Chanel, Dior, LV, YSL – these names, often just abbreviated to a series of seemingly innocuous letters, invoke powerful images – Paris in the spring, French women wearing impossibly chic dresses, timeless and elegant designs. In the past century, France became a shining beacon in fashion, and now, France is to fashion what Switzerland is to chocolate and watches, and Paris Fashion Week is the highlight of the fashion circuit (depending on who you ask, of course). After all, it is no coincidence that many terms interchangeable with fashion, “avante-garde“, “haute couture“, “ prêt–à–porter” to name a few, are generally French.
Paris, as the capital of the republic, the seat of a former empire and a royal domain, was entrenched in fashion and luxury already with its plethora of ateliers and boutiques. As Europe rebuilt in the aftermath of the second world war many questioned old ways of thinking more broadly, democracy and the role of women in society for example, so too did thinking change about the role of fashion away from something utilitarian (because in war-time, it had to be) into a statement of iconography.
It is a natural progression that Paris, as the epicentre of this movement, became the centre for luxury fashion too. With so many French fashion brands emerging at this time, their designs adorning the affluent and young socialites and trendsetters that now stood for change, it only became natural that those designs became exclusive, more expensive and more luxurious. France has forever changed the modern era of fashion, and in this article, we pay tribute to some of the greatest French luxury fashion brands that have contributed to the cultural spirit of the time.
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The History Behind the World’s Favourite Luxury French Brands
“Never forget that what becomes timeless was once truly new” ~ Nicolas Ghesquière, creative director of Louis Vuitton since 2013.
The eponymous Louis Vuitton was founded in 1854, years after Vuitton himself made the journey from his small home town of Anchay to the city of Paris on foot. He arrived in Paris when the city was going through a period of industrialisation; with rapid development in locomotive transport opening up the possibility for travel to previously inaccessible destinations – trips that we wouldn’t think twice about nowadays! This increase in longer journeys presented a demand for high quality travel accessories, and this is where Vuitton would leave his mark on the world.
After working as an apprentice for a successful box maker and packer, and mastering his craft, Vuitton went on to open his own shop and established himself as a well-respected luggage maker. His innovative, flat-bottomed designs meant that luggage could be conveniently stacked for the first time in history, while the canvas material provided a lightweight alternative to the heavier suitcases available at the time. Naturally, Vuitton’s designs soon became a favourite amongst the Parisians and over time, his brand’s success reached beyond the limits of France.
The Louis Vuitton brand survived far longer than its namesake and it is in fact his son, Georges Vuitton, who helped shape the brand into the one we know and love today. Whilst luxury trunks, bags and leather goods remain the brand’s claim to fame, further items are now sold at Louis Vuitton boutiques including clothing, jewellery, watches and perfume – most of which are adorned with the iconic LV monogram. Over the decades, the brand has opened many stores around the world but the flagship boutique in France remains at 101 Avenue des Champs-Élysées, Paris.
“In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different” ~ Coco Chanel
Initially founded as a millinery in 1909 in the small French town of Deauville, Chanel was not always the fashion powerhouse it is today. Back then, the House of Chanel solely produced exquisitely crafted hats, yet, it was in 1913 that Coco’s brand truly made its mark. At her newly opened boutiques in Deauville and later Biarritz, the Chanel brand redirected its focus from stylish hats to high fashion (haute couture), with incredible success. During a time of constrictive clothing and overly elaborate dresses, Chanel designed elegant, comfortable yet simple clothing, truly disrupting the norms of what was considered proper for women of that time.
Over the years, the Chanel brand has captivated their audience with numerous iconic fashion pieces that the Chanel brand has now become synonymous with. Pieces such as the little black dress, the quilted purse and the classic Chanel tweed suit. In 1921, Coco launched her own signature perfume, forever changing the face of luxury perfume packaging with the release of the iconic Chanel No. 5 perfume. By the 21st century, Chanel had been transformed into one of the world’s leading luxury brands, one that represents sophisticated haute couture and ultimate luxury. The Chanel flagship boutique is now located at 31 Rue Cambon in Paris.
