Before Chanel, There Was Chéruit

How a groundbreaking woman led a French Fashion House

The Legendary Woman

Everyone knows Chanel, but Louise Chéruit’s is another vibrant story within the European fashion world. The first woman to dominate a French fashion maison and rule the style scene, Louise was bold and unquestionably the boss, so famous that Proust and Waugh name-dropped her in their literary pages.

Anonymous, 1928/1928(From the collection of the Rijksmuseum)

Floating between literary lions and artistic titans, she kept closest company with photographers, who shot the photos, and models, who wore her dresses, feeding the endless appetite for Chéruit’s imaginative, oh-so-current styles. With an eye to the past but her sensibilities in the present, Louise made style waves by merging the two dynamically.

G-P. Joumard, 1925/1925 (From the collection of the Rijksmuseum)

The Unmatched Style

Chéruit’s designs modernized the outlandish styles that came before and tempered them with her softer fabrics and uncomplicated cuts. Her stylish creations brought the luxe down to earth, and she was even more popular for it. Crafting clothes for customers who appreciated simple cuts in the finest fabrics, she offered just what her women wanted, from lush fur wraps to elegant evening wear and daytime suits. Rendering fashion fluidly from taffeta to pastels, she relished the touch of a soft weave on the skin and how light glided off a dress’ folds.

Chéruit’s intricate offerings were, above all, flattering to the body, many draped long and lean in the flapper style. Set by her tasteful eye, collars swept up to frame the face beautifully or dipped below the collarbone, enticing a person to lean in for a closer look. Her hems were anything but boring, often tiered, with easy-to-wear drop waists and gorgeously detailed pockets. Summer dresses floated away from the body to cool, and city coats nipped smartly in smartly at the waist, fur trimmed at the top to warm and graze the neck.

TK – Anonymous, Chéruit, G-P. Joumard, 1925/1925 (From the collection of the Rijksmuseum)

Chéruit’s clothes fit perfectly into a time when women were asserting themselves in society, being forthright with their voices and their fashions. A visit to 21 Place Vendôme was more than just shopping at one of the most renowned fashion houses of Paris, it was a public statement of assertion.

The Social Set

Visionary as she was for her customers, she didn’t make it alone. Louise’s incredible rise showed that behind a truly iconic woman is a powerhouse of industrious creators, both men and women. Working and playing with photographer Edward Steichen, known as the first fashion photographer of our time and Marion Morehouse, a favorite super model of Vogue and Vanity Fair, solidified her career within the fashion world.

Katharine Cornell, Edward Steichen (From the collection of Condé Nast Archive)

Steichen, a powerful fashion photographer, fanned the flames of Chéruit’s lore by snapping Morehouse in a slinky black dress for Vogue, a massively popular shot that stoked Louise’s legend even in her day. Still, Louise wasn’t just set to sit among the famous.

Marion Morehouse, Edward Steichen (From the collection of Conde Nast Archive)

As a woman of the world, she kept her eye on what was happening around her, and that’s how she found the beautiful sketches of Paul Poiret, a designer on the rise.

Gazette du Bon Ton, 1914 - No. 6, Pl. 56: Robes de Paul Poiret selon Boussingault, Anonymous, Paul Poiret, Lucien Vogel (From the collection of the Rijksmuseum)

The Midas Touch

Louise’s love of paying it forward showed in her support of Paul Poiret. It is said that Chéruit helped launch Poiret’s career when she bought some of his first designs.

Paul Poiret (From the collection of Sound and Music)

He later became one of the leading French fashion designers of the 20th century.

Evening dress Front of evening dress, Paul Poiret (From the collection of Sound and Music)

The Legend Continues

Louise Chéruit’s career in fashion ended between 1927 and 1935 when she began handing over the keys and the legacy of her 98 room salon at 21 Place Vendôme to Elsa Schiaparelli, who continued in her fashion footsteps.

John Phillips, 1938, Elsa  Schiaparelli (From the collection of LIFE Photo Collection)

Some of Chéruit’s work can still be seen today in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Written by Jesse Aylen
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