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Meet the Icons - Fashion Designers

Four of France's greatest fashion designers

Combining artistry and flair with an eye for the commercial and the headline, French fashion has always been a world leader.

  1. Coco Chanel
  2. Christian Dior
  3. Yves Saint Laurent
  4. Thierry Hermès

Coco Chanel

1883 - 1971

Iconic fashion designer whose name is synonymous with stylish chic.

“Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury”.

Coco Chanel (1883 - 1971)
Coco Chanel (1883 - 1971)

Her trademark suits and little black dresses ensured her fashion immortality.

Raised in an orphanage, she launched her first perfume in the 1920s, Chanel No. 5, and went on to create the Chanel suit and little black dress with an emphasis on chic outfits that were comfortable to wear.

Why an icon?

Her timeless style will never go out of fashion and she helped women say farewell to the corset.

Stand out piece(s)

2.55 Flap Bag (1955) - One of the most sought-after handbags in history.

Chanel Suit (1913) - military inspired jacket in braided tweed with a unique fit thanks to the chain concealed within its hem.

Chanel No.5 (1921) - "I am an imaginary bouquet, stunning, prolific. A Chanel perfume is invariably floral; iris, rose, ylang-ylang, bergamot, and why not hay or tobacco, hyacinth, orange blossom, galbanum and jasmine again and again like the chorus of a floral symphony" 

Christian Dior

1905 - 1957

Fashion designer who brought back luxury and femininity after the wartime restrictions.

“Happiness is the secret to all beauty; there is no beauty that is attractive without happiness”.

Christian Dior (1905 - 1957)
Christian Dior (1905 - 1957)

The Dior house was launched to acclaim in 1947, with Jean Cocteau, countless socialites and fashion editors all queuing and shivering on the doorstep, eager for a first glimpse. It was a runaway success with the Bar Suit stealing all the headlines and helping create the New Look. Not for many years had gorgeous fabric been used so extravagantly in the name of mere fashion.

Dior’s designs introduced a voluptuous style, all the more striking after the practical, frugalities of the war years. Some of the old school, make-do-and-mend mindset did not like this decadent approach and headlines were made.

Why an icon?

A designer who breathed life back into women's’ fashion after the war and kick-started the look of modern decadence for the new generation.

Stand out piece(s)

"Bar" Suit from the New Look collection (1947) - known for its sucked-in waistline and excessive use of fabric following years of fabric rationing. 

Tulip silhouette skirt (1953), H-line (1954), A-line (1954) and Y-line (1955) - Dior was famous for experimenting with the female silhouette, launching a new 'fit' at four successive runway shows at the height of his career.

Yves Saint Laurent

1936 - 2008

Shooting to prominence in the heady 60s his fashion designs instantly captured the zeitgeist.

“Fashions fade, style is eternal.”

Yves Saint Laurent ( 1936 - 2008)
Yves Saint Laurent ( 1936 - 2008)

Born in Algeria (then French Algeria), Saint Laurent worked initially for Dior, taking over the reins at the tender age of 21, to great acclaim, on Dior’s death. Setting up his own fashion house in the 60s was impeccably timed: pop culture and an appetite for fresh and original designs ensured demand for his signature blouses and jumpsuits.

He was pioneering in women's fashion, dressing his models in blazers and, radically, smoking jackets.

Why an icon?

A toweringly important designer whose impact has endured from the 1960s to today.

Stand out piece(s)

Smoking suit (1966) - the first-ever tuxedo for women inspired by 19th-century men's smoking jackets.

Mondrian dress (1965) - wool silkblend, A-line dresses inspired by paintings by the Dutch artist Piet Mondrian and one of the first examples of the convergence of art and fashion.

Thierry Hermès

1801 - 1878

Founder of the exclusive fashion house Hermès.

“Time is our greatest weapon”.
- Jean-Louis Dumas, CEO from 1978-2006

Thierry Hèrmes (1801 - 1878)
Thierry Hèrmes (1801 - 1878)

More a master craftsman, Hermès founded a harness workshop in Paris in 1837 (the same year Tiffany opened in New York). His son added saddles to their offering and moved to Faubourg-Saint-Honoré where the flagship store still thrives.

The Hermès reputation reached far and wide, from the Russian Court to South America. They introduced luggage to the range, brought the zipper to France, designed for the Prince of Wales and created leather accessories and later clothing, jewellery and the iconic silk squares.

The first Hermès women’s couture range was shown in Paris in 1929 and the next decades saw tremendous landmark moments, notably the Kelly Bag (named after Grace Kelly) and later the Birkin Bag (Jane Birkin).

Why an icon?

A craftsman who built an empire of luxury goods and fashion trends that have stood the test of time.

Stand out piece(s)

During Thierry's time he produced high-quality horse harnesses, his sons introduced saddlery and other equestrian accessories. It wasn't until the early 1900s that fashion accessories were designed by the company. 

The Kelly bag (mid 1930s) - iconic trapezium-shaped leather handbag sold in varying sizes and costing upwards of $12,000.

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