Here are 10 of the most recognized and famous French designers. If you love French fashion, today I wanted to dive a little bit more into the most famous French fashion designers and to share their inspiring stories.
Paris acts as the center of the fashion industry and holds the name of the “Capitale de la Mode“. Indeed, the majority of the greatest fashion designers and biggest names of haute couture like Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Louis Vuitton, or Jean-Paul Gaultier are from the French capital. Today, I wanted to present you with 10 of the most famous French fashion designers who will inspire you with their success stories. From ready-to-wear to haute couture, these French designers have made a huge impact on the international fashion industry, both in the past and present.
So to indulge your love for all things French, I’ve brought together 10 of the most important French brands. Also, I’ll try to give you pointers on exactly what you should look out for when shopping at any of these French luxury designer brands. Keep scrolling to learn from the 10 best French fashion designers.
10 World-Class French Designers And Their Inspiring Stories
Christian Dior was born in 1905 in Granville, a small town on the Normandy coast of France. As a boy, he was always passionate about art and actually wanted to become an architect. After graduation in 1928, Christian opened a small art gallery with the financial help of his father. But, following the Great Depression, Christian was forced to close down his art gallery. To make some money, he started working for the fashion designer Robert Piquet. And after his military service in 1940, he got the opportunity to work for the fashion designer Pierre Balmain.
In October 1946, Christian Dior, at 41 years old, opened his couture house. In a post-war context of deprivation and rationing, Dior had just one obsession: to allow women to rediscover joy, elegance, and beauty. The House of Dior was established on 16 December 1946 at 30 Avenue Montaigne in Paris. And “La Ligne Corolie” (“New Look”) is the name of Christian Dior’s first collection, released in 1947. The New Look was a big success, it changed the post-World War II fashion scene. Indeed, features like rounded shoulders, a cinched waist, and a full A-line skirt were clearly revolutionary in the 40s.
In only ten years, from 1947 to 1957, Christian Dior revolutionized the conventions of elegance and femininity. The man who set out to be an architect offered women his vision of beauty through elegant lines, his name eventually becoming synonymous with French luxury all around the world.
Around the age of 18, Coco became interested in fashion. It all really started in 1909. At the time she was the mistress of a businessman named Étienne Balsan, he gave her the financial support she needed to open a hat-making shop in Paris in 1910. She then opened additional stores in Deauville and Biarritz and began making and selling clothes. Another man, named Arthur Capel also had a huge influence on the beginning of the Chanel fashion house.
In the 1920s Coco Chanel became a true style icon, known for her simple but sophisticated outfits, styled with great accessories. She introduced the perfume Chanel no. 5. in 1921, the Chanel suit in 1925, and the little black dress in 1926.
After being away from the fashion world due to the international economic depression and World War II, Coco Chanel decided to reopen the couture house in 1954. In 1955 she created the Chanel bag 2.55 that took over the world. She wanted a practical handbag made for women on the go with a long strap. Today, this bag is probably one of the most iconic fashion handbags of all time.
3. Louis Vuitton
In 1837, 16-year-old Louis Vuitton arrived in Paris and started apprenticing for Monsieur Maréchal as a trunk-master, where he ended up working for 17 years. At that time, horse-drawn carriages, boats, and trains were the main modes of transportation, and travelers called upon craftsmen to pack and protect their valuable objects.
Quickly Louis gained a reputation as being one of the best in this field. When in 1852 Napoleon III gained the title of Emperor of France, his wife, Eugenie de Montijo, hired Louis Vuitton as her personal box-maker and packer. In 1854, Louis opened his own box-making and packing workshop at 4 Rue Neuve-des-Capucines near the Place Vendome in Paris. In 1858, his business gained popularity with the introduction of rectangular trunks. And in 1859, Louis was able to expand his business with a second workshop in Asnieres (a village outside Paris).
Because the company suffered from plagiarism a lot, in 1888 the “Damier Canvas” pattern was created including the trademarked logo reading “marque L. Vuitton déposée”. Throughout the 1900s Louis Vuitton’s son Georges expanded the business by introducing new bags: the Keepall in 1930, and the Speedy in 1932. Today bags like Noé, Alma, and Papillon are still iconic.
In 1837, Thierry Hermès first established Hermès as a harness workshop on the Grands Boulevards of Paris. Originally, his intent was to serve the needs of European noblemen by providing saddles, bridles, and other leather riding gear. Over the following decades, Hermès developed into one of the most famous saddlery retailers. They also began to produce leather bags to feed the horse, to house the saddles, and to carry other accessories for riders such as boots, whips, and riding hats.
The company’s product offerings expanded through generations and in the 1920s, accessories, and clothing were introduced. In the 1930s, Hermès introduced products that are iconic such as the Kelly bag (originally called the Sac à dépêches and renamed as the “Kelly bag” after Grace Kelly), and the Hermès carrés (scarves). In 1949, the first Hermès silk tie and the first perfume Eau d’Hermès were introduced. And, in 1984 the “Birkin bag” was introduced, after a conversation between the then CEO Jean-Louis Dumas and Jane Birkin on a flight from Paris to London, who articulated to Dumas that she needed a medium-sized bag. Today the Birkin bag is one of the most iconic bags of all time.
Lanvin is one of the most prestigious and oldest Parisian fashion houses. The story started in 1889 when Jeanne Lanvin who just turned 22 opened her first hat shop on the mezzanine of 16 rue Boissy d’Anglas. Four years later, she obtained a commercial lease on the prestigious rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré and established her eponymous fashion house.
