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A Crafter of Imaginative and Innovative Designs

[dropcap]M[/dropcap]me Jeanne Paquin was the first woman designer to open her own fashion house in Paris, and to achieve acceptance in haute couture. She was born in Saint-Denis, in 1869. She began her career as a dressmaker at the Maison Rouff. In 1891, her businessman husband, Isidore Paquin, assisted her in the opening of the House of Paquin. The House was situated on Rue de la Paix, next door to the House of Worth. The House of Paquin became quite famous, and during the years of its popularity it employed more than two thousand workers (Haug, 1996-2001; The Costume Gallery; Victoria and Albert Museum).

Jeanne Paquin was the first Parisian couturier to gain access to an international market by opening foreign branches in London and New York, in 1912, and in Buenos Aires and Madrid, in 1914. The prestigious House of Paquin had a rich and famous clientele. Mme Paquin designed garments for the Queens of Belgium, Portugal, and Spain; for famous actresses such as La Belle Époque stars, Liane de Pougy and La Belle Otero; and, also for the wives of American tycoons such as the Astors, Ballantines, Rockfellers, Vanderbilts, and Wannamakers (Boucher n.d., p. 392; Clothing and Fashion Encyclopedia, 2009; The Costume Gallery).

Mme Paquin designed garments for all occasions ranging from luxurious filmy pastel evening gowns reminiscent of Eighteenth Century elegance, vibrant Oriental- inspired garments, extravagant evening wraps, chic tailored dresses and suits (tailleurs) for day wear, and functional and comfortable modern clothing. She also produced uncanny and fancy hats. Jeanne Paquin was a brilliant artist who crafted imaginative and innovative garments. To create stunning and breathtaking visual effects, she would use nonpareil sewing techniques and would select fabrics and decorations that would harmonize color and light. For instance,

To capture the play of light on a garment’s surface Mme Paquin would blend various hues, and would juxtapose trims and fabrics having different light reflecting qualities (Clothing and Fashion Encyclopedia; Nation Master Encyclopedia);

To enliven and intensify the visual aspects of clothing, she would incorporate shirring, pleated ribbon trim, padded appliqués, embroidery, surface design motifs, some of which were encrusted with the smallest possible decorative elements, and would make use of numerous varieties of colourful beads and sequins; and,

She would layer, blend, and combine various fabrics. For example, Mme Paquin would blend strips of opulent furs on a filmy pastel evening gown, and she would combine chiffon with a tailored suit (Clothing Fashion Encyclopedia; Nation Master Encyclopedia).

Elegant Garments:
Mme Paquin loved to create elegant and sumptuous gowns. She became famous for her dazzling, shimmering, and glittering gowns, as well as for her gold and silver evening dresses (Sanderson, 2009). Some of her spectacular creations include:

The renowned Chimère flapper dress constructed from delicate chiffon and French silk, and covered with voluminous diamante studs, seed pearls, and gold class beads. The luminosity and movement of the dress stood out when the wearer danced the Charleston or the foxtrot. Mme Paquin exhibited the Chimère dress at the 1925 Paris Exposition. The artistry and beauty of this garment represent the pinnacle of French Haute Couture (Boucher, n.d.. p. 391; Victoria and Albert Museum);

Ballet inspired dresses. Mme Paquin’s association with Bakst, the designer of costumes for the Ballet Russes who crossed over to couture, resulted in the introduction of all-white ballet dresses in her fashion show finales. In 1913, her collection included dresses designed specifically for dancing the tango (Clothing and Fashion Encyclopedia; Crispin, 2010);

Black coats that were lined with shimmering red silk to brighten them, and dull black gowns and dresses that were trimmed with iridescent jewel-tone embroidery and lavish lace. Mme Paquin’s signature accent color was a brilliant pink (Haug, 1996-2011; Sanderson, 2009); and,

Shiny evening coats made from such fabrics as luxurious silk, velvet, and brocade that were decorated with silk and metallic embroidery. These coats were popular during the 1920s-1930s (San Francisco Chronicle, 2011).

