Louboutin a household name.
Evolution of Handbags & Purses
Have you ever wondered how handbags and purses turned into a fashionable commodity?
While they weren’t always called handbags or purses, as long as people walked the earth, there has been a need for bags to carry necessary items like food or tools on short and long journeys. They may not have had a name way back then, but their function even in the earliest moments of human history cannot be ignored.
Modern usage of a purse is believed to come from early Europeans who lived in more localized communities but were no longer spending their days at home and needed to have essential items at hand. But why were small ‘purses’ popular as a solution? Because until the 17th century, clothing didn’t have pockets. All men and women carried handbags for things like coins, alms, and other personal items. However, after the introduction of pockets into everyday clothing for men, the usage of purses and handbags changed dramatically. Instead of being a necessity for both men and women, handbags became almost exclusively for women.
In the 19th century, and especially during the Industrial Revolution, many new manufacturing methods and new materials were created. When applied to fashion and handbags, these innovations opened up a whole new world of styles and designs. Purses evolved from small pocket-like drawstring bags that held only a small number of items to the larger handbags we know today initially produced by luggage manufacturers like Louis Vuitton.
From Necessity to Accessory
Later, in the 20th century, art and fashion movements became a part of life. More women joined the workforce and as they became more mobile, their handbag needs changed. This resulted in a wider variety of bags to suit specific purposes. There were leather document cases for the office, practical leather and plastic daytime bags for walking or shopping, and elegant, sparkling metal clutches for evening use. Handbags were no longer a basic necessity, but an accessory to complement the style and taste of the women that carried them.
Branding became increasingly important during this time and soon handbags were taken as a reflection of status or class. Many great handbag designers emerged all over the world. Instead of single purpose bags or styles that might endure for decades, handbags as an accessory could (and should) be changed to suit the season or occasion. For fashion designers such as Chanel, Dior, Versace, Donna Karan and Dolce & Gabbana, this change in the consumer meant that the handbag became an important component of each collection they produced.
Timeless French Clothing Trends
In popular culture, France is often considered the epicenter of fashion. There are countless references to a classic French or Parisian look that is considered to be the pinnacle of style. French fashion consists of evergreen fashion pieces, some of which were introduced by our notable French designers. These iconic pieces just never seem to go out of style. French fashion items are perfect to include in capsule wardrobes due to their versatility and timeless designs.
The Breton top or marinière, is a cotton long-armed shirt with horizontal blue and white stripes, and is an iconic French classic that has never gone out of style. Worn since the Napoleonic times, the original version of this piece had twenty-one stripes that symbolized Bonaparte’s victories. The actual pattern itself was not without significance, as it enabled seamen to spot the fallen sailors who had fallen into the water. It is an essential part of French culture and fashion and is often used by other nationalities to signify association with France.
Another popular piece in France are the Sailor trousers, which are wide-leg, high-waisted jeans with buttons along the pockets. These classic jeans elongate the legs and are very flattering on the waist. The French way to wear them is to tuck a blouse into the waistband and make the buttons the focus of the look.
Little black dress
No woman’s wardrobe is completed without a little black dress. It's an item that every fashion-conscious woman should own. The LBD is a timeless staple that can be used for many occasions during all seasons. It looks stunning whenever or wherever it is worn. This essential fashion icon is available in a range of cuts, fabrics and styles from nearly every designer. It is a must-have fashion piece that never goes wrong.
We love this timeless little black dress from Gaâla. It’s sophisticated, classic, and perfect for any occasion. Plus, Gaâla is a sustainable fashion brand that uses leftover fabric to create all of their chic designs.
Most Paris men admire classics like the Breton tee, roll necks and well-cut blazers. These designs are still popular when it comes to men’s designer wear. However, today’s Frenchmen like to pair classic pieces with more comfort-driven attire. The key combination to dress like a Parisian is a slim-fit tee or roll neck in black under a navy jacket. In fact, the Parisian man adores blacks and neutrals. More fashion forward men add some trendy colors and accessories to their look but the safest bet is still some variation or combination of black, white, grey, brown, and navy.
Menswear is also popular with women in French fashion. As we’ve seen, designers like Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli introduced structured jackets, blouses, and pants into women’s fashion bringing practicality, function, and sophistication to everyday womenswear.
White button-down shirt tucked into slim jeans
What’s more timeless than a white button-down shirt tucked into a pair of slim fit jeans? In fact, the simple styling trick of tucking in only the front of your shirt is coined ‘the French tuck’. This easy-to-wear style defines the waistline while balancing the proportions of the outfit. No wonder it is a staple of French style.
These Stoneford slim jeans from Sessùn pair perfectly with a simple white tee or blazer. Pair with flats for a casual look, or dress them up with a pair of pumps and an elevated blouse.
Structured geometric bags
For decades, structured handbags have remained a favourite of celebrities. Bags in various shapes like squares, circles, triangles, hexagons and more, have always been popular. It is no surprise that whenever we sift through celebrity photos, many of them are seen with this timeless style.
A structured bag, like LaFlore Paris’ bobobark convertible backpack combines function, style and classic French elegance in a single handbag and is ready to wear no matter which French fashion trend you’re trying out.