When Lanvin’s daughter Marguerite was born in 1897, the designer began to create clothing for her daughter which was a real success. In 1908, Jeanne Lanvin opened a children’s clothing department and devoted an entire section of her store to this new thriving business. Then, in 1909, the designer opened a Young Ladies’ and Women’s department. Mothers and daughters would come and choose their Lanvin-brand outfits together.
Ambitious and determined, Jeanne Lanvin became a member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture (the Parisian Fashion Council) that same year, and thus switched her status from milliner to designer.
For 11 years, between 1934 and 1945, and after studying architecture for a year in Paris, Balmain worked in various fashion houses: at Robert Piguet, the House of Molyneux, and finally Lelong. Balmain began his post-war career at the atelier of Lucien Lelong, where he worked alongside both Dior and Hubert de Givenchy.
In 1945, Balmain founded Maison Balmain as a couture house. The House of Balmain was an immediate success, with the focus on excellent quality and evening wear. Stars like Marlene Dietrich, Katharine Hepburn, Brigitte Bardot, and Sophia Loren wore his designs, introducing them to a vast global audience. This focus on quality can be seen today, with the famous Balmain blazers.
Balmain was one of the first designers to focus on the American market, instead of focusing on dressing french women. And in 1953, Balmain expanded into the American market, showcasing his collections under the name Jolie Madame. Pierre Balmain remained the proprietor and chief designer of Maison Balmain until his death in 1982.
7. Nina Ricci
Maria Nielli was born in Turin in 1883 and moved with her family to France in 1895 aged 12. As a child, she earned the nickname “Nina” and she became Nina Ricci in 1904 when she married Luigi Ricci, a Florentine jewelry maker. Four years later Ricci joined the fashion House of Raffin where she worked as a designer for 24 years.
In 1932, she founded her haute couture house in Paris at 20 Rue des Capucines with the help of her husband. Her precision of cut and choice of noble materials quickly made the Maison a success.
Then, Robert Ricci, Nina’s son, created the perfume business in 1941. The perfume Cœur-Joie, which came in a bottle signed by Lalique, was the first in what would become a longstanding collaboration with the crystal maker. In 1948, two doves, symbols of love and liberty, appeared on the bottle of the emblematic perfume L’Air du Temps. It’s one of the world’s classic fragrances and it stands with Chanel No 5, Arpège by Lanvin, Joy by Patou, and Shalimar by Guerlain.
Hubert de Givenchy born in 1927, started his fashion career in 1944 as an apprentice designer at the couture house of Jacques Fath while studying at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. In the early 1950s, he worked as an assistant designer-first with Fath, then with Lucien Lelong, Robert Piguet, and Elsa Schiaparelli.
Givenchy opened his own couture house in 1951 and made an immediate mark with his design of the “Bettina blouse,” a simple white cotton shirting blouse named for Fath’s favorite model, Bettina Graziani. In 1954, Givenchy designed his first outfits for the actress Audrey Hepburn. She quickly became his muse and Givenchy designed several creations for her and for several films: Sabrina (1954), Funny Face (1957), Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), My Fair Lady (1964). Givenchy also became known as one of Jacqueline Kennedy’s favorite designers; he designed the dress that she wore to President Kennedy’s funeral.
In 1969, the designer launched the “Givenchy Gentleman” line that would quickly become a reference in men’s fashion. Givenchy championed a balance between classicism and casualness for his men’s ready-to-wear collection.
Loved by some of the most iconic stars of the 20th Century (from Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, Jackie Kennedy, to his muse Audrey Hepburn) Givenchy’s name and legacy have been synonymous with Parisian chic for more than 50 years.
9. Yves Saint Laurent
Algerian-born Yves Saint Laurent was discovered by influential French writer and illustrator Michel de Brunhoff, who introduced him to Christian Dior. His first job was as Dior’s design assistant and he took over as creative director when the founder died suddenly in 1957. Yves Saint Laurent founded his namesake fashion house in 1961 and launched his first couture collection.
He introduced a revolutionary take on women’s clothing. Inspired by the structure of menswear, his approach was a celebration of gender fluidity that shook the fashion industry. He took traditionally masculine items and made them work for a new kind of womenswear – one designed to empower its wearer. Le Smoking (the tuxedo) remains one of his signature styles and celebrities like Bianca Jagger, Catherine Deneuve, and Nan Kempner were among the first to wear it.
10. Jean Paul Gaultier
Jean-Paul Gaultier developed a taste for fashion at a young age. He spent much of his childhood with his maternal grandmother and found inspiration in her closet. At age 18, Jean-Paul Gaultier joined the house of Pierre Cardin as an assistant before moving on to Jacques Esterel and Patou.
The debut of Gaultier’s own collection was in 1976, but he did not officially launch his own design house until 1982. Gaultier quickly gained attention due to his unconventional designs, which included sailor suits, male skirts, and razor-sharp and exaggerated tailoring. And in 1990, he collaborated with Madonna to create her infamous conical bras. His first fragrance, Classique was introduced in 1993, followed by Le Mâle two years later, which was the number one selling men’s fragrance in Europe for many years since its release.
Then, Gaultier launched his highly regarded haute couture line in 1997 which was a huge success. As a result, In 2003, he became the creative director at Hermès where he worked until 2011. In April 2019, Supreme launched a highly anticipated collaboration with Jean-Paul Gaultier including both menswear and womenswear and the collaboration sold out almost immediately.
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Bonjour! I’m Leonce, I’m French and I’m a Parisian expat currently living in the city center of Amsterdam (I previously lived in the 4th arrondissement of Paris, on the Ile-Saint-Louis). I created Leonce Chenal back in 2018 when I was living in London and missing my home country way too much. Because I truly believe you don’t have to be French or to live in France to experience the French art de vivre, Leonce Chenal is a French digital magazine to help you live your French life, wherever you are. Enjoy <3