The son of André Fath, an Alsatian-Flemish insurance agent, Fath came from a creative family. His paternal great-grandparents, Caroline and Theodore-Georges Fath, were a fashion illustrator and writer, and his paternal grandfather, Rene-Maurice Fath, was a landscape painter.
Fath presented his first collection in 1937, working out of a two room salon on Rue de la Boetie. The studio was later moved to a second location on Rue Francois Premier in 1940 before settling into a third location at 39 Avenue Pierre 1er de Serbie in 1944. Among his models was Lucie Daouphars (1921 or 1922–1963), a.k.a. Lucky, a former welder who eventually become the top house model for Christian Dior.
As self-taught designer who learned his craft from studying museum exhibitions and books about fashion, Fath hired a number of young designers as assistants and apprentices, some of which later went on to form their own houses, including Hubert de Givenchy, Guy Laroche, and Valentino Garavani.
Jacques Fath was a French fashion designer who was considered one of the dominant influences on postwar haute couture, the others being Christian Dior and Pierre Balmain. Fath married, in 1939, Geneviève Boucher de la Bruyère. The bride was a former model from an aristocratic family who had been a secretary to Coco Chanel. According to Fath's friend, Princess Giovanna Pignatelli Aragona Cortés, Geneviève, who directed the business side of her husband's firm during his lifetime, was a lesbian.
Lady Alexandra Howard-Johnston (1907-97) was the wife of the Naval Attaché to Paris at the end of the 1940s. She required an extensive wardrobe for the many formal dinners and state functions that she had to attend.
Fath designed this dress for Lady Alexandra to wear for the official visit of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip to Paris in May 1948. Lady Alexandra recalled that when she arrived at the Théâtre de l’Opéra with her husband, the Garde Nationale suddenly sprang to attention. ‘I realised they had mistaken us for the Princess and Duke. That was the effect made by my splendid Fath’ (Victoria & Albert Museum)
A couture client would attend all the fashion collections, seated in the front row if she were especially important like Lady Alexandra. After the show, she would place her orders with her vendeuse (personal saleswoman). A calico toile would be created, then the final garment, a process involving numerous time-consuming fittings.
Lady Alexandra dressed exclusively at the house of Jacques Fath (1912-54), and commissioned this dress from Jacques Fath shortly before he died, for her second marriage to Hugh Trevor-Roper (later Baron Dacre). She told Cecil Beaton, ‘the dress made for my wedding to Hugh was made up on the wrong side of the material (my idea because the colour of the right side did not suit me) and that dress was worn and worn’. (Victoria & Albert Museum)
Jacques Fath opened his Parisian couture house in 1937. He quickly became known both for his softly sculpted garments and a talent for self promotion. This dress is likely to have been designed by Fath’s wife and muse Geneviève, who upon Fath’s death in 1954, oversaw the house until it closed in 1957.
While the dress’s surface is a soft, delicate lace, in contrast the underpinnings are highly structured: its petticoat features a boned bodice and a crinoline skirt. The pale violet colour and two-tiered skirt suggest a romantic view of women’s fashion. (Victoria & Albert Museum)
Jacques Fath and his wife, Geneviève Boucher de la Bruyère
Jacques Fath and his wife, Geneviève Boucher de la Bruyère
Jacques Fath and his wife, Geneviève Boucher de la Bruyère
Lady Alexandra commissioned this dress from him in 1950. In 1971, when she donated many of her Fath dresses and hats to the V&A, she told Cecil Beaton: 'I can date the grey dress and the white taffeta evening dress exactly because I had them when I was expecting my youngest child. He is now exactly 21. The dresses were not altered in any way except that they could be let out. Afterwards (my son was born at the end of Sept 1950) they were altered by Fath to fit my normal size'.
Couture garments were expected to last many years due to the quality of their materials and their skilled construction. Part of the service provided by the couturier for his client was a personalised alteration and repair service. It was common for couture clients to take suits back to be relined after years of wear, or to have hems taken up with changing fashions. (Victoria & Albert Museum)
In 1949, Lady Alexandra commissioned one of Fath's most popular designs of the season, but requested that it be made up in her husband's family tartan. She purchased the hand-woven and naturally-dyed fabric from Scotland herself. The design features typical Fath motifs such as a flying panel at the back and decorative buttons and bows.
Lady Alexandra wore this dress frequently, especially to lunch, and accessorised it with a black hat and pearls.
She was fortunate enough to share the physique of Fath’s models and was given some dresses originally shown at the collections. One such was this day-dress in shades of grey, which she wore to the unveiling of a statue in honour of her father, Field Marshal Earl Haig, in Montreuil-sur-Mer in 1950. The dress was only altered by Fath in order to fit Lady Alexandra during one of her pregnancies. The scarf, she wrote, was 'very suitable for my condition'. (Victoria & Albert Museum)
This elegant gown was commissioned by Vivian Williams for her marriage to Mr. Albany Ward on 3 August 1957. It was designed by the Paris couture house of Jacques Fath and licensed to Vogue Patterns to produce as a sewing-pattern. Vivian had originally planned to have a gown custom-made by the Harrods Bridal Room, but when she saw the Fath design while looking through a Vogue Pattern Book, she noticed how closely it resembled her original choice. She subsequently purchased the pattern and fabrics from the Dickins & Jones department store in London, and took them to a professional local dressmaker to be made up. This enabled her to marry in a gown designed by a famous couture house at a fraction of the cost of purchasing a original Paris couture model, or having a dress custom-made by Harrods.
