Monday, August 13, 2012

Jacques Fath, 1912-1954



Born, in 1912, to an upper middle class family, Jacques Fath knew at an early age that fashion design was in his blood.  As a young boy he was interested in drawing, design and fashion and was inspired by the theatrical setting of his grandfather's studio, with its collection of old textiles and furnishings.  A play space that he and his sister would fondly remember and he would credit many years later.  At an early age he demonstrated a flair for colour and a love of fabrics which would later lead him to draw fashion silhouettes and the eventual redesigning of his mothers hats or dresses worn by his sister.  The desire to create would take him to costume museums to study the past, or the book sellers to source reference material on the history of dress. These historic references would be invaluable to the designer in the early 1950's. He would turn existing garments inside out to study their construction and eventually asked a tailor to teach him the basics of cutting and construction.  

By 1937, the 25 year old, opened the House of Fath at 32, Rue la Boetie.  The pre-war years were difficult until his marriage in 1939.  His wife's celebrity as a cover girl and his good looks would make them one of the most photographed couples in Paris, but any further successes would have to wait until his honorable discharge from the war in August 1940.  It was against the difficult backdrop of a world at war that he found his first successes.  Using yards of tartan, and mocking the German occupiers, he designed a number of tunic dresses and peasant skirts that made Parisian women feel feminine and sporty at the same time.

His wife and muse
His wife became his muse, she was the model, Genevieve Bouchet.  He often described her features as perfection and he used her body as a mannequin in his atelier for working out his designs.  The ideal woman must be, "Tall, very thin, with a long neck and a perfect bosom, a very important feature.  She must also have a tiny waist and rounded hips; long, shapely legs; slender, elegant ankles; and small feet." 

Difficult shoes for the average woman to fit indeed!  


Young, glamorous and beautiful, Jacques and his wife used their celebrity status as much for marketing purposes as they did for pleasure.  They could be seen everywhere and their yearly themed balls, held at their home the Chateau de Corbeville, were highly anticipated events.  The guest list could top 800 and included the press as well as society patrons and hollywood stars.  Genevieve personified the early '50's desire for a return to femininity and the editors of the style magazines were happy to take her lead.  

"One cannot understand the workings of haute couture without the realization that it is based on publicity." Jacques Fath

Chateau de Corbeville
Like Jacques Doucet nearly 100 years earlier, Fath embraced his French heritage in his surroundings and manner.  The opulence of the court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette seemed to provide a wealth of inspiration along with the silhouettes of the Second Empire and the Fin de Siecle.  The post war world seemed ready to embrace all things French and wealthy Americans patronized the art, products and fashions to be found in Paris, but for some unknown reason they did not come to the House of Fath.


Jacques and Genevieve decided to use their celebrity status once again and they traveled to the United States on a three month tour that took them to seven cities across the country.  Packed in her suitcases, Genevieve's wardrobe consisted of 35 outfits for day and evening, 17 hats, 16 pairs of shoes, 10 handbags, 4 umbrellas, and numerous other accessories.  She was his walking billboard.  Everywhere they went they were enthusiastically received.  The free press was invaluable to the House of Fath, and so too, was the new insight of the demands of the American consumer to the designer.  Upon his return to Paris, Fath re-tooled his collection and established an agreement in 1949 with Joseph Halpert, a Seventh Avenue manufacturer.  Soon, Fath designs could be found in retail establishments like Neiman Marcus.  The label read, "Jacques Fath for Joseph Halpert" and royalties came from every garment sold.


1947, MET collection

House of Fath, 1957



Label: Jacques Fath Paris, c. 1953

Fath, Bettina and Miro
Perhaps part of the success of Jacques Fath was his ability to predict trends.  In this, he relied on his choice of models.  They became the most sought after mannequins in all of Paris and the epitome of grace and elegance to millions of women worldwide.  He favored a modern, younger, more sensuous female and he supervised their appearance in regards to hair styles, make up and deportment.  The resulting publicity photographs that graced the magazines at this time are now appreciated today as an art form.  This period would be the beginning of the celebrity model.

Bettina, circa 1950-51

Vogue France, 1952

2 piece evening suit, 1950

Hat, Spring-Summer 1951

Fern embroidered organza, 1950

Bettina.  Fath's favorite model

Pleated swing coat
July-August 1952
Suit above comes with detachable pleated chiffon overskirt.  The ultimate way to take a cocktail suit to a dinner suit.  Lavish pleating, along with embroidery by the House of Lesage, are hallmarks of Faths work.
Spring 1951


Jacques last collection would be shown in 1954 and was a symphony in gray.  He would die a few weeks later of Leukemia in the American Hospital of Paris.

"Fifty years from now,  Parisian women will no longer have hips; their bosoms will diminish.  Tomorrow's woman will be an eternal little girl;  there will be no place for the mature woman." 
Jacques Fath

2 comments:

  1. Excellent bio.

    There's an ebook called Jacques Fath Designs The Red Shoes: The Fashionista's Guide To The Movie that's actually a making-of story of the movie and what happened to those involved after the film opened to rave reviews. The mid-section is devoted to the costumes which were worn by Moira Shearer as Vicky which were designed by the then-greatest French couturier Jacques Fath.

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    1. thanks Dan, I'll have to look into that.

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