Jacques Fath

B. September 12, 1912 D. November 13, 1954 Birthplace: Lafitte, France Award: Neiman Marcus Award, 1949

Jacques Fath was destined to be a couturier—his great grandmother had been a dressmaker to the Empress Eugenie—but his path to fulfilling his destiny was not a direct one. Fath considered pursuing a career as either an actor or businessman, and he studied bookkeeping and law at the Commercial Institute in Vincennes, France. However, Fath's true love was fashion, and in 1937 he and one fitter produced his first collection, a mere twenty pieces. The eruption of World War II forced Fath to close his fledgling business and enlist in the military; however, after the war, Fath returned to France and reopened his house. Despite the erratic start, the House of Fath ultimately grew to be one of the largest couture houses, with ventures in France and the United States and employing 600 people at the height of its operations.

The collections Fath designed were feminine, sexy, and glamorous. His designs glorified the female form with fitted bodices, decolletage necklines, wasp waists, and full hips. He employed decorative details such as cascades of drapery and arrays of pleats to further emphasis the hourglass figure. Fath was just as influential and popular as his contemporaries Christian Dior and Cristobal Balenciaga; however, his name is relatively unknown today despite his having made a unique contribution to the fashion industry. In 1948 Fath established a relationship with the American ready-to-wear manufacturer Joseph Halpert to produce a line of Fath's designs which Fath himself reinterpreted for mass-market production. Such an arrangement was virtually unheard of in the couture industry, and many French designers were appalled by it. Many of Fath's peers criticized him for this arrangement; however, it helped Fath combat knockoff design, control how his designs would be interpreted, and make money. This unprecedented arrangement paved the way for future designers to engage in what would eventually be known as licensing agreements, which have become crucial to the profitability of couture houses today.

After Fath died in 1954, his wife continued the business until 1957. For the next thirty-five years the House of Fath was dormant. In 1992 the women's ready-to-wear line was relaunched under the direction of Tom VanLingen, a Dutch designer, and in 1995 the couture line was also briefly reinstated. Elena Nazaroff replaced VanLingen in 1997, however, she re mained only for one year. Finally, in 1998, Octavio Pizarro joined the House of Fath as the head designer. See also: Christian Dior; Cristobal Balenciaga.

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