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Paquin

designs paris fashion house

B. Unknown

D. 1936

Birthplace: Unknown

Award: Légion d’Honneur, 1913

Madame Paquin was the first important female couturier, but very little is known about her personal life. Even her first name has been lost to history. After training at Maison Rouff, she founded her house in Paris in 1891. Her husband served as administrator, financier, and supporter to Madame Paquin. This arrangement was unusual, because at the time men usually did the designing and their wives served as inspiration and models.

Since men designed most women’s garments at the turn of the century, fashionable clothes were often uncomfortable and restrictive. Paquin’s clothes were different; she understood what women wanted to wear and opposed any trends toward more confining clothing.

Paquin marketed her designs in innovative ways. She often dressed her mannequins all alike and sent them to the races or the opera. Each season she sent a list of fashion needs to each of her clients to help keep them up to date with fashion trends. By organizing the fashion segment of the 1900 Paris Exposition, she was able to create an elaborate display of her own designs for the world to see. She even sent mannequins to tour major U.S. cities.

Her couture house was the first to set up branches outside Paris. After opening a branch in London in 1912, she formed branches in Madrid and Buenos Aires. Since fur was one of her trademarks, her New York store specialized in it.

Paquin was a leader of Paris fashion. She became the first woman designer to be awarded the Légion d’Honneur, and she served as the first female president of the Chambre Syndicale from 1917 to 1919. These were the first inroads made by a woman into this male-dominated industry.

Royalty and actresses dressed in Paquin’s exotic, yet feminine designs. She chose to use vivid colors, while other designers chose pastels. By using black as an accent color, she transformed the traditional mourning color into a fashionable color. She used Oriental motifs on opera cloaks and evening dresses during the 1910s. Her most popular designs featured draped lace and flowers. Even her tailored designs were accented with braids, crocheted lace, and her ever-present fur. The house was most known for its coats. After Paquin stopped designing, coats became the house’s only product.

When her husband died shortly after World War I, Paquin relinquished the design role and gave it to Mademoiselle Madeleine. She designed the collections during the 1920s, and Madame del Pombo created the designs until the house closed in 1956, twenty years after Paquin’s death.

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