France: The Fashion Capital of the World

Paris, alongside Milan, New York, and London is an official fashion capital of the world. However, fashion is a deep-rooted aspect of France’s culture. French designers have created the most known fashion brands in the world.

French Fashion History: Becoming the Fashion Capital of the World

It all started in the reign of King Louis XIV, the “Sun King” in 1643. The King had particularly lavish taste, both in design and fashion. For centuries, the highest quality of fabric and materials were found in France.

louis xiv king of france, godfather of the fashion capital of the world, painting by hycinthe rigaud
A small detailed picture painted as a model by Hyacinthe Rigaud (1659–1743) for his famous Louvre painting of Louis XIV, King of France
Oil on Canvas, c.1701
Source: Condé Museum / Wikimedia

In the 19th century, haute couture starts to appear, and seamstresses and tailors had to establish their premises in France, as well. Charles Frederick Worth was the first to open in business on Paris’s Rue de la Paix, among with other fashion houses. The most famous of these fashion houses was Coco Chanel who changed women’s clothing completely with her flowing designs. However, during the Second World War, many fashion houses were forced to close.

illustration of charles frederick worth designs 1914 - godfather of the fashion capital of the world
Plate 14 from Gazette du Bon Ton, No. 2 February 1914, illustrating designs by the House of Worth, Parisian haute couture firm founded in 1858 by Charles Frederick Worth (English, 1825-1895). Photomechanical lithograph with hand-applied color by Bernard Boutet de Monvel (French illustrator, 1881-1949)
Source: MCAD Library /Flickr

Behind the Scenes: The Art of Haute Couture

Post-WWII Fashion

Post-war, the clothing industry was brought around by the visionary French Designer, Christian Dior. Dominating post-war fashion Dior created the “new look”, characterized by the nipped-in waist and an a-line skirt falling to mid-calf perfectly made for a feminine and elegant silhouette.

Italian actress Sophia Loren tries on a Christian Dior 'New Line' dress made by Battilocchi of Rome, in a store in Rome, Italy, 6th February 1956
Italian actress Sophia Loren tries on a Christian Dior ‘New Line’ dress made by Battilocchi of Rome, in a store in Rome, Italy, 6th February 1956.
Source: Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The 20th century was characterized by the birth of so many designers, like Hubert de Givenchy and Pierre Balmain. Along with this, a huge competition began with the USA and Italy.

Last but not least, the most significant challenge to France’s pre-eminence came during the 1960s, when the young Yves Saint Laurent produced the first ready-to-wear collection. The couture brand transformed fashion with this very popular and much more accessible attire. And nowadays, almost all of the couture brands produce ready-to-wear lines.

yves Saint Laurent Paris Fashion Week 2019 - kaia gerber in the fashion capital of the world
Model Kaia Gerber walks the runway during the Saint Laurent show as part of the Paris Fashion Week Fall/Winter 2019/2020 Womenswear presentation
Source: Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images

Despite competition from other fashion-forward countries around the world, France’s deep roots in fashion will undoubtedly make it a place where high-style and innovative fashion reigns on forever.

Looking to explore France’s fashion history in the fashion capital of the world, Paris? Read on!

6 Fashion Exhibitions to See in Paris, France

Back Side/Dos à la mode

Kim Inslinski par Jeanloup Sieff, top et jupe Martine Sitbon, New York, 1997.
© Estate of Jeanloup Sieff
Source: Courtesy of Palais Galliera

This fashion exhibition will make you look into your body from the other side. With more than 100 pieces and accessories, from the 18th century to the present, visitors will discover this rarely considered part of the body – the back. Work of the best designers, like Chanel and Martin Margiela, will be on display.

Where: Bourdelle Museum

When: Until November 17, 2019

bench with curved ends - luna bench by koket

The Mondrian Revolution

 Mondrian dresses by Yves St. Laurent in Haagse Gemeente Museum, 1966
Mondrian dresses by Yves St. Laurent in Haagse Gemeente Museum, 1966
Source: Photo by Eric Koch / Anefo / Nationaal Archief / Wikimedia

This display explores two of Yves Saint Laurent’s major creations: the Mondrian dresses (autumn-winter 1965) and the gowns made in collaboration with the artist Claude Lalanne (autumn-winter 1969).

Where: Yves Saint Laurent Museum

When: Until January 5, 2020

Azzedine Alaïa’s Tati Collection

Azzedine Alaïa worked with the most popular of Paris retail institutions, Tati. Together they built a collection based on its famous collection and this is the subject of the exhibition. You can expect to see here the mini-shorts and long bras, long dresses in cotton canvas or the famous Tati pattern.

Where: Azzedine Alaïa Association

When: Until January 5, 2020

Marche et Démarche 

iris van herpen and jolan van der wiel magnetic motion shoe ss2015 - photo by hugues dubois / MAD paris
Iris van Herpen and Jólan van der Wiel, “Magnetic Motion” shoe, ready-to-wear collection spring-summer 2015. Amsterdam, Iris Van Herpen
Source: © MAD, Paris / Photo: Hugues Dubois

This fashion exhibition in The Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris will explore the relationship between body and fashion with an exhibit devoted to footwear, waling and gait. You will see here more than 500 shoes, paintings, photographs, works of art, films, and commercials from the Middle Age until today.

Where: MAD Paris

When: From November 7, 2019, to February 23, 2020

Lagerfeld, The Chanel Shows

lagerfeld the chanel shows by simon procter at royal monceau art gallery
Lagerfeld: The Chanel Shows by photographer Simon Procter
Source: Royal Monceau Art Gallery

Are you a Chanel fan? This is perfect for you! This art and fashion exhibition will let you go back in time and relive Lagerfeld-era Chanel shows backstage. All immortalized by the photographer Simon Procter.

Where: Royal Monceau Art Gallery

When: Until October 30, 2019

A Salute to Style

Around 200 masterpieces of the armory will enable visitors to marvel at these items of jewelry, fashion accessories and haute couture pieces exclusively reserved for the warriors of yesteryear and today.

Where: Musée de L’Armée

When: October 10, 2019, to January 26, 2020

Words by Rita Archer