Chloé

by Tonie Ong

CHLOÉ logoDuring the 1950’s, the fashion industry was only all about haute couture. At that time, Paris was the center of the industry and leading the pack were designers like Christian Dior, Cristobal Balenciaga, Hubert de Givenchy, and Coco Chanel. Beyond the elite fashion world, spectators can only read and see the latest fashions through magazines, only to copy the dresses themselves to be able to wear them. While there were a lot of couture houses back then, not a lot can wear what they designed as haute couture was exclusively made-to-measure and highly expensive for the average consumer. It was of this nature that the concept or luxury ready-to-wear was born, thanks to Chloé.

Chloe bag before Chloe fashion show in Paris

Chloe bag. Photo: andersphoto

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Founding Mother of Chloé

Founding Mother of Chloé - Gaby Aghion

It was founded by Gaby Aghion who was born in the year 1921 in Alexandria, Egypt. A graduate of political science, she eventually became part of Paris’ bohemian community in the 1940’s, forming friendships with personalities like Pablo Picasso and Paul Eluard. By the early 1950’s, she grew tired of the fashions of the time, which were all rigid haute couture defined by Christian Dior’s new look, and decided to set up her own fashion label for the modern woman. She named it Chloé, after her friend Chloé Huysmans, who was one of the brand’s first clients.

Her style was far from the nipped waists and big-hipped silhouette that dominated couture at the time. Hers was easier and more streamlined, giving the woman ease and more avenue to move around and stay comfortable. She geared her aesthetic towards the everyday working woman, who needed a wardrobe that was both stylish and easy enough to navigate a good day’s work in. She referred to her label as “luxury prêt-à-porter” which means luxury ready-to-wear, starting what is now the most lucrative category in the fashion industry today. For her clients, they didn’t have to go through a series of fittings, as such was the practice of haute couture. Women can just freely choose which dress they want, maybe fit them a few times, and buy them quickly as they please.

She was one of the first to be referred to as the “working woman’s designer”, targeting clients who were everyday, middle-class, working women instead of the very rich and affluent that would frequent the couture houses. Eventually, women from all social classes came to buy from her brand, pushing the industry’s first ever ready-to-wear label into fashion prominence. She was also a shrewd businesswoman, preferring to have her garments sewn with the Chloé label rather than that of the retail store it was sold in, which was customary at that time. She made sure that whoever bought a piece from her collection was fully-aware of the label it originated.

Chloé and Karl Lagerfeld

Chloé and Karl Lagerfeld

Chloé logo banner (left) and Karl Lagerfeld attends the Chanel Cruise Show in Hanger 8, Santa Monica (right). Image credits: Roman Tiraspolsky (left), s_bukley (right) 

In 1965, Aghion hired a then-unknown German designer Karl Lagerfeld to help her design the label’s collections. Together, they created fashions that helped push the concept of ready-to-wear to the forefront and soon, haute couture designers started doing the same. With designers like Givenchy and Yves Saint Laurent opening their own ready-to-wear lines, the concept soon dominated the industry, especially since it welcomed an infinitely-larger amount of clients and consumers. In 1966, Lagerfeld became the head designer of the revolutionary fashion label.

Chloé dressed some of the most famous style icons of the 20th century, including Grace Kelly, Maria Callas, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. French actress Brigitte Bardot, a famous detractor of haute couture, even became one of the brand’s high profile customers. In 1971, the company opened their first official boutique on the French capital’s 3 Rue Gribeauval. Later in 1985, the company was then sold to the Richemont group, a Swiss luxury holdings company.

1970’s to 1990’s

Throughout the 70’s up to the late 90’s, Lagerfeld headed the design of all of the label’s collections. Although he was more famous for his work for Chanel, his tenure in the house still stabilized the brand’s position in the fashion industry. In 1997, he was replaced by an emerging designer named Stella McCartney, a graduate of the prestigious Central Saint Martins School in London and daughter of former Beatles member, Paul McCartney. Under her design leadership, the brand became more feminine, introducing billowy silhouettes that made for more romantic pieces.

21st Century Chloé

Black Chloe bag spotted before Chloe show, Paris Fashion Week.

Black Chloe bag spotted before Chloe show during Paris Fashion Week. Photo: andersphoto 

In 2001, another Central Saint Martins alum, Phoebe Philo, took the helm and replaced McCartney. She provided a more modern spin to a number of Chloé signatures, becoming one of the most talked about labels among the fashion press. For Spring 2004, Philo famously presented a number of banana-printed pieces that become some of the hottest and best-selling items of that season. To this day, they remain to be some of the most identifiable looks in the brand’s vernacular. During Philo’s tenure, several A-list celebrities started wearing Chloé to public events, like Kirsten Dunst, Natalie Portman, and Lou Doillon.

Philo’s last show for the brand was for Spring 2006, and she was replaced by Paulo Melim Andersson, the second male designer to take the helm. Compared to his predecessors’ looks, his was a lot more futuristic, sleek, and slightly darker. It was a short-lived affair as Andersson was then replaced by Hannah McGibbon in 2008, who gave Chloé back it’s signature easy and feminine look. Her first ad campaign for the brand was fronted by model-turned-actress Chloe Sevigny, who eventually became the main face of Mcgibbon’s tenure.

In 2011, McGibbon was then replaced by Clare Waight Keller, who used to work for Pringle of Scotland. Her look was a lot more mature and cosmopolitan compared to Mcgibbon’s often breezy, resort-like aesthetic. When Keller was hired to be the new creative director for the house of Givenchy in 2017, she was then replaced by Nicolas Ghesquiere’s protégé, Natacha Ramsay-Levi.

Amidst a flurry of other designers working for her brand, Gaby Aghion passed away on the 27th of September, 2014, at age 93. To this day, she is credited as the mother of ready-to-wear, one who launched the modern fashion industry to its present-day glory.

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