Thursday, 18 August 2011

Masters of Couture: Jacques Fath, The flamboyant seducer of the new fashion.

Once upon a time, there was a man called Jacques Fath, he was obsessed with dresses.

Wearing Jacques Fath  1951 

The Chic of Jacques Fath

In the 1950s, a new woman is born out of the idealization of extreme beauty  from fashion architects, Christian Dior, Cristobal Balenciaga and Jacques Fath. An era of a complete new style and vision on an industry  that will have an undisputed influence of the later  history in fashion. 
The 1950s is  the time of ultimate perfection, based on precise drawings, precision in line and cut,  and the  most important of all was proportions and the woman as an perfect ideal. It was the end of the hazard of draping and the end of the asymmetrical designs considered as awry.
The story of Jacques Fath is unique because he was the perfect combination of a genius designer, a terrific media user and an extreme lover of women.
Fath was born in Maison-Laffite, France, on September 6th 1912 in a creative family. His paternal great-grandparents Caroline and Theodore-George Fath were fashion illustrator and writer and his grand father Rene-Maurice Fath was a well known landscape painter today purchased by private collectors.

Jacques Fath married in 1939 his muse, top model and wife Genevieve Boucher de la Bruyere.
According to Fath: " Genevieve captured the best of Greta Garbo, Carole Lombard and Marlene Dietrich"

Jacques Fath at work in his studio.

Jacques Fath photographed  with top model Bettina in his studio. 

Fath was a self -taught designer who learned its craft from studying art during museum exhibitions and from fashion books. He was also experimenting and redesigning his sister's dresses, without asking her opinion her restyled her complete wardrobe.
The Saga starts in 1937 working in a small two room salon on La Rue de la Boutie. in 1940 he moved to a larger space in Rue Francois Premier before settling at his fashion house at the famous 39 Avenue Pierre 1er de Serbie in 1944 just before the Second World War. Among his first models was Lucie Daouphars (1922/1963) a.k.a Lucky, a former welder that later became top house model at Christian Dior and  a tragedy for the Paris fashion scene to loose one of the top models and idol of the New Look at the age of 42 from a long disease. 

Model  "Lucky" Lucie Daouphars  first discovered by J. Fath and later top house model at Christian Dior 

It is in 1939 came the first recognition as a great couturier. Short after his wedding, his wife  Genevieve caused  a sensation at the most important Grande Nuit de Longcchamp, a horse race society event. She was wearing a dress in the extravagant Hollywood style: A little bit of Scarlet, a  little Marlene Dietrich, with a tight-fitting bodice and a sumptuous full skirt tied in a asymmetrical drape. The cape on her shoulders had all the fluttering grace of Sully Prudhomme's Swan...All eyes were on her and on, of course, her Fath dress.
The dress did not escape to Lucien Francois a renowed fashion critic and made an impromptu visit to the young designer. Lucien Francois wrote in Vogue:  
" I understood immediately that this engaging illusionist could dance his way around any blunder, even as he worked, and that he possessed the very rare French ability to have his surroundings conform to his ideals of sumptuousness and harmony. He is inspired. He has a vision. He will succeed". 

In 1941, the Fashion house moved to 48 Av. Pierre 1er de Serbie. During the German occupation France was gloomy and struggling. Impatient  and addicted to style, Fath was determined to reinvent seduction. Using         
rebellious tartan that mocked the German occupiers, he designed myriad tunic dresses and peasant skirts suitable for women riding bicycles; the timing was perfect for this new and sporty style. After the liberation of Paris it was the flamboyant debut of the golden boy of Paris Fashion and the legend began there, and would grow at a breathtaking pace for the next ten years.
The fashion house was a living  temple of creation masterly directed  and orchestrated by Jacques Fath always with humour, never a bad mood, being very polite  and a huge respect for his team and this from the lowest worker until his assistants Hubert de Givenchy, Guy Laroche and Valentino Garavani. He called his seamstresses always by their little name or  'Mes cheries..He never forgot a birthday of  his workers or from their children, the men were invited to restaurant with their wives, and for women a huge bouquet of red roses,  the number of flowers corresponding the age and of course always a glass of Champagne. Workers were allowed to take home  textile leftovers enough to make a dress for their children and Jacques Fath offered wedding dresses to his female workers getting married. .The respect in the fashion house was so that everybody called him "Monsieur Jacques" Jacques Fath had an extreme competent team of more then 500 workers ready to follow their boss until the end.
Already in 1949 the house had 400 seamstresses and had handled 111 million francs' worth in fabrics!!!
The Parisian Paris-Match in 1950 wrote " Fath's story is a love story"

Hubert de Givenchy was an assistant for Jacques Fath .

 Valentino back in Italy after his Parisian period, created his first fashion house inspired by  the house of Jacques Fath.