Vogue sewing patterns began in America in 1899 as a weekly feature of Vogue magazine and could be purchased by mail order. When Condé Nast bought Vogue in 1909 they began to offer a wider range of pattern styles and sizes. The Vogue Pattern Company was formed in 1914, and by 1916, its patterns could be bought in department stores. In 1933 the company opened its first London branch. Vogue became the first pattern company authorised to duplicate French couture designs, with their 'Vogue Paris Original' pattern line in 1949. Licensing designs to large-scale pattern companies provided couturiers with a way to regain control and retain income from their work that would otherwise be lost to illegal copyists. It also helped make Paris couture more accessible to a wider audience. (Victoria & Albert Museum)
The designer lent her evening and day dresses each season, aware of the publicity that this would give his house. She recalled : ‘If there was a Fath dress I wanted to keep, I could pay sale price at the end of the season. I was not allowed to go to any other couturier, but I did not want to – Fath was perfection.’
This printed day-dress is secured by a set of intricate fastenings. The swag (stiffened with net) crosses over on the left front; the skirt opens on the left back side and fastens with a series of hooks. Its form-fitting style is typical of Fath, who draped fabric around his models in order to create his designs. (Victoria & Albert Museum)
This dress and its petticoat were designed by the French couturier Jacques Fath (1912-54) in 1955. The petticoat is made of silk, nylon and net with a boned cotton bodice and a padded bra. It shows the care and attention that was given to the under-garments of couture dresses.
The silk taffeta dress was worn by Lady Alexandra Howard-Johnston (later Lady Dacre), the wife of the Naval Attaché to Paris at the end of the 1940s. She required an extensive wardrobe for the many formal dinners and state functions that she had to attend, and dressed exclusively at Jacques Fath.
The draping and pleating of the dress is characteristic of Jacques Fath’s work. Fath would frequently design by gathering and pinning directly onto the mannequin resulting in folds, panels or volants, especially around the hip. (Victoria & Albert Museum)
This dress has many features that became current in the 1950s, such as the sheath skirt, the pointed fly-away cuffs and sharp yellow colour set against predominantly red accessories. The stiff cotton is ideal to hold the angular details and keep the line of the straight skirt. Until the mid 1950s the alternative to this shape was the silhouette with a similar neat corsage and small waist, but with a full, bouffant skirt.
This dress was worn by Lady Alexandra Dacre of Glanton. It forms part of the Cecil Beaton Collection. This Collection was brought together by the society photographer Sir Cecil Beaton (1904-1980). With great energy and determination Beaton contacted the well-dressed elite of Europe and North America to help create this lasting monument to the art of dress. The Collection was exhibited in 1971, accompanied by a catalogue that detailed its enormous range. (Victoria & Albert Museum)
The corset is a fashion convention to define the waist and project the bosom. Challenged by nature, reason, and gender rights, the corsetted silhouette remained a persistent aesthetic ideal of the twentieth century. During the 1940s and 1950s, in particular, ideas of femininity were expressed fashion-wise in a cinched waist akin to the corsetted construction of the past, as in this evening gown by Jacques Fath. Despite the anachronistic lacing, this dress reveals its structure like a modernist building. Pink, a color of twentieth-century lingerie, is combined with a traditional lacing in an evening silhouette of the postwar years, here given deeper historical resonance. In 1954, just before his death, Fath returned to the representation of the corset as a means of reationalizing the wasp waist he preferred. (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
In 1947, in response to the suffering of post-World War II France, an American grassroots campaign organized a large-scale relief package. The following year France, moved by this generosity, organized a gift in kind. As the aide was sent to France housed in boxcars and dubbed the "American Friendship Train" the French created the "Gratitude" or "Merci Train", a set of 49 boxcars filled with gifts of thanks. Each of the 48 states was to receive a boxcar with the 49th shared between Washington D.C., and the Territory of Hawaii, which had contributed sugar on the Friendship Train. A wide array of items was included in these cars, from handmade children's toys to priceless works of art.
The Chambre Syndicale de la Couture de Parisienne, who, to raise money for the French people, had two years prior organized the Theatre de la Mode, a group of fashion dolls dressed in clothing from the 1947 couture collections, chose to create a new set of fashion dolls, this time representing the evolution of French fashion rather than the current season. Once again, the Syndicat tapped the most talented and well-known fashion designers, hairstylists, and accessory designers of the time to create these miniature masterpieces.
