Jacques Doucet, often described as one of the great “old masters” of fashion design, was born on February 19, 1853. As early as 1817, his family established the House of Doucet in Paris, a business specializing in fine linens, lingerie, and later, ladies’ apparel. From 1968, the reputation of the house flourished and attracted talented designers, including Paul Poiret and Madeleine Vionnet, who both trained there. joined the family business in 1874 and specialized in laces and evening gowns. His design talents quickly attracted the attention of society ladies, actresses, and demi-mondaines alike.
Doucet was especially popular with American clients, and by 1895 merchants from the United States were buying his models both to retail and copy, all of which contributed to making Doucet one of the biggest Parisian houses by the start of the 20th century. Jacques Doucet was a fervent art collector and connoisseur, and his designs were often inspired by the 18th-century paintings he collected.
His romantic, luxurious, but eminently wearable creations always had a feminine, elegant, and airy feel. He worked in a palette of neutral pastels, often superimposing different colors to create a play of tones when the dress was in motion. He became particularly famous for his dresses made entirely of luxurious and costly gros point de Venise – a 17th-century Venetian lace characterized by large scrolling floral motifs. For decoration, he favored lace ruffles, silk ribbons, delicately dyed ostrich feathers, intricate beadwork, and high-quality lace, again in muted tones.
Although his dresses were among the best romantic and historic designs, he was not only a designer trapped in the past – he also produced practical tailleurs, which were some of the most desirable available. He was also an innovator in matters of fur, treating and manipulating it like fabric; his fitted fur coats were popular with women of all ages. Doucet knew his market and realized more mature women were not inclined to follow the latest fashion follies; hence his more conservative, romantic styles remained popular for most of the decade.