**Editor’s Tip** if your heart is set on a classic Chanel timeless piece, be sure to contact the store ahead of time. Exclusivity and scarcity remains a big part of the Chanel brand, and you may be disappointed if you are looking for a specific piece and didn’t contact the store beforehand.
“I wanted to be considered a good craftsman. I wanted my dresses to be constructed like buildings, moulded to the curves of the female form, stylising its shape.” ~ Christian Dior
French fashion designer Christian Dior founded the Dior brand in December 1946 at 30 Av. Montaigne, Paris. Since its launch, the House of Dior has been an industry leader in redefining how women dress, and home to some legendary creative directors and designers over the years – one of whom is included on this list in his own right, Yves Saint Laurent.
Redefining how women dress was Christian Dior’s focus right from the beginning. In 1947, Dior made his first impact on the world of fashion when he presented a 90-piece collection to magazine editors at his Parisian townhouse. The collection was entitled ‘New Look’ – one that is still celebrated to this day. During this time, World War II had come to an end, and rationing had become a thing of the past. The ‘New Look’ encapsulated the feelings of society at the time, with structured garments designed to flatter the female shape, plenty of fabric, cinched in waists and full bodied skirts. It was this indulgence after such troubling times that led to Dior being a overnight success.
Throughout the decades, the Dior brand has continued to grow, selling ready-to-wear garments as well as fragrance, makeup and luxury home items. The Dior headquarters and flagship store remains located at the address it all began, 30 Avenue Montaigne, Paris.
“I don’t like showing off or trying to be seductive. I’m always myself.” ~ Claudie Pierlot
The Parisian fashion house, Claudie Pierlot, was founded in 1984 by the designer of the same name, and created for the ‘Parisian woman’. The French-born designer, Claudie, wanted to create a female look that was both elegant and straightforward. To this aim, she created a set of chic designs which women could comfortably incorporate in their day-to-day activities whilst looking effortlessly sophisticated, and transition from morning to evening with ease.
In 2009, Claudie Pierlot was purchased by SMCP (Sandro – Maje – Claudie Pierlot – Furlac), run by artistic director Vanessa Raveau and CEO Jean-Baptiste Dacquin. Throughout the years, the integrity of Pierlot’s original designs has been retained and the simple Parisian elegance of her brand continues to attract buyers to this day.
“Fashions fade, style is eternal” ~ Yves Saint Laurent
Algerian-born fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, first gained recognition whilst working for the house of Dior, and took over the reins as Creative Director after the passing of Monsieur Dior himself. Nevertheless, it was after launching his own brand in 1966 that Yves Saint Laurent became a household name, a brand defined by the founder’s Le Smoking tuxedo – a piece for women that was inspired by menswear, celebrating gender fluidity before it became an important part of the conversation as it is today.
Whilst at Dior, Saint Laurent challenged Dior’s signature ‘New Look’ heavy dresses with cinched in waists, and presented collections that were far more fluid, used far less fabric, and as a result, were much lighter. After launching under his own name in 1966, Saint Laurent became the first designer to present a ready-to-wear collection, opening his first ready-to-wear boutique, Rive Gauche.
To this day, women’s Le Smoking tuxedo suits and sheer organza blouses remain the hallmarks of the Yves Saint Laurent brand, but more importantly, it is what Yves Saint Laurent represented that means so much. As his partner Pierre Bergé once said, “Gabrielle Chanel gave women freedom. Yves Saint Laurent gave them power.” Saint Laurent championed gender equality, was one of the first to put black models on the runway and overall, was a man ready to challenge social norms. Naomi Campbell credits Saint Laurent for helping her to get on the cover of Vogue, stating at his death: “my first Vogue cover ever was because of this man.”
He was also a lover of art, and was able to successfully blend fashion and art on the runway, most notably in his 1965 Mondrian collection, an homage to the Dutch artist’s modernist flare. Yves Saint Laurent’s final fashion show took place in 2002, before spending his final years in Marrakech, Morrocco. After his passing, and under the guidance of Creative Director Hedi Slimane, the ready-to-wear line of Yves Saint Laurent was re-branded to Saint Laurent, in honour of the name of their first ready-to-wear collection, Saint Laurent Rive Gauche.
