Fashionable Paris

It’s Fashion Week in Paris! Designers from around the world are in Paris this week for one of the industry’s biggest fashion shows. Programs Coordinator Audrey Casabielhe documents the rise of high fashion in France and the movements that both challenged it and contributed to its lasting popularity.

Of all the treasures Paris has to offer, one that stands out this month is the Paris Fashion Show. February is the traditional time for the Women’s Fall/Winter Fashion week with Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel, Nina Ricci, and many more designers presenting their collection for the next winter.

Of course, it is not the only city in the world that hosts international fashion shows, but the Parisian history of fashion has left its mark and crowned Paris as one of the most important cities in the fashion Industry.

It is fair to say that the French owe their chic style to Louis XIV, the “Sun King,” who reigned from 1643-1715. Louis had decidedly lavish taste, a clear example being the opulent Palace of Versailles. The monarch was renowned for his exquisite attire and introduced the textile trade to France. He placed it under the control of the royal court, which soon became the international authority on style. The King’s Finance Minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert was not mistaken when he said that “Fashions are to France what the mines of Peru are to Spain”. France had become the most fashionable city in the world.

In the 19th century, France came back onto the fashion scene with the creation and development of haute couture – the practice of designing clothing for a particular client – and the opening of the great couturier houses. Rose Bertin was the first to open one of these, quickly followed by Charles Frederick Worth, who opened his on Rue de la Paix in Paris. He was followed by Jacques Doucet, Paul Poiret, and Madeleine Vionnet, among others. This was the moment fashion shows as we know them were created.

What shaped French fashion as we know it is the establishment in the early 20th century of the most famous of the fashion houses: Coco Chanel. The Saumur-born designer shunned uncomfortable garments like the corset, which forced a woman’s upper body to match a particular shape. Chanel instead introduced looser, free-flowing designs, which proved immensely popular during the 1920s.

The French fashion world faced perhaps its biggest threat in the 1960s with the rise of youth culture in “swinging London.” British designer Mary Quant led the way, eschewing the formal Parisian garments for more audacious designs. These included extremely short mini-skirts which were adored by younger generations as a symbol of female emancipation and sexual liberation.

However, in the late 1960s, it was the work of a young Yves Saint Laurent which would help Paris to reclaim its fashion crown. Saint Laurent introduced a number of men’s jackets into the female wardrobe – namely le smoking (tuxedo)– and was the first couturier to produce a ready-to-wear collection. Today, almost all of the original couture houses produce ready-to-wear lines that enjoy much greater press coverage than couture collection and are, ultimately, much more profitable, contributing to high fashion’s longevity.

Since 1973, Paris has hosted the most important Fashion Week in the world, coloring February and the start of Spring with the warm tints of the coming Fall.


~Audrey Casabielhe, ACCENT Paris

Fashion Week 2019 starts on February 25th and continues until March 5th– website here.

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