The dawn of fashion houses

Jan 24, 2020 · 11 min read


The fashion industry that exist today, originated in Paris during the mid-19th century, when a designer by the name of Charles Frederick Worth began sewing his label into the garments he designed. Worth focused on Haute Couture; which is high-end, tailored clothing that’s constructed by hand from start-to-finish.

There were designers and fashion houses prior to Worth such as Hermès and Louis Vuitton, however, due to his aggressive yet innovative self-promotion he was given the title “father of haute couture” and “the first couturier.”

He modernized the fashion industry holistically; from the way he marketed his designs using live models, to the way he scaled his fashion business, “House of Worth”, which employed over 1200 seamstresses, tailors, etc., at the height of its success. His career provided a blueprint for upcoming designers and fashion houses to take hold of and run with in the succeeding centuries to come.

There were numerous fashion houses who rose to power during the 19th century and their presence was integral for the progression of fashion design. However, only a select few of those houses remain in operation today.

Hermès – Est. 1837

The company was founded in 1837 by a french designer named Thierry Hermès, who began crafting leather wrought harnesses and bridles for European nobleman. His shop was nestled in the Grands Boulevards quarter of Paris until it was later moved to its current location at 24 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré.


Hermès Hong Kong | Photo: Hermès

This move took place after Thierry passed down the family business to his son Charles-Émile Hermès, who progressed the company into crafting bags along side their other pieces, which were sold retail to the haut monde of various countries around the world. Charles also enlisted the help of his two sons Adolphe and Émile-Maurice Hermès who later expanded the company’s reach into foreign soils.

Émile-Maurice took lead of the company out of the two brothers, in regards to where the brand’s focus would lie in creative and business, and his successors were not of direct descent to the Hermès lineage but closely related by marriage.

Émile groomed his 3 son-in-laws: Robert Dumas, Jean-René Guerrand, and Francis Puech, to continue the Hermès legacy which would endure trial and tribulation throughout the 20th century, leading to its reemergence under the tenure of Jean-Louis Dumas as chairman (the son of Robert Dumas-Hermès).


Hermès Family Portrait | Photo: Chris Tubbs

Hermès is currently publicly traded, however, the original family owns majority share of the company and in turn maintains control over the brand’s creative direction.

The Hermès fashion house bas been known for their leather goods ever since the brand’s inception, however, as time progressed they began adding more pieces to their line such as scarves, ties, perfume, watches, stationery, footwear, gloves, enamelware, decorative arts, tableware, jewelry, and ready-to-wear similar to the House of Worth.

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Hermès Pieces | Photo: Hermès

Louis Vuitton – Est. 1854

Louis Vuitton is one of the world’s most renowned fashion houses, however, the company is no stranger to humble beginnings. Louis Vuitton founded his company in 1854, which was located at 4 Rue Neuve-des-Capucines near the Place Vendome in Paris, France.

Vuitton had experience designing trunks prior to starting his business, where at the age of 16 he apprenticed at the Parisian atelier of Monsieur Maréchal in 1837.


Louis Vuitton Singapore | Photo: LV

There he honed his craft designing luggage boxes for travelers who desired a highly skilled craftsman, which then lead to his pursuit in trunk design. Vuitton stayed at this workshop for 17 years until he made the decision to venture out on his own.

His experience lent itself to the company’s first piece to be designed, the gray Trianon canvas flat-topped luggage trunk. It was designed to be stacked, which differed from the traditional round-top luggage that was non-stackable and designed to run-off water.

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Louis Vuitton Pieces | Photos: Louis Vuitton

The LV house gradually ventured into designing other products throughout the years to add to their line, which now consist of leather goods, ready-to-wear, shoes, watches, jewelry, accessories, sunglasses and books, along side their iconic luxury trunks. However, the new editions to their product line weren’t envisioned until the business was passed down to Louis Vuitton’s son, Georges Vuitton, in 1892 following his passing.