“Good fashion is evolution, not revolution” ~ Pierre Balmain
Maison Balmain was founded by Pierre Balmain in 1947. Unknown to many, Balmain released his first collection two years prior to Christian Dior – a collection which also featured fuller skirts and cinched in waists, creating the ultimate hour-glass silhouette. Accentuating the female form through detailed embroidery, shoulder pads, and nipped in waists became Balmain’s signature look, and his first collection was aptly titled ‘Jolie Madame’, representative of the gaiety, merriment and opulence of those post-War Parisian nights.
Pierre Balmain’s ‘Jolie Madame’ style code remains central to the house’s DNA today, with the brand’s signature tailored Balmain jackets retaining the iconic silhouettes of their 1940s predecessors. Having been trained as an architect, Balmain combined his taste for well-constructed items with lavishly beautiful clothing, stating that “dressmaking is the architecture of movement”. Take, for example, the much loved classic Balmain double-breasted blazer. First created in the early noughties after Pierre Balmain’s own distinctive style, the Balmain classic blazer has become a must-have statement piece for any luxury wardrobe.
As with many of the other well-known fashion houses of Paris, Balmain was home to some well-known Creative Directors, each of whom left their mark on the brand, including Oscar de la Renta, who headed the team from 1993 to 2002. Today’s Creative Director, Olivier Rousteing was 25 when offered the role, after spending time at Roberto Cavalli. Rousteing has truly catapulted Balmain onto the world stage and continues to steer it in the right direction, with the aim of bringing Pierre’s original idea of ‘the ‘Jolie Madame’ into 2021 to see how it could be.’
“It’s a fabulous thing to give life to fabric, to make something move well, the harmony of colour” ~ Hubert de Givenchy
Mentored by Cristóbal Balenciaga, and a master of gentlemanly elegance, fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy founded the house of Givenchy in 1952, and rapidly gained recognition for his beautiful and innovative couture designs. In that same year, Givenchy presented his first collection, one that was to leave a lasting imprint upon the history of fashion. His chic ‘separates’ were a breath of fresh air during an era of more constrictive clothing, and showcased designs such as sophisticated blouses and lightweight skirts that combined architectural lines with elegant simplicity.
The show was opened by Bettina Graziani, a French supermodel at the time and one of Hubert’s muses. Bettina opened the show in a blouse that was subsequently named ‘the Bettina blouse’, but she wasn’t his only source of inspiration. Hubert was a lifelong friend of Audrey Hepburn, his most famous muse, and this certainly helped to catapult the house of Givenchy to world-wide recognition and become a household name. In 1957, Givenchy created a perfume for Audrey Hepburn, who wore it for more than a year before it was released to the public. The perfume, L’Interdit, is still sold in perfumeries worldwide today.
During the 60s and 70s, the brand broadened its focus to include ready-to-wear (prêt–à–porter) clothing for women, as well as a men’s clothing line. In 1988, the Givenchy brand became part of the French luxury conglomerate LVMH, and remains a leading luxury French brand decades after it all began. The flagship boutique can be found on 36 Avenue Montaigne, Paris.
“A woman can carry a bag, but it is the shoe that carries the woman” ~ Christian Louboutin
French-Egyptian fashion designer Christian Louboutin is renowned for his exclusively shiny, red-lacquered soled footwear. After opening his own shoe salon in the heart of Paris in 1992, Louboutin’s unique, handcrafted designs soon made him popular with various high profile clientele.
Louboutin’s exclusive designs were first inspired after seeing a sign forbidding women from wearing sharp stilettos inside a building with wooden flooring. “I wanted to defy that”, Louboutin said “I wanted to create something that broke rules and made women feel confident and empowered”.