Oriental-Inspired Designs:

Always seeking novelty, Mme Paquin incorporated styles and elements from other eras and cultures in her designs. She favoured Oriental geometric shapes, motifs, and vivid colors. Examples of her oriental-inspired designs are as follows:

In 1912, she fashioned an opera coat draped like a Roman toga from fabric derived from the Eighteenth Century (Clothing and Fashion Encyclopedia);

In her Imperio collection of 1907, she included a Japanese-style cape (Sanderson, 2009); and,

In the Chimère costume the contrasting central panel consisted of blue Chinese silk and depicted twisting dragons or chemras with sparkling eyes. Mme Paquin also decorated skirts with elaborate designs of cloud-like motifs resembling those found on Chinese robes (Clothing and Fashion Encyclopedia; Sanderson, 2009).

Functional Designs:
Keeping in mind the modern woman who required more freedom of movement, Mme Paquin introduced the following garments:

A natural and less restrictive empire line dress in her 1905-1906 collection;

An improved hobble skirt by adding hidden pleats to allow for ease of movement;

In her 1907 collection she presented suits with pleated skirts that made it practical to wear when travelling by subway. Her blue twill suits became quite popular with the working women (Fashion Encyclopedia; Sanderson, 2009).


During the 1910s, fashionable hats were wide brimmed and outrageously trimmed with fruits, flowers, and feathers. Mme Paquin went to extremes in her design of a hat which she decorated with a number of whole bird wings (Victoria and Albert Museum).

Innovations in Haute Couture
The House of Paquin set many marketing and advertising standards and strategies which have been copied by other designing houses over the years. These include,

Forming personal relationships with clients, taking into account their individual personalities, and respecting their schedules;

Sending mannequins or beautiful young actresses to the opera, the races, or other elite events in order to display and promote the House’s newest creations. Mme Paquin set a precedent herself for future fashion icons by wearing her own designs in public;

Undertaking tours in America to introduce new collections. In 1914, for example, the House of Paquin presented its entire spring collection in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Pittsburgh and Chicago;

The strategy of using theatrics to captivate an audience. In 1914, while on tour of American cities, the House mannequins amazed the public by wearing mauve and pink wigs on the streets; and, selling designs to department stores and wholesalers (Clothing and Fashion Encyclopedia; Sanderson, 2009)

Mme Paquin received awards for her commercial acuity. She was also actively involved in the couture community.

She received the Order of Leopold II of Belgium in 1910, and the Legion of Honour by France in 1913.

She was named President of the Fashion Section of the 1900 Paris Universal Fashion Exhibition, and President of the 1910 World Fair in Paris.

She was President of the Chambre Syndicale des Couturiers between 1917 and 1919 (Haug, 1996-2001; The Jewelry Accessories).

In 1920, Jeanne Paquin withdrew from the House of Paquin. She left the administration of the house to her half brother, Henri Joire, and his wife. Madeleine Wallis continued as artistic director of the house. In 1950, Colette Massignac gave the House a new direction. However, in 1953 the business was closed due to financial difficulties. In 1954, the Maison Paquin purchased the French branch of the House of Worth, but the House experienced financial difficulties and was closed in 1956 (Clothing and Fashion Encyclopedia; Nation Master Encyclopedia; Sanderson, 2009).


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  • Clothing and Fashion Encyclopedia (2009). Jeanne Paquin.
  • Crispin, Jessa (2010). Need to know on PBS. How ballet changed the world.
  • Haug, Joanne (1996-2011). Victoriana Magazine. Fashion 1900. French designer dresses. From the Gazette du Bon Ton, 1912-1915. Jeanne Paquin.
  • Jewelry Accessories. Jeanne Paquin (1869-1956).
  • Nation Master Encyclopedia. Jeanne Paquin.
  • Sanderson, Lisa (2009). Women’s Fashion, Suite 101. Fashion designer Jeanne Paquin.
  • San Francisco Chronicle (2011). Living, 1920’s-1930. Jeanne Paquin. Hearst Communication Inc.
  • The Costume Gallery.
  • Victoria and Albert Museum. Chimère evening dress. Jeanne Paquin.
  • Victoria and Albert Museum. Hat with wings. Jeanne Paquin.