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Lucien Lelong, a couturier who epitomized modern Parisian elegance for thirty years, was born into theworld of high fashion in 1889. His parents were the owners of AE Lelong, a small couture house at 18, place de la Madeleine. By the early 1920s, Lelong had transformed his parents house into the Maison Lucien Lelong, and moved the establishment to the more fashionable 16 rue Matignon. He would be the tastemaker and head of the house until its closure in 1948.

 


Lelong garments were loved for their refinement, and subtle sophistication. His signature look was oneof flawless chic; designs were always executed with superior workmanship, and in luxurious fabrics.


Lelong was a modernist; he believed that fashion should be created for the body in motion. He described his tubular, streamlined garments of the twenties as kinetic fashions, stating that his designs "took their real shapewhile in movement." Although his designs took on a more romantic, and feminine look in the thirties and forties, Lelong always stayed true to his beliefs that fashionshould never restrict the body, and that a modern woman should be dynamic and constantly inmotion.s salons in the 1930s, couturier Pierre Balmain commented that "a heavy perfume hung in the air and the whole house reeked of luxury."



Luxury was a key component of the Lelong style. Throughout his lengthy career the couturier dressedsociety It-girls, aristocrats, and movie stars on both sides of the Atlantic. During the late twenties and early thirties, Lelong was married to Princess Nathalie Paley, a Russian emigree and fashion superstar of Paris. In addition to his clothing, Lelong was head of a thriving perfume and cosmetic company. He understood the importance of developing a total lifestyle brand for himself; much like contemporary designers strive for today.On first entering Lelong'


Lucien Lelong was not a designer in the traditional sense. He hired others to express his particularstyle and taste in clothing for him. His designers "would first present him with a sketch. After his suggested changes, the sketch was transformed into a cotton toile, and again submitted for approval. "No garment would leave the workshop, or be part of a collection without Lelongs endorsement.



Several well-known couturiers had their beginnings in the house of Lelong. Christian Dior entered the house on October 6, 1941, and stayed with Lelong through World War II. He left in December 1946 tostart his own couture house. Dior later said that the house of Lelong "was an excellent couture school. There was a solid tradition of good workmanshipI learned a tremendous amount..." Pierre Balmain designed for the house at the end of the thirties, but was uninspired and left, believing Lelong to be "no more than a dealer in dresses." He respected the refinement and taste of the house of Lelong, and returned to work alongside Dior late in 1941. Balmain would leave again in 1944 to open his own successful couture house. Hubert de Givenchy was also briefly employed by Lelong in 1946.

 


Perhaps one of the greatest role's Lelong played was as President of the Chambry Syndicale de la Haute Couture during the Nazi Occupation of Paris in World War II. The Germans had planned on moving the Parisian fashion industry to Berlin, a move that would have been disastrous for the haute couture and the fashion workers. Lelong refused, stating that Paris fashion could exist nowhere but in Paris, and cunningly manipulated the Germans throughout the war years to preserve and maintain Paris' premiere luxury industry.


The specter of Lelong's modernist and luxurious aesthetic can still be seen in contemporary fashion. New York based designer Phillip Lim showed short, dynamic, twenties inspired dresses in his fall 2009 collection. The decadent,abstract embellishment adorning these garments, and their unrestricted cut owe a great deal to Lelong's kinetic fashions of the early twentieth century.


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