George set the company’s sights on greater horizons in order to expand the business by opening numerous locations across the globe. This provided an opportunity for the company to collaborate with designers from different regions, which is evident from the 50’s leading into the mid 90’s with the flux of new products that entered the LV line.

These products include the Papillion (a cylindrical bag), the Epi leather line, the Taiga leather line, as well as a literature collection of Voyager Avec. During this time the company also went through a merger with two well know cognac brands, Moët et Chandon and Hennessy, which birthed LVMH.


Marc Jacobs | Photo: Irving Penn

In 1997 the company enlisted the help of American fashion designer Marc Jacobs to came on as the brand’s Artistic Director, where he created their first-ever ready-to-wear line for men and women. He also created the brand’s first-ever piece of jewelry, in collaboration with Stephen Sprouse, called the Charm Bracelet.

LVMH continued their trend of collaborating with various designers, celebrities, and brands including: Takashi Murakami’ on the “Monogramouflage Collection” in 2008, Kanye West on his LV shoe design in 2009, Yayoi Kusama on the “Infinitely Kusama” Collection in 2012, Supreme on their box-logo/LV monogram canvas pieces in 2017, and Virgil Abloh—who’s been the company’s mens wear Artistic Director since March of 2018.


Virgil Abloh | Photo: Financial Times

Virgil is also the founder of Off-White, the luxury fashion label, which was incorporated in Milan, Italy in 2012. Abloh revolutionized the industry by incorporating street culture into high-fashion. It’ll be interesting to see what he envisions next.

Lanvin – Est. 1889

The Lanvin House was founded in 1889 by a 22 year old Jeanne-Marie Lanvin, who opened her first hat shop on the mezzanine of 16 rue Boissy d’Anglas. Her passion for design was realized early on and she pursued her training through an apprenticeship for milliner at Madame Félix in Paris at the age of 16.


Lanvin Paris | Photo: Lanvin

Four years after the doors of her hat shop opened she manifested the opportunity to place her business in the prominent 22 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. This solidified her presence in the circle of Parisian couture and became a launching pad for new business. Lanvin established herself financially and creatively but was struck with new inspiration after the birth of her daughter.

Marie-Blanche Lanvin became Jeanne’s muse as she began dressing her daughter in the finest garments designed to “dazzle the world”, according to Lanvin. Marie was the canvas to Jeanne’s design brush and this relationship procured a new division in her business, children’s clothing.

Following a rise in children’s clothing sales, which exceeded her hat sales, Jeanne decided to open a dedicated Young Ladies’ and Women’s department in 1909. During this time Jeanne also became apart of the Syndicale de la Couture, which transitioned her status from Milliner to Couturière.

The Lanvin House progression from designing hats to garments broadened the scope of what the company could become; and Lanvin, being the visionary that she was, harnessed her brand’s momentum creatively and financially.

She seen new opportunity for new products, so in 1913 she added furs to her line, then in 1920 she collaborated with acclaimed architect decorator Armand-Albert Rateau on Art Deco inspired home decor.

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Lanvin Pieces | Photos: Lanvin

Other additions to the Lanvin line include their active wear, designed for horseback riding, tennis, etc. in 1923; Lanvin perfumes which debuted with the iconic “My Sin’ scent, formulated by Marie Zède in 1924; and the brand’s ready-to-wear menswear line in 1926.

Following Jeanne’s passing in 1946, the company was handed down to her daughter, Marie-Blanche Lanvin, who designed for the house up until her passing in 1958.

The company then underwent various changes structurally and creatively, in which it changed hands twice between two cousins before its takeover over by L’Oreal in 1996, then in 2001 the company was made private again by investor group Harmonie S.A.


Jonathon Anderson | Photo: Mark Abrams

During this time the company cycled their Creative Directors and designers frequently——the brand is currently lead by French designer ‘Bruno Sialelli’, who was appointed Creative Director in January of 2019. He enlisted the help of Jonathon Anderson, who previously designed at Spanish luxury fashion house Loewe——in order to realign the Lanvin legacy.

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