Since founding his celebrated red-soled brand, Louboutin has introduced limited edition pieces, held gallery exhibits as well as designed a custom cocktail bar for Grey Goose. Fragrances, make-up, handbags and men’s footwear have also been successfully included as the brand continues to go from strength to strength. Louboutin boutiques are found strewn all over the world but his flagship store in Paris, the city where it all started, can be found at 19 Rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
“When a woman’s clothes are in harmony with her emotions, she shines from within” ~ Alber Elbaz, former creative director of Lanvin.
In 1889, young designer Jeanne Lanvin opened a small hat shop at 16 Rue Boissy d’Anglas. Her flare for design was as clear as day and, four years later, her success allowed her to relocate to a larger location and launch Lanvin fashion house, much to the Parisians’ delight. Today, it is now one of France’s oldest surviving couturiers.
From children’s wear to lingerie, Lanvin’s creations captivated the women of Paris. Yet, Lanvin’s business sense and ambition pushed her to share her beautiful creations beyond the limits of the French capital. In 1924, Lanvin was inspired to delve into the world of fragrance, eventually launching the iconic French perfume, Arpège and later, in 1933, producing the very first “eau mixte”, L’Eau de Lanvin – what we know today as a unisex fragrance. In 1926, she went on to expand her brand to include custom made men’s wear, offering everything from suits to pyjamas.
Nowadays, Maison Lanvin remains one of the leading French luxury brands, selling ready-to-wear clothing, bags, shoes and accessories for both men and women, luxury home décor and fragrances. The Lanvin flagship store in Paris is prominently situated at 22 Rue du Faubourg St Honoré.
“Fashion is a movie. Every morning when you get dressed, you direct yourself” ~ Manfred Thierry Mugler
French born designer, Manfred Thierry Mugler has made his mark upon the fashion world creating unique designs that blend haute couture with daring elements of the animalistic and futuristic. After launching his first women’s collection in 1973 under the brand name Café de Paris, Mugler quickly gained recognition, and the financial backing required to open his own company, launching the Mugler brand we are familiar with today.
In 1992, Mugler finalised his first haute couture collection, featured at the Ritz in Paris. That same year, he also released his first signature perfume, Angel, the first ‘gourmand’ perfume in the history of fragrance – a perfume made primarily of synthetic edible notes. Since then, Mugler has accumulated significant commercial success, and has designed clothing for numerous celebrities including Beyoncé, Kim Kardashian and Megan Fox.
“Women should have choices, and women should feel good in what they wear” ~ Phoebe Philo, former creative director of Celine.
Founded in 1945 by Céline Vipiana and her husband Robert, the house of Celine is famed for its sophisticated items and minimalistic, yet modern designs. Located at 52 Rue Malte, Paris, the first store originally opened as a made-to-measure, children’s shoe store. Yet, over the years the Celine brand has branched out to include ready-to-wear collections for women, women’s shoes, fragrance and leather accessories made in Florence, and counts prominent individuals such as Prince Albert and Princess Charlotte of Monaco as fans.
Following the death of Céline in 1997, Michael Kors stepped into the position of Creative Director, where he remained until his departure in 2004 to form his own eponymous line. Having been owned by the LVMH group since 1996, this French ready-to-wear and leather luxury goods brand is still going strong.
“I just want to tell something about happiness” ~ Simon Porte Jacquemus
Jacquemus is undoubtedly the smallest and youngest of the French fashion brands featured so far. Nevertheless, since its launch in 2009, this up and coming brand has gained its rightful place amongst the top luxury brands in the world. The talented self-taught French designer Simon Porte Jacquemus, started his own label when he was just 19 and his designs quickly took the fashion world by storm, often worn by celebrities and influencers in Europe and the US alike.
Recognised for the youthful freshness of his designs, his collections are deconstructed, surrealist creations that have pushed the boundaries of French fashion. In fact, his playful approach was recognised at LVMH Prize in 2015, with Jacquemus being crowned Winner of the Special Prize 2015. His focus on clothing rather than accessories, and priority towards size inclusivity, have set him apart from other luxury brands. One thing is for sure, this is only the start for Jacquemus. Thanks to his constantly growing success, Jacquemus opened his new headquarters this year in central Paris, located at 69 Rue de Monceau.
