When it comes to fashion, few countries can rival the allure of France. The French have long been hailed as style icons, and their fashion houses have a rich history that has shaped the industry world wide.
It is for this reason French fashion week is always a sought after ticket, with that rather je ne sais quoi spirit. The history of these haute couture fashion houses is a testament to the enduring influence and creativity of the designers who founded them.
From the revolutionary Coco Chanel to the sophisticated Christian Dior, each design brand has a specific look that is immediately distinguishable and yet new at the same time. Whether you’re drawn to classic elegance or a more contemporary taste, let’s explore the rich heritage of each of these fashion houses, shall we? Allons-y!
One of the most famous women in France, the journey of the Chanel couture fashion house began in 1910 when Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel opened her first boutique in Paris.
Originally selling hats as a milliner, she would soon get women to break free from the corseted silhouettes of the time.
In 1926 Coco published a picture of a short, simple black dress in American Vogue. It was calf-length and straight, and a revolution in terms of women’s clothing.
The brand’s signature tweed suits, little black dresses, and quilted handbags became timeless classics. Today it is privately owned by the Wertheimer family and has been headquartered in London since 2018.
Under the creative direction of renowned coutouriers Karl Lagerfeld and now Virginie Viard, Chanel continues to set trends and epitomize luxury.
2. Christian Dior
Christian Dior’s fashion house was established in 1946, marking the dawn of a new era in post-war fashion. Dior’s debut collection in 1947, famously known as the “New Look,” presented feminine silhouettes with cinched waists and full skirts, creating a romantic and glamorous aesthetic.
However, feminists in particular were outraged as the tight-fitting and quasi-corseted designs were restrictive.
However, this revolutionary collection became an instant sensation and propelled Dior to international fame. It also came to prominence dressing British royalty like Princess Margaret and Wallis Simpson.
Since then, the brand has continued to innovate under various creative directors, showcasing exquisite couture and ready-to-wear collections.Today it is controlled and chaired by French businessman Bernard Arnault, who also heads LVMH.
3. Louis Vuitton
The iconic Louis Vuitton brand traces its roots back to 1854 when Louis Vuitton opened his first trunk-making workshop in Paris. His flat-topped trunks were practical in that they could easily be stacked.
More than practicality, Louis Vuitton became renowned for its impeccable craftsmanship and innovative designs. The french fashion house quickly gained popularity among the elite travelers of the time.
The introduction of the signature monogram canvas in 1896 further solidified the brand’s identity and became a symbol of luxury and sophistication. Today, Louis Vuitton offers a wide range of products, from coveted handbags and accessories to ready-to-wear fashion.
It is also Bernard Arnault’s signature brand LVMH that controls several other luxury fashion brands. Together they operate in 50 countries with more than 460 stores worldwide.
Thierry Hermès was born in Krefeld, Germany, to a French father and a German mother. The family moved to France in 1828, where as an adult Thierry Hermès started his namesake fashion brand.
Dating back to 1837, Hermès has established itself as a pinnacle of luxury and refinement. Originally specializing in equestrian accessories, Thierry Hermès founded the brand with a commitment to exceptional craftsmanship.
Over time, the fashion house Hermès gained recognition for its iconic silk scarves, exquisite leather goods, and later, the coveted Birkin and Kelly bags. Each collection exemplifies the brand’s dedication to timeless elegance and meticulous attention to detail.
Today, Hèrmes continues to be owned by the Hèrmes family (despite several attempts by LVMH to take it over.)
Hubert de Givenchy founded his eponymous fashion house in 1952, captivating the world with his exquisite designs. Givenchy gained global acclaim when he dressed Audrey Hepburn for her iconic role in the movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”
Known for his clean lines, impeccable tailoring, and delicate femininity, Givenchy’s creations exude effortless sophistication. It has regularly attracted many celebrities from Lauren Bacall, Greta Garbo, Elizabeth Taylor, Marlène Dietrich, Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis, and Beyoncé Knowles,
Other stars include Cate Blanchett, Emma Stone, Lady Gaga, Julia Roberts, even Princess Grace of Monaco. Today owned by LVMH, the brand continues to enchant with its blend of modernity and classic elegance.
