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Rochas, Marcel

designs perfume fashion house

B. 1902

D. 1954

Birthplace: Paris, France

In 1924 Marcel Rochas abandoned his career as a lawyer to open a couture house as a means to provide his attractive, new wife with appropriately exquisite clothes. Soon after opening the house, he became known for his innovative and unique designs. During the 1920s he introduced blouses that were designed to be worn with men’s neckties and dramatic beach pajamas with pleats inset at the knees.

The 1930s were the years of Rochas’s greatest innovation: He introduced a gray flannel trouser suit in 1932 and alleged that he had coined the word “slacks” in the early 1930s. The idea of pants as street wear was revolutionary in an age when women wore trousers only for recreation or extremely informal situations. The trouser suit seemed to embody his guiding principle of “Youth, Simplicity and Personality.” Along with Gilbert Adrian and Elsa Schiaparelli, Rochas introduced the exaggerated, padded shoulders that characterized the 1930s. Rochas’s inspiration for the shoulder came from the costumes of Javanese and Balinese dancers at the 1931 Exposition Coloniale. He expanded his business in 1937, when he opened a store in New York which sold both ready-to-wear and made-to-order clothes.

During the 1940s, Rochas seemed to anticipate the direction in which fashion trends were heading. In 1941 his designs included longer skirts, a trend that reemerged in 1947 as part of the New Look. In 1942 he presented the guêpière , a corset that created a wasp waist, another key aspect of the New Look.

Throughout his career, Rochas incorporated drama and uniqueness into his designs. He often used unusual and witty prints and buttons, such as burlap print cloth and buttons in the shape of lipstick. Sometimes, the designs themselves were the focal point. Crocheted beach shorts and a tweed coat with an empire waist were among his distinctive creations.

In 1944 Rochas established his perfume company with the introduction of Femme, a perfume he dedicated to his third wife Hélène as a wedding present. The packaging of the perfume included black lace from his guêpière corset. After Rochas’s death, Hélène gained control of the company, and two perfumes were added: Madame Rochas in 1960 and Mystere in 1978. Madame Rochas is still produced and sold today.

In addition to designing fashion garments, Rochas designed costumes for the films L’Eternal Retour (1943) and Falbalas (1944). Also, in 1950, he published 25 Years of Elegance , a book which examines the relationships between fashion, society, and art. In 1953 he closed his house and died a year later.

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