Sunday, June 13, 2010

Focus On Fashion: Designer Jacques Fath

I’d like to start off my series on fashion designers with a man who may not be all that well know, but had a short and brilliant career during and after WWII. Jacques Fath was one of the three dominant male influences on haute couture fashion during the post war years, along with Christian Dior and Pierre Balmain. These men stood poised and ready to take the lead from the pre-war triumvirate of female designers Chanel and Schiaparelli and Vionnet after the war.

Jacques Fath was born September 6, 1912 in Maisons-Laffitte, France. His father was Flemish/Alsation and his mother British. Jacques's great-grandmother had been a courtier to the Empress Eugenie in Victorian times.

Fath’s parents tried to rein in his artistic leanings and sent him to business school, where he studied bookkeeping. His first job was in a stockbroker's office. Subsequently he entered military service. After his discharge from the army, he attended drama school and started designing for the theatre.

Fath taught himself the craft of design by studying museum exhibitions and books about fashion. As a result of this, Fath often hired young designers as assistants and apprentices, some of which later went on to form their own houses, including Hubert de Givenchy, Guy Laroche, and Valentino. Fath married Geneviève Boucher de la Bruyère in 1939. Geneviève ran the business side of the House of Fath as well as acting as one of his models. They had one son, Philippe.

Fath presented his first collection in 1937, working out of a two-room salon on Rue de la Boetie. This first collection consisted of only 20 garments He later moved his studio the Rue Francois Premier in 1940 before settling into a final location at 39 Avenue Pierre 1er de Serbie in 1944.

Although during World War II Fath was taken prisoner in 1940, he was soon back in Paris, where he reopened his couture house with his wife Geneviéve. It has been said that Fath did not suffer any scruples of conscience as he was closely associated with various Franco-German groups and his clientele consisted heavily of Germans, wealthy collaborators, and black marketeers. Unlike Chanel, whose reputation as a Nazi sympathizer injured her career, Fath's image emerged intact, and after the war, his international career took off.

While not a terribly innovative designer, Fath was always popular and became known for dressing "the chic young Parisienne". Fath utilized many unique materials such as hemp sacking and sequins made of walnut and almond shells. His 1950 collection was entitled “Lily”, and featured skirts that were shaped to resemble flowers. Fath was mostly know for his glamorous eveningwear, were he advocated the use of velvet. During World War II, Fath was known to feature "wide fluttering skirts" which he said he designed to help aid the women who had to ride bicycles due to gas rationing. During the zenith of his career, Fath counted among his clients Ava Gardner, Greta Garbo, and Rita Hayworth, who wore a Fath dress for her wedding to Prince Aly Khan.

Fath was known for his hourglass shapes, plunging necklines, tiny waists and full skirts.  It has been suggested that Fath even inspired Dior's New Look. Certainly, Fath designed some of the sexiest and most glamorous dresses to come out of Paris. A Fath dress would often feature a molded bodice that would show off a slender waist and emphasize the bosom and hips. He favored irregular necklines and often drew attention to cleavage. His skirts were either very slim or very full, characterized by a myriad of pleating or draping.

Fath worked directly with the fabric, draping it on his models. Fath's style was best known for its glamour. He often used diagonal lines, asymmetrical draping, and floating panels to give a sense of movement. Angled collars and pockets, slanted or zigzagging skirts, bustles or fans jutting out from tight dresses, tucks, tiers and knife pleats all added to the unique quality of his clothes. He had a great sense of color, often using combinations such as bright blues and greens. Fath's glamorous style had a wide appeal, and in 1948 he signed an agreement with the American manufacturer, Joseph Halpert. Henceforth, in addition to his own couture collections, Fath produced a low-priced American line as well.

Fath had great personal appeal, with his boyish good looks and charm. He was also very much a social personality, and he and his wife loved throwing lavish parties.

In 1952, Fath was diagnosed with Leukemia and died on November 13, 1954 at age 42. His house closed in 1957. It was operated in its last days by his widow, who presented her first well-regarded collection for the fashion house in 1955. After the company's haute couture operations ceased, it went into business producing perfumes, gloves, hosiery, and other accessories.

The company has produced a number of scents, including Jacques Fath L'Homme (1998), Yin (1999), Yang (1999), Fath de Fath (1953, reformulated and relaunched in 1993), Chasuble (1945), Expression (1977), Canasta (1950), Iris Gris (1946), Fath's Love (1968), and Green Water (1947 but reformulated and re-released in 1993). The fragrance license was held by L'Oréal until 1992.

Relaunched by the France Luxury Group in 1992, Jacques Fath was purchased in 1996 by the Banque Saga Group, which appointed Tom van Lingen, a Dutch designer, as its head designer. In 1997, when the company was purchased by Groupe Emmanuelle Khanh, van Lingen was replaced by Elena Nazaroff. A year later, Nazaroff was replaced by Octavio Pizarro. The firm became part of the Alliance Designers Group in 2002, which announced the hiring of young English designer Lizzie Disney to revive the fashion side of the brand. Disney left the company in 2004, and the company was sold again in 2006.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting! I really enjoy seeing how these original designers have influenced designers today. Thanks for sharing, JC--I can't wait to see more!


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