The unique design of the fashion doll, originally created for Theatre de la Mode and used again for the Gratitude Train was conceived by Eileen Bonabel, the plaster head by the artist Rebull. Each doll measures approximately 24 inches tall, with bodies made entirely of open wire. Human hair was used to fashion the hairstyles. Each designer chose a year between 1715 and 1906 for which to dress his doll. Their varying sources of inspiration included works of art, literature, and historic fashion plates. The Gratitude Train fashion dolls represent a unique moment in the history of couture as they represent not only creative interpretations of historic fashions by the greatest designers of the period, but also are infused with the unparalleled skill, care, and attention to detail that would have been applied in their full-size counterparts. (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
A popular and occasionally innovative designer known for dressing "the chic young Parisienne", Fath utilized such materials as hemp sacking and sequins made of walnut and almond shells. His 1950 collection was called Lily, and its skirts were shaped to resemble flowers. For eveningwear, he advocated velvet gowns. During World War II, Fath was known for "wide fluttering skirts" which, The New York Times explained, "he conceived for the benefit of women forced to ride bicycles during gasoline rationing". His clients included Ava Gardner, Greta Garbo, and Rita Hayworth, who wore a Fath dress for her wedding to Prince Aly Khan.
The house closed in 1957, three years after Fath died of leukemia, a disease diagnosed in 1952. It was operated in its last days by his widow, who presented her first well-regarded collection for the fashion house in 1955 and who worked with three of her husband's former associates: Catherine Brivet (who previously had worked for Paul Poiret, Jean Patou, Pierre Balmain, Coco Chanel, and Cristobal Balenciaga), Pierrey Metthey, and Suzanne Renoult (a fabric expert who had worked for Lucien Lelong, Elsa Schiaparelli, and Gaston Worth). After the company's haute couture operations ceased, it went into business producing perfumes, gloves, hosiery, and other accessories.
The company has produced a number of scents, including Jacques Fath L"Homme (1998), Yin (1999), Yang (1999), Fath de Fath (1953, reformulated and relaunched in 1993), Chasuble (1945), Expression (1977), Canasta (1950), Iris Gris (1946), Fath's Love (1968), and Green Water (1947 but reformulated and re-released in 1993). The fragrance license was held by L'Oréal until 1992.
Relaunched by the France Luxury Group in 1992, Jacques Fath was purchased in 1996 by the Banque Saga Group, which appointed Tom van Lingen, a Dutch designer, as its head designer. In 1997, when the company was purchased by Groupe Emmanuelle Khanh, van Lingen was replaced by Elena Nazaroff. A year later, Nazaroff was replaced by Octavio Pizarro. The firm became part of the Alliance Designers Group in 2002, which announced the hiring of young English designer Lizzie Disney to revive the fashion side of the brand. . Disney and the firm parted ways in 2004, and the company was sold again in 2006.
Fath, who has been described by Italian journalist Bonaventuro Calora as extremely effeminate and a former lover of the French film director Léonide Moguy, married, in 1939, Geneviève Boucher de la Bruyère. The bride was a former model from an aristocratic family who had been a secretary to Coco Chanel. They had one son, Philippe (born 1943). According to Fath's friend Princess Giovanna Pignatelli Aragona Cortés, Geneviève Fath, who directed the business side of her husband's firm during his lifetime, was a lesbian.
Fath served as a gunner, second class, in the French Army. He received the Croix de Guerre with palm and the Legion of Honor. He also was held as a prisoner of war for a month.
Fath died of leukemia on 13 November 1954. Approximately 4,000 people attended his funeral at St. Pierre de Chaillot Church in Paris.
Fath was the subject of a 1994 documentary film by Pascal Franck called Les Folies de Fath.
Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time by Elisa Rolle
Paperback: 760 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (July 1, 2014)
CreateSpace Store: https://www.createspace.com/4910282
Amazon (Paperback): http://www.amazon.com/dp/1500563323/?tag=e
Amazon (Kindle): http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MZG0VHY/?tag=e
Days of Love chronicles more than 700 LGBT couples throughout history, spanning 2000 years from Alexander the Great to the most recent winner of a Lambda Literary Award. Many of the contemporary couples share their stories on how they met and fell in love, as well as photos from when they married or of their families. Included are professional portraits by Robert Giard and Stathis Orphanos, paintings by John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini, and photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnson, Arnold Genthe, and Carl Van Vechten among others. “It's wonderful. Laying it out chronologically is inspired, offering a solid GLBT history. I kept learning things. I love the decision to include couples broken by death. It makes clear how important love is, as well as showing what people have been through. The layout and photos look terrific.” Christopher Bram “I couldn’t resist clicking through every page. I never realized the scope of the book would cover centuries! I know that it will be hugely validating to young, newly-emerging LGBT kids and be reassured that they really can have a secure, respected place in the world as their futures unfold.” Howard Cruse “This international history-and-photo book, featuring 100s of detailed bios of some of the most forward-moving gay persons in history, is sure to be one of those bestsellers that gay folk will enjoy for years to come as reference and research that is filled with facts and fun.” Jack Fritscher
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