B. September 27, 1887 D. March 8, 1936 Birthplace: Normandy
Today, the House of Jean Patou is known primarily for producing Joy, the most expensive perfume in the world, first introduced in 1930. But Patou's contributions to modern fashion were not restricted to perfumes, although there were many, each with a cleverly seductive name, from Moment Supreme, 1929, and Divine Folie, 1933, to l'Heure Attendue, first offered in 1946, after his death.
The couturier's talents included more than developing desirable fra grances. He was an innovator whose quest for quality was constant, from his first collection in 1914 to the fashion revolution he created when he dropped the hemline and raised the waistline in 1929. (Although his biggest rival, Coco Chanel, is often credited with this dramatic change in silhouette, it was Patou who actually did it first.)
Prior to serving as a captain in World War I, Patou worked with his father in the family's fur tannery and, in 1914, he opened a small dressmaking facility in Paris. He returned home in 1919, reopened his salon, and soon began to create clothing for the ideal woman of the 1920s—one who exhibited physical health, fitness, and atheletic prowess, all signs of her newly found independence. Wimbleton tennis star Suzanne Lenglen and aviator Ruth Elder were two women who epitomized this new image. Recognizing the value of public relations, Patou created clothing for both of them, as well for other celebrities who engaged in sports, or at least wanted to look as if they did. Inside his couture house, he created a boutique-like series of rooms called Le Coin des Sports, where he displayed outfits suitable for tennis, riding, boating, and piloting a plane, among others, all properly accessorized. Then, like Chanel, he opened shops in Deauville, Biarritz, and other centers for the vacationing rich, offering chic and leisurely ready-to-wear apparel to his clientele.
Patou is best known for his Cubist sweaters; sleeveless cardigans; long, pleated skirts; and the introduction of his knit bathing suits, which resisted fading and stretching. Patou is also credited with promoting couture among American women. Inspired by the lean American silhouette, he brought six models to Paris from the United States to show his 1924 collection, a move that attracted much attention. He was the first to put his monogram, JP, on sportswear . . . the first designer label. Patou remained a tremendous force in both couture and ready-to-wear until his death. The house has endured, employing such greats as Marc Bohan, Karl Lagerfeld, and Christian Lacroix. The name of the House of Patou's latest fragrance, introduced in 1992, best describes the lasting effects of the couturier's insight and creativity on the modern woman's wardrobe—Sublime. See also: Gabrielle Bonheur "Coco" Chanel; Karl Lagerfeld; Christian Lacroix.
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