Jacques Doucet

8C4587D8-89A7-45F3-BE9F-94C1AF084E0EJacques 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.

F8B51DDC-B3D3-4F6B-8FB1-94CA5897587EHis 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.

Posted in Fashion | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Hubert de Givenchy

AE448716-42E3-4EDB-835D-0825767597ECAt the summer program where I work in Paris, we frequently have the children of famous people among our students. I’m generally pretty blasé about the star power, but one connection did get my interest. We had the great-niece of Hubert de Givenchy with us a few years ago. I would have welcomed an invitation to meet him when she went to visit Oncle Hubert, but the iconic fashion designer was by this time an elderly man in ill health.

DDCAE511-12B6-4F73-8A79-7D66B6C0BDCBFrench aristocrat Count Hubert James Marcel Taffin de Givenchy was born on February 20, 1927. He had worked for various designers, including Jacques Fath, Robert Piguet, Lucien Lelong, and Elsa Schiaparelli, before opening his own Maison in 1952. At just 25, he was the youngest designer in Paris at the time, and his progressive ideas soon found favor with the young and avant-garde; his collections were some of the few in Paris that offered an alternative to the dominating, conservative rule of Dior. From the outset, the use of cheaper fabrics, such as raw cotton, and the predominance of daywear separates, such as tailored suits, skirts, and blouses, were defining characteristics of his collections.


Bettina blouse

His first collection included his Bettina blouse, which was copied worldwide. His eveningwear was elegant and, while initially, it incorporated a New Look silhouette, it had a younger and more playful feel to it due to his fabric and print choices, including lace and his famous fruit prints. A year after his début collection, Givenchy met Cristóbal Balenciaga, whose designs he greatly admired. Givenchy’s change in design direction dates from this meeting. While he did not abandon his more classic and ‘in fashion’ silhouettes, they were joined by pieces that played with volume, draping, and straighter lines. Both designers introduced their versions of a new line – the Sack dress, a loose dress without a waistline.


Sack dresses

His preference for separates not only offered women an alternative to formal evening dress, but it also paved the way for luxury prêt-à-porter that was elegant yet relaxed. His career skyrocketed after he met Audrey Hepburn on the set of Sabrina in 1951, and he would go on to design the famous black dress she wore in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The two became good friends, and she continued to wear his clothing in her off-screen life.

8E2696E9-EDC8-4C24-97BB-5CFF8C7EC15BGivenchy managed what few couturiers achieved: universal praise. Not only did the press and celebrities adore him, but traditional, conservative customers, just as much as younger ones, eagerly awaited every new collection. It seems this approval from all corners of the spectrum may have been because he sought design inspiration in both the elitist beau monde of Paris as well as the trendier locales of New York’s East Village. He managed to marry these extremes into wearable, chic, and novel silhouettes. Givenchy retired from fashion in 1995 and died on March 10, 2018.

Posted in Fashion | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Fernand Léger

ACCFBFF2-4D2D-4814-BD1D-089F67AF554FFrench artist Fernand Léger was born on February 4, 1881 in Argentan, France. Beginning in 1903, he studied architecture in Caen and painting at the Académie Julien in Paris. Through Braque and Picasso, he was introduced to Cubism in 1910, but he soon developed his own distinctive brand of art described as the “aesthetic of the machine,” already evident in his work of 1913 but more fully developed after World War I. In this period, he designed costumes and sets for the Swedish Ballet and collaborated with Man Ray on the first abstract film, Le Ballet Mécanique (1924). FF878F5F-7D0A-443E-8D14-F13BA69AF849.jpegDuring World War II, he lived in the USA where he taught at Yale and painted mainly acrobats and cyclists as well as working on the murals for the UN headquarters building in New York. After returning to France, he concentrated on large paintings of men and machinery, earning the epithet of the “Primitive of the Machine Age.” He died on August 7, 1955.

