According to the canon, male designers led fashion during the first phase of haute couture (c.1870-c.1970). This project challenges this narrative by giving centre stage to the category of the female fashion designer between 1869 and 1950. During this period, more than two dozen female designers rose through the ranks as apprentices before founding and running multinational couture houses with hundreds (sometimes thousands) of employees. Their business practices and designs were as innovative as those of their male counterparts. However, the nature of their practice--more collaborative, less promotional--has caused them to be overlooked by the main narrative of fashion history.
Our three-part project unearths archives about the importance of female networks in fashion, the progressive business and labor practices of women designers, and the process and meaning of female design. We will pay special attention to the dynamic interplay between the female designers, workers, and clients. We intend to revise the dominant narrative of fashion history, shed new light on female networks and collaborations, contextualize female entrepreneurship within French social history, and develop a new theoretical framework for understanding female design practices as ‘écriture féminine,’ wherein as Helene Cixous has stated, ‘a woman must write her self.’