6. Jean Paul Gaultier
Taking luxury fashion to another level, Jean Paul Gaultier was a true maverick. Launching his brand in 1982, Gaultier quickly gained a reputation for his unconventional designs and boundary-pushing creativity.
He infused elements of street style, punk, and gender fluidity into his collections, challenging traditional notions of fashion. Gaultier’s daring and theatrical runway shows, along with his iconic collaborations, have made him an emblem of avant-garde fashion.
Gaultier left to become the creative director for French luxury house Hermès from 2003 to 2010 before returning to the Gaultier fashion house. The fashion house Jean Paul Gaultier continues to be run by the Spanish group Puig, continuing in its founder’s footsteps.
Founded by Jeanne Lanvin in 1889, Lanvin is the oldest French fashion houses still in operation today. Lanvin started making clothes for her daughter, Marie-Blanche de Polignac.
This began to attract the attention of a number of wealthy people, who requested copies for their own children. With time, her designs expanded to include clothing, perfumes, and accessories.
Since 2018, it has been a subsidiary of Shanghai-based Lanvin Group. Its creations are characterized by intricate detailing, luxurious fabrics, and flattering silhouettes.
8. Yves Saint Laurent
Yves Saint Laurent, often referred to as YSL, revolutionized fashion in the 20th century. Launching his label in 1962, Saint Laurent and his and his partner Pierre Bergé, challenged societal norms with his androgynous and daring designs.
He introduced the iconic Le Smoking tuxedo suit for women, redefining power dressing and cementing his reputation as a visionary. YSL’s innovative creations continue to inspire with their fusion of elegance and edge.
Today the company specializes in haute couture, ready-to-wear, leather accessories, and footwear. YSL cosmetics is owned by another French company however, L’Oréal.
Céline’s fashion house journey began in 1945 after the end of the war. Céline Vipiana and her husband Richard created a made-to-measure children’s shoe business. Over time, Céline expanded into women’s ready-to-wear fashion and accessories.
The brand gained recognition for its minimalist aesthetic, clean lines, and effortless luxury. Today it is part of the LVMH group of luxury fashion. Céline’s designs embody timeless elegance, making it a favorite among those seeking understated sophistication.
The House of Balmain was founded by Pierre Balmain in 1945, immediately establishing itself as a symbol of opulence and grandeur. He came from a line of designers with his father owned a drapery business and his mother and sister owned a fashion boutique.
Balmain’s designs featured intricate embellishments, structured silhouettes, and a bold use of color.
The brand dressed royalty, Hollywood stars, and prominent figures like Ava Gardner, Brigitte Bardot and Marlene Dietrich. Oscar de la Renta took over at Balmain between 1993 and 2002. Balmain’s legacy of craftsmanship continues to captivate fashion lovers worldwide.
11. Christian Louboutin
Christian Louboutin is a legendary French footwear designer whose red-soled shoes have become iconic symbols of luxury and glamour. Founded in 1991, the luxury brand is known for its exquisite craftsmanship and attention to detail.
Louboutin’s designs are characterized by their sleek silhouettes, daring heights, and signature red lacquered soles. From classic pumps to elaborate studded heels, Christian Louboutin’s shoes exude confidence and sophistication, making them coveted by fashion enthusiasts worldwide.
Beyond shoes, the brand also offers a range of handbags and accessories that reflect Louboutin’s artistic vision and passion for elegance. Their creations have graced red carpets, runways, and the feet of countless celebrities, cementing the brand’s status as a symbol of luxury.
Chloé is a revered French fashion brand that has long been celebrated for its romantic and feminine designs. Founded in 1952 by Gaby Aghion, Chloé quickly established itself as a pioneer of ready-to-wear luxury, as well as having a more affordable fashion line.
Chloé’s aesthetic is characterized by its soft color palette, ethereal prints, and a balance between elegance and nonchalance. From iconic handbags, to dreamy dresses, it offers a range of pieces that capture the essence of modern femininity.
If you enjoyed that article, you may like to read more about shopping in Paris. Vive la mode et à bientôt!