French Designers / Les couturiers

Right up there with Milan, London, and New York, Paris is one of the fashion capitals of the world. Many world-famous designers are French, and you probably have heard of most of them. Their impact on the world of fashion has been immense. They have brought us the world of "haute couture," or high fashion. There are many French designers; here are the some of most recognizable:

The Chanel line of apparel, handbags, shoes, accessories, makeup, and fragrance, was founded by Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel. She is credited with inventing the "tailleur," the female pantsuit. Among her other famous creations are her No. 5 fragrance and her classic pairing of black and white. Chanel pieces are timeless and last just as long.

Christian Dior's line of apparel, handbags, shoes, accessories, makeup, and fragrance, is very feminine (except Dior Homme of course!), and his "cannage" quilting is a signature mark of his haute couture. Much of the Dior look today is designed by Italian couturier John Galliano. Yves Saint Laurent (see below) was in charge of the Dior house of fashion.

Louis Vuitton
The Louis Vuitton label of handbags, luggage, shoes, and accessories, is one of the most exclusive brands in the world. It is only available in Louis Vuitton stores and at eLuxury, and items never go on sale. The Louis Vuitton logo, the LV pictured at left, is easily recognizable and very often counterfeited (not unlike Chanel and Hermès). Louis Vuitton is famous for their brown canvas purses, refashioned each season with new shapes and details.

Yves Saint Laurent
Yves Saint Laurent is not as well known as its predecessors, but it is no less fashionable. The line of clothing, shoes, accessories, makeup, and fragrance, is known for funky shapes and textures that still maintain an "haute couture" status. The house of Yves Saint Laurent is no longer open (it closed in 2002) but the brand is still alive under Gucci, its Italian parent brand.

French tennis player René Lacoste started this line, which originally started out as the famed polo shirt with a crocodile logo, and has now expanded into both casual and athletic wear, handbags (from sporty to almost dressy), shoes, accessories, and fragrance. Lacoste is one of the first luxury brands to recognize casual clothing as high fashion. Today, the Lacoste brand is very involved in professional tennis.

Hermès' line of handbags, fragrance, and accessories is extremely prestigious and pricey. While canvas handbags can be found on sale for several hundred dollars, the line's most coveted items, the "Kelly" bag, named for Princess Grace Kelly, and the "Birkin" bag, named for French actress Jane Birkin, require a waiting list and cost several thousand dollars. Each handbag is handcrafted individually, ensuring the finest quality for that top dollar.

Although the Givenchy label includes clothing and accessories (Audrey Hepburn and Jackie Kennedy were two of many famous wearers), today it is best known for its fragrance and makeup. Hubert de Givenchy, a very well-to-do Frenchman of Italian descent, founded the line in 1952, and it has been a staple of Western fashion ever since.

Jean-Paul Gaultier
Jean-Paul Gaultier's fashion line includes clothing, handbags, accessories, and fragrance. Gaultier is not a typical fashion designer. He did not attend fashion school, and he was essentially "discovered" by submitting his sketches to haute couture designers. His designs are very modern and edgy, in contrast to his more classic, old-fashioned predecessors.

Guerlain is a high quality line of makeup and fragrance. It is one of the oldest perfume houses in the world, dating back to the early 1800s. It was a family brand from its inception. The brand's legacy lives on today, even though the house was taken over by Louis Vuitton's parent company in the 1990s. Members of the Guerlain family still take part in the design process.

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