Early Career

In 1914 Patou established a couture house at 7, rue St. Florentin, near the rue de la Paix. Although his first collection was prepared, it was never shown, as he went to serve as a captain in a French Zouave regiment during World War I. Following the cessation of hostilities Patou became a leading international couturier. He commissioned his fellow officer Bernard Boutet de Monvel, who was working for several fashion magazines, to illustrate many of his advertisements. Patou's salon was dec orated by the leading art deco designers Louis Süe and André Mare, who painted the interior and upholstered the furniture in a color described as ash-beige, and installed huge mirrors to accentuate the building's elegant eighteenth-century proportions. At the same time that Patou was a shrewd businessman, however, he was also a playboy and a heavy gambler.

Patou did not regard himself as a skilled draftsman; he claimed that not only could he not draw, but also that a pair of scissors was a dangerous weapon in his hands. Each season he provided the designers in his "laboratory" with various antique textiles, fragments of embroidery, and documents annotated with special instructions for the styles and colors he wanted to develop. His staff would then develop these ideas and present him with toiles (sample garments made using inexpensive fabric to check cut and fit), which Patou modified until he was satisfied. At the height of Patou's career in the mid-1920s, he made around six hundred models each season, which he refined down to some three hundred. A collection of this size would be considered enormous by contemporary standards, as the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne specifies that a couture collection must comprise a minimum of only fifty models.

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