Why Is Paris So Important In Fashion?
Updated: May 21
Even though England had a lot of input when it came to fashion by being the home to the likes of Mary Quaint and Alexander McQueen, it is Paris that reigns as The Fashion Capital of the world. French fashion has always been adored and imitated for its simplicity and effortlessness as well as the ease that came with putting together outfits that had to be both elegant and practical. Today, everything is more easily accessible and many countries all over the world display new fashion designs all the time, constantly inventing new trends and styles. All the while, Paris has always stuck with the same principles even though new talent is constantly emerging, with tough competitors for the title of The Fashion Capital like Milan, New York as well as London one can question what makes Paris so special?
The Parisian rise to the name of The Fashion Capital was more political and quite frankly, accidental as it started with a king with an opulent taste. Louis XIV, also known as the 'Sun King', introduced immense wigs of curled hair into men's fashion as well as the textile trade into France that started a fashion revolution. The royal court got complete authority over style and for centuries France was known as the best place to obtain high-quality materials. In the 1670's, during Louis's reign, another invention was introduced to the world that changed fashion forever- the fashion magazine. This helped to market fashion to people outside the royal court and invented phrases such as the fashion 'season' as well as the trend for changing styles. Due to those two very important inventions clothes became more than just a practicality- style was invented and along with it the art of self-expression which made dressing up a hobby as people realised that garments had a big role to play in how the world perceives us.
In the 19th century, France came up with Haute Couture which in simple terms (minus the French) is fitting the clothes for a particular client. This invention opened many great courtier houses, the first one being 'Rue de la Paix' run by an Englishman called Frederick Worth in Paris. Haute Couture was only the beginning for mainstream fashion as the 20th century saw Coco Chanel shun the corsets and introduce looser and more practical designs that gained immense popularity during the 20's and made France lead the way in fashion for its practical expectations of women's attire. Things took a dark turn during World War 2 as Chanel and many other were forced to close their stores during the German occupation in France. It was finally in the late 40's that French fashion revived as Christian Dior introduced his 'New Look' that changed women's fashion forever after years of textile shortages and gloom in a post-war world.
Fast forward to the 60's and Swinging London is leading the way. During the rise of Mary Quaint and her controversial miniskirts with connotations of sexual liberation that opposed the French ethics of style, France suffered a setback in fashion in the 60's. It was finally in the late 60's that French style was once again revived, this time by Yves Saint Laurent as he introduced male garments into women's wardrobes with the invention of 'La Smoking.' Apart from that, Yves Saint Laurent was the first to introduce ready-to-wear which was designer clothes ready to be bought straight from the rack in a shop. In 1985 Caroline Rennolds Milbank described him as 'The most consistently celebrated and influential designer of the past 25 years.' Yves Saint Laurent was only the begging in the rise of French designers in the late 60's as it wasn't long before Paco Rabanne came onto the scene. The French youth abandoned the luxury clothing industry by instead gravitating towards the 'hippie' look that London had already adapted a few years prior and with a new greater focus on marketing and manufacturing, new trends became established by the likes of Mugler in the 70's and 80's.
Although French fashion has connotations of elegance, it also places a big focus on practicality which is perhaps the reason why it speaks to women as it gives the garments the feeling that they were made for women and their comfort instead of the pleasure of men. With the introduction of male garments into women's fashion done by Yves Saint Laurent, fashion started playing a key role in feminism and the quest for equality by creating a sense of androgyny . Today, Paris Fashion Week is certainly the most elegant as the focus of the designers is for the clothes to be worn off the runway; sticking to the same values as 60 years before, Parisian glamour will always stand the test of time.