5DC15EBD-B987-4B00-BDF7-12C9FD8A029BLéger: Modern Art and the Metropolis

Posted in Art | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson


French painter Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson was born on January 29, 1767. A versatile painter and illustrator, Girodet was probably the illegitimate son of Dr. Trioson and he adopted his surname in 1806. After a false start in architecture, he trained as a painter under David, rapidly becoming one of his most talented followers. Girodet won the Prix de Rome in 1789, working in Italy until 1795. His smooth, sculptural finish linked him with Neoclassicism, but his choice of subject matter became increasingly Romantic. He often opted for poetic, nocturnal themes or for literary subjects, such as Chateaubriand’s story of Atala.



More Romantic still was his most famous picture Ossian, which was commissioned for Bonaparte’s country retreat at Malmaison. This exploited the contemporary craze for Celtic subject matter, and depicted a misty scene with a bard-like figure welcoming Napoleon’s generals into paradise. Girodet also produced coolly erotic nudes, which betrayed his fondness for Mannerist artists such as Correggio. Girodet had a waspish personality, which occasionally landed him in trouble.


Mademoiselle Lange as Danae

There were frequent clashes with David, and his scurrilous portrait of Mademoiselle Lange created a public scandal. Miss Lange was a talented actress known for her beauty and wealthy lovers. Girodet had painted an earlier portrait of her that she found unflattering. When she refused to pay the agreed-upon price and insisted that the painting be removed from public view at the Paris Salon, the enraged Girodet sought revenge with this second, satirical portrait. Eighteenth-century artists sometimes portrayed people as mythological characters to highlight their virtues. Girodet inverted this convention to defame Miss Lange. Danae was one of the mortals loved by the Greek god Zeus, who transformed himself into a shower of gold and fell upon her. Girodet shows Miss Lange greedily catching the gold coins. All of the painting’s details are scathingly symbolic. For example, the turkey wearing a wedding ring represents a man the actress married for his fortune. The cracked mirror denotes her inability to see herself as Girodet saw her—a vain, adulterous, and avaricious woman. In later life, he inherited a considerable fortune and his artistic output diminished. He died on December 9, 1824.

FFB74DC8-1358-49D3-AB08-213375EE4A6CAnne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson

Posted in Art | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Maison Callot Sœurs

960C3C85-E626-4DB9-91F0-41B9DCCC1408Maison Callot Sœurs was opened in 1895 by four sisters: Marie Callot Gerber; Regina Callot Tennyson-Chantrell, and Joséphine Callot Crimont. Sœurs (sir) means “sisters” and I find it interesting that all of the sisters in the business were married, as married women of that era seem to have been typically restricted to adorning their own homes, rather than founding fashion houses. Perhaps their career-minded lives are explained by the fact that they had all been taught to sew by their mother, a lacemaker. Apart from that, they had no other formal training. Their initial designs utilized antique lace and ribbons to enhance blouses, but soon they started creating day and evening wear, which was such a resounding success that, by the turn of the century, they employed 600 workers.

6020D823-69D6-4F98-A28A-80D6DFC16C82In the early 1910s, their clothes were perfectly in tune with the vogue for Orientalism. Aside from their extravagant evening wear, they also continued to make pared-down versions for more conservative customers (often inspired by 18th-century dress), marrying the latest fashions with a timeless elegance.

9306D393-1457-471E-90AF-D9E719A9A059They were among the first to use gold and silver lamé for dresses and their designs often featured exotic details – especially embroidery, the house’s speciality. Callot Sœurs were known for their crafsmanship and their attention to detail, and their rightfully set a high standard in the industry.

249F86FC-0F12-4AE6-B32C-0EE10F4576D6In the first decade of the new century, they were pioneers in devising comfortable dresses that were designed to be worn without a corset. Their preference for unobstructed garments (for which they often took inspiration from non-Western dress) made them fashion superstars in the 1920s when elite customers coveted their simple, yet exquisitely cut and draped sheath dresses. They often draped fabric directly on the body when creating patterns, and were promoters of bias cutting. Indeed, Madeleine Vionnet, the queen of the bias cut – who trained at Callot Sœurs – claimed that she owed her knowledge and success to the excellent and innovative instruction that she received while at the maison. 