Hubert de Givenchy about  Jacques Fath: 
" It was in summer 1947, in the middle of work Jacques decided as usual to go to the swimming pool. He asked Valentino and me to join him and we took a bottle of Champagne. We biked crossing Paris to the pool. At the entrance the pool guardian, who knows Jacques, asked what about those two gentlemen: "are they working for you Monsieur Jacques" and Jacques answered: Oh Yes, but remember them well, one day they will be very very well known and  than you will call them also monsieur".

Jacques Fath was a master in making dazzling displays inspired by classic painters like Fragonard, Watteau and we cannot ignore his magnificent presentation White and Red Ball on June 15, 1951. The location is the Chateau de Corbeville in the countryside outside Paris. The scenery is recreating an 18th century masterpieces like Gilles and l'Indifferent from Watteau and a stunning painting from Princess Troubetzkoi posing as the Marquise de Pompadour for La Tour. Each guest must interpret his or her own interpretation of a costume for a 18th century white ball with ruby accessories. More than four hundred  guests attending the ball, one of the years foremost social events, arrive one after the other at the Chateau, whose gardens are attributed to Le Notre, the garden architect from Versailles.

Lady Alexandra in a early Jacques Fath evening dress. 1948.

Fath knew how to entertain, with superb style and flash. He had an inmate sense of showmanship, of disguise, of extravagance. he was magnificent. he liked to give themed balls, where he would bring to life the decor and splendor of times past, setting the stage for a minuet  or a Charleston. The diners at his home were frequently bringing together his favorites clients and notorious personalities from the fashion world.

 At home with Jacques Fath.  Bettina Ballard editor in chief French Vogue 1951, Duchesse de Brissac and countess de Rozenberg invited for diner.

At his Carnaval at Rio Ball, eight hundred guests danced the night away to the music of twenty-eight musicians and two singers,  especially flown in from Brazil. Ginger Rogers  came to the event an Pierre Balmain and Jean Desses were performing a square dance with Jacques Fath.

Orson Wells and Carole Lombard at J. Fath Carnaval de Rio party.

From disparate worlds of the cabaret, stage, and screen; Paris, Hollywood, and the Far East; diplomacy, finance, high society, the arts, couture and the press mingled with notorious guests like the Vicomtesse de Noailles, Fath's muse and ambassador, Princess Troubetzkoi, the Baroness de l'Espee, the Marquise de Ravanel, the Princess of Polignac and many others... never wanted to miss a Jacques Fath party.

Jacques Fath and his wife dressed as Asian king and Queen.

Jeromine Savignon writes in her book Jacques Fath:"Heroes die young and leave behind that which made them immortal-the invincible memories of their stunning legends, their unending quests for truth and beauty, as well as their wounds". Jacques Fath suffered from leukemia.
In August 1954 Marlene Dietrich buys two dresses from Jacques Fath,. His last collection was a symphony in gray. He worked on it with the same passion, but with several interruption to receive blood transfusions. When the curtain fell down and the applause ceased, he sat down with his models and told them "That was my last collection".
A few weeks later Jacques Fath was in the American Hospital of Paris and asked his friend Suzanne Luling, who was the heart and soul of Dior. Suzanne Luling wrote in her journal:
" He was in bed, very pale, very weak, wearing a warm shirt. When he saw me, he just started to cry, softly. I represented life, movement, couture, everything he was about to lose. He said; " You know, we live so hard..." I knew what kind of sacrifice this life, this profession, demanded from those who chose it. 
"But Jacques, if we live that hard, it's because we are strong, no?"
He smiled and was quiet. I asked him again; " You are strong, aren't you? " yes of course..."
I kissed him good-bye and left.
Jacques Fath died not long after.

Jacques Fath created the myth of hyper-femininity and perfected the silhouette so that "even the invisible was visible" He made the vamp fashionable-the pushed-up seductiveness, the chic and sensual arrogance, so Parisian. He was an undisputed master of couture who had an marked a period in fashion history. He was and still is source of inspiration for the next coming young generation of designers. 

Jacques Fath ensemble 1952. 

Mrs. Genevieve Fath  in evening dress photographed by Louis Dahl-Wolfe in Rue Francois 1er de Serbie, Paris.

Suzy Parker in evening gown 1948.

Bettina photographed by Willy Maywald

Parisian Chic

Bettina Ballard styling models Vogue magazine (March )  1950.

evening dress 1951

one of Jacques Fath last dresses made in 1954.

dress detail

Ballgown 1951

1 comment:

  1. I know this is an older item, but one of the photographs are captioned incorrectly. Orson Welles at the Rio party is NOT with Carole Lombard. Welles is with Claudette Colbert.

    By the way, this was a great post. A great introduction to the fashion of Fath.