The expeditious growth of industrialization and trade at the beginning of the twentieth century relegated fashion to the background. In the first half of the century, fashion was generally perceived as frivolous and a non-crucial aspect of economic development. This notion was changed through the influence of France and later Italy in elevating fashion and putting it on the same par as other forms of art like literature and theatre. It is no surprise then that the foundation of modern luxury fashion was laid in France, notably in Paris, which is still considered as a city of style and the fashion capital of the world.
Throughout the twentieth century, fashion relentlessly evolved and influenced society and several luxury fashion designers whose brands remain in existence emerged during this period. The fashion product categories were also expanded to include accessories and cosmetics, encouraged by the craving for fashion change as a result of the end of the Victorian era with the death of Queen Victoria of England in 1901.
During the early part of the twentieth century, Charles Worth, the inventor of haute couture, remained the supreme fashion force and the most respected couturier in the world. However, the rapid development of the luxury fashion market and the rise of other talented designers led to fierce competition. A notable competitor was Gabrielle Coco Chanel who launched her business as a hat-maker for the French aristocracy in 1910 in Paris. Chanel quickly created a niche market for her business, which led to its rapid expansion. Other designers that posed as competitors to Worth were Jeanne Lanvin who started her couture house in 1889; Paul Poiret who opened his in 1904; Madeline Vionnet who launched her design house in 1912; and Elsa Schiaparelli who started in 1927.
The early twentieth century also witnessed an explosive growth of the beauty and cosmetics sector. After the World Fair held in Paris in 1900, François Coty launched his cosmetics company in Paris, known today as
Coty Inc. Elizabeth Arden opened a decade later in America in 1910. They both pioneered the modern make-up and cosmetics industry. One year later, in 1911, Paul Poiret launched the first branded perfume, Rosine, which marked the birth of the luxury fragrance sector. Other designers, like Chanel, followed with the launching of Chanel No. 5 perfume in 1922 and the 'La Maison Worth' branded perfume in 1925. Jean Patou also introduced his branded fragrance in this period and extended the fragrance experience by establishing the innovative presentation of scents like cocktails to be mixed and tested like drinks.
The First World War, however, dominated the 1910s and influenced society's attitudes towards luxury and fashion. By the end of the war, the tastes of women in fashion had changed dramatically as a result of the increased responsibilities and hardship they underwent during the war. Although women continued to desire luxury fashion goods, they sought simplicity rather than the pre-war extravagance. Coco Chanel was one of the few designers who understood this significant consumer change and responded by designing highly sought-after clothes including the classic black dress. The post-war era also ushered in Popular Youth Culture to replace the sorrow of the war years. This was the forerunner period of the fashion revival that would take place shortly in the 1960s through pop culture.
After the war, the cinema became the most established entertainment medium and gradually personalities from the world of film replaced aristocrats as fashion icons and influencers. The popularity of Hollywood film stars like Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich and their fashion style greatly influenced the development of fashion in the 1920s and 1930s. In Paris, Josephine Baker also became a fashion icon and the most influential and highest paid entertainer in Europe.
Coco Chanel, Jeanne Lanvin and Madeleine Vionnet rose to high prominence during this era. On the other hand, the fashion businesses of Charles Worth and Paul Poiret slowly fizzled out, ushering in a new era of designers who showed a better understanding of the fashion environment.
At the same time, in Italy, fashion was re-emerging as a prominent social feature and created a favourable environment for the launch of Prada by Mario Prada in 1913 and Gucci in 1921 by Guccio Gucci. In America, however, fashion also developed within retailing and distribution through departmental stores rather than Parisian style boutiques. This evolution made fashion more visible and accessible to the growing American middle class. The concept would later pave the way for the successful retailing of ready-to-wear fashion which began in New York.
During the early twentieth century, society's wealthy also dominated and influenced luxury fashion in a similar manner to the royalties of the previous eras. The strict social class system that characterized societal structure provided the major fashion designers with a clientele comprising royal family members in Europe and the world's wealthy. The products of accessories designers like leather goods and luggage designer Louis Vuitton were in high demand by aristocrats in Europe and beyond. Guccio Gucci was also highly successful in this period as a result of developing a clientele consisting of Europe's royals and international stars that later included Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco and US first lady Jackie Kennedy.
During the 1940s and 1950s, the Second World War changed the outlook of fashion once again. The war brought shortages in almost every category of goods including fashion. At the same time, fashion tastes were enhanced through the cinema, which provided a form of distraction from the war. This led to the increase of the style and fashion influences of Hollywood actresses like Marilyn Monroe, Liz Taylor, Audrey Hepburn and Brigitte Bardot.
It was also during this period that Christian Dior emerged as a major fashion designer. Dior was a highly talented haute couturier and the expertise and precision he applied to his designs quickly gained him high popularity. With general society being more influenced by the cinema, designers like Dior were sought to construe the fashion styles of the movies. Other designers such as Hubert de Givenchy, Pierre Cardin and Cristobal Balenciaga also gained world renown during this period.
The twentieth century was the century that established the modern luxury fashion industry. Several luxury brands that continue to exist today such as Cartier, Burberry, Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Prada were created between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These brands have not only survived for more than a century, but have also maintained their core tradition and heritage while adapting to the constantly changing fashion and business scenario. Although most of them have diversified their product and services offerings, they have all remained true to their historical values.
The founders of the early luxury brands also recognized the importance of several business concepts like trademarks and global branding, long before branding became a core business aspect. For example, the French brand Cartier opened its first international store in London as early as 1902 and its first American store in New York in 1909. Thomas Burberry also had the foresight to register his brand logo as a trademark in 1900 prior to his international expansion. Louis Vuitton created the famous LV logo as far back as 1896 and the GG logo was developed by Gucci in the 1960s. The creators of the historical luxury brands were considered the geniuses of their day. However, the designers and business managers currently overseeing the activities of these brands are the true innovators of modern luxury fashion.
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