B499CB50-0CCC-4825-A078-325B5E7336BEThe house expanded and opened branches in Nice, Biarritz, Buenos Aires, and London, where it attracted the custom of royalty and society ladies. Aside from their richly decorated sheath evening dresses, they were especially known for their capes and capelets. In 1920 they created the manteau d’abbé (priest’s cloak), a short cape worn over coats and evening gowns that remained a fashion for nearly two decades.

During the first decade of the last century, their clothes were characterized by a tasteful palette of pastels, but by the 1920s they were using vivid Fauvist colors, often enhanced by the application of embroidery or beading. The sisters favored gold and silver thread and sequins, particularly on evening wear, because they caught and reflected the light when the wearer was dancing.

4F5BA79A-F35A-47DF-8D40-602BE990059DBy 1926, the popularity of the house had started to wane because their intricate and expensive creations failed to compete with the sportswear promoted by Chanel and Poitou. The house was taken over by one of the sisters’ sons and in 1937 merged with Maison Calvet.

Posted in Fashion | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Un livre d’heures

CD195E1B-33E3-48FA-B95B-C68B87F27C52French Primatives painter Jean Fouquet was born in 1420, but there is no exact record of when exactly. Since 2020 represents his six hundredth birthday, I decided to just pick a random day to give him a shout out. So, here’s looking at you, Jean!

999A3E84-69AC-412F-AF38-40B7CA4CE42CHe was born in Tours, France, the town where I spent three summers in immersion programs, so it’s cool to think that we may have walked down the same street or dined at the same café on Place Plumereau. The most representative French painter of the 15th century, Fouquet originally came under the influence of Dutch painter Jan Van Eyck. A period in Italy, however, when he was commissioned to paint the portrait of Pope Eugenius IV, brought him into contact with the new styles emerging in Tuscany. On his return to France, he combined the Flemish and Tuscan elements to create a wholly distinctive French style.


Highly influential on the succeeding generation of French artists, Fouquet’s supreme importance was not fully realized until 1904, when his surviving works were brought together for an exhibition in Paris. His painting combines the skills and precision acquired during his early career as a limner (a painter of illuminated manuscripts) and miniaturist with a new-found expressiveness that places him in the forefront of the painters who could get behind the eyes of their subjects and reveal the underlying character.

Hours of Simon de VarieIn French, an illustrated manuscript is known as un livre d’heures (uhn leav-ruh dur) in recognition of its role as a guide to prayerful meditation throughout the day. They are fragile and stunning works of art. If you are in Paris, the musée Marmottan Monet, in the 16th Arrondissement has a full room devoted to splendid examples of livres d’heures that is well worth a visit.




063C06C2-8825-4287-88AE-7B4EC6893839Jean Fouquet: The Melun Diptych

Posted in Art | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Gustave Doré

53284143-73D5-4102-8D17-43856092C358Gustave Doré was born on January 6, 1832 in Strasbourg, France. He was the most prolific and successful French illustrator of his age. Initially, he was drawn to caricature, spurred on by the encouragement of noted cartoonist Charles Philipon. As a teenager, Doré visited Philipon’s Paris shop and was briefly employed by him. Doré also began producing humorous drawings for Le Journal pour Rire. These precocious skills proved invaluable, when, following the death of his father in 1849 he became the family’s main breadwinner.

A199C999-4C98-448C-B196-4FE839C7E914Doré soon progressed to book illustrations. During the 1860s, his wood engravings for Dante’s Inferno and Cervantes’ Don Quixote made him famous. Stylistically, he owed much to the Romantics, excelling at depictions of the exotic and the macabre. This is particularly evident from his strange, glacial landscapes in the Rime of the Ancient Mariner and the grotesque beasts in the Inferno.

D7AF07E9-C9E1-48FC-AB9D-388336979EF1Yet, Doré could also be brutally realistic. His unflinching portrayal of the London slums attracted widespread praise and captured the imagination of the young Vincent Van Gogh. In later life, Doré produced some paintings and sculpture, but these are less highly regarded. His most successful venture in this field was the monument to his friend, the novelist Alexandre Dumas. He died on January 23, 1883.

Posted in Art | Tagged , , | Leave a comment