Uncovering Lucien Lelong: The Couturier who Saved French Fashion

By Faith Duval –

You may recognise the name ‘Lelong’ from some of the gorgeous advertisements for fashionable women’s clothing and perfumes on our website. But Lelong has a place in the history books for more than just his talents as a businessman and couturier. Lelong’s actions during the Second World War may just have saved French fashion from a terrible oblivion.

The story goes: when the Nazis occupied France in 1940, they set about trying to relocate the entirety of French haute couture to Berlin. Standing against them was Lucien Lelong, at that time the president of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. He insisted that French fashion depended on thousands of skilled artisans in numerous small ateliers across the country. This wealth of knowledge and craftsmanship, he insisted, could not simply be transplanted to another country: the industry would fall apart.

And so the Nazis reluctantly agreed to allow the Parisian fashion industry to continue operating and gave up on their plans for relocation. At this time a number of the great figures of French high fashion had abandoned the country, some never to return. Schiaparelli and Mainbocher, for example, fled to the United States. To this day, Paris is the centre of global fashion. Were it not for Lelong’s decisive actions, the centre of gravity could well have shifted to Germany or Austria.

Lelong’s business career and his house’s designs are almost forgotten today, despite the momentous role he played in securing Paris fashion for generations to come. Yet in this arena too his importance cannot be overstated. A prominent figure in the fashion world from the twenties to the forties, Lelong had in his employ a number of designers who would later become major names: Christian Dior, Hubert de Givenchy and Pierre Balmain. Lelong did not design himself; rather like an industrialist he oversaw the work of designers such as the aforementioned. Under his tutelage they developed the artistry that was to make them giants of the post-war fashion world.

Many of the designs produced by the house of Lelong had been in the garçonne style of the twenties– androgynous, minimal short skirts. This began to change in the thirties. Nipped-in waists and great, flowing skirts were the order of the day. This work, with its greater opulence, elegance and femininity, presaged the famous New Look launched by Christian Dior in 1947. The post-war fashion revolution which Dior led was first developed before the war under the guidance of Lucien Lelong. Lucien Lelong was in the audience at that famous show, watching on as the man who was once his protégé exhibited his work to members of high society and journalists, changing world couture forever.

Of course, at Vintage Advertising Art we love not only the high fashion and expert perfumery of the forties and fifties, including those of the house of Lucien Lelong; we are devotees of the wonderful vintage ads created to promote those products too. The retro wall art sold on our website is the perfect addition to an office or home interior, adding a touch of class and elegance wherever this vintage wall decor finds its home. Why not purchase a work of vintage advertising art produced for a Lelong clothing line or perfume, and celebrate the man who saved French fashion from the Nazis?

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