“All I’ve ever wanted was for Chloé to have a happy spirit, to make people happy” ~ Gaby Aghion
Founded by Egyptian-born Parisian designer, Gaby Aghion in 1952, Maison Chloé is synonymous with gorgeous feminine designs and prêt-à-porter (ready-to-wear) collections. Unlike other brands, Chloé does not share its founder’s name but was named after one of Aghion’s dearest friends, Chloé. Aghion wished her brand to embody the same glamorous, yet bohemian and carefree attitude she so admired in her friend, and all succeeding creative directors have worked hard to maintain Aghion’s original vision.
Over the decades, Chloé has nurtured some of the most talented creative directors, many of whom have become household names such as the likes of Karl Lagerfeld and Stella McCartney, who was promoted to the Creative Director at the tender age of 25. Her spring summer 2001 collection left a lasting mark upon the Chloé brand with the addition of horse motifs in her designs – a true representation of the carefree nature of the Chloé girl.
Other note-worthy releases by Chloé include the famous ‘Paddington bag’ – an it-bag featuring a rounded, supple shape and a padlock closure. In 2001, Chloé launched a sister brand called ’See by Chloé’, offering a wider range of options for the younger generation. To this day, women still gravitate towards Maison Chloé’s feminine mystique and the doors of its flagship boutique in Paris remain open at 253 Rue St Honoré, a few steps away from the Mandarin Oriental Paris.
“We don’t have a policy of image, we have a policy of product” ~ Jean-Louis Dumas, former CEO of Hermès
The iconic brand that so many dream about owning one day. It’s hard to believe that a brand so synonymous with luxury and exclusivity (and anyone that has tried to get their hands on a brand new Birkin or Kelly will know exactly what this means) all started as a humble workshop in Paris in 1837. Founded by Thierry Hermès, his aim was to cater to the equestrian needs of European noblemen, providing leather riding gear such as saddles and bridles.
Headquartered at 24 Rue Du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in Paris, its home since the early 20th century, Hermès now offers its modern day clientele a whole lot more than just saddles. Over the years, this ultra-luxury French brand has now grown its offering to exquisite and highly sought-after handbags (probably what they are most known for), ready-to-wear garments, home décor and other general lifestyle accessories including watches and fragrances.
Whatever one’s Hermès desire may be, it will be presented in an iconic orange box, with its signature horse and cart logo printed on the top – a nod to the brand’s early roots. It’s worth remembering that Hermès is all about scarcity, with only a certain number of pieces produced each year to retain that element of exclusivity. Unlike many other brands, orders for the classic bags that they have become so well-known for cannot be placed online. They can only be placed in-store, with a waitlist and a few months wait before receiving the much coveted piece. Unsurprisingly, the market for second-hand Hermès bags has boomed in recent years.
15. Isabel Marant
““You shouldn’t want others to wear things that you won’t wear yourself”” ~ Isabel Marant
Isabel Marant is a luxury French brand known for its casual and stylish clothing. After launching her namesake brand in 1994, French-born designer Isabel Marant first shaped the foundations of her brand in a small and unassuming Paris boutique on Rue Charonne. Yet, her designs were quickly recognised for their understated brilliance and now, the Isabel Marant headquarters may be found prominently on 50, rue Croix Des Petits Champs, Paris. The speed with which the brand has grown in such a short period of time is a testament to the creativity of Isabel Marant designs, the quality of each piece and the loyalty of her international clientele.
Aptly described as ‘Parisian cool-girl chic‘, Isabel Marant collections are typically made up of a few simple, yet stylishly embellished, pieces such as skinny, cropped trousers; flowy blouses; chunky and cosy knits; and tailored jackets and coats. Nowadays, Isabel Marant’s designs can be seen worn by some of the most fashionable celebrities including Kate Moss, Sienna Miller, Kate Bosworth, Rachel Weisz and Alexa Chung. In 2011, Marant first launched her iconic high-top sneaker with a concealed wedge heel and, this year, precisely ten years later, she has released a redesign of her original wedge sneaker!
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