Abstract: Innovation and the Role of the State in French Postwar Fashion Industries, 1946-1960

Veronique Pouillard-Maliks


This paper bears upon the fashion industry and the protection of innovation in the postwar era. The research developed in this paper is conceived as a part of the Enterprise of Culture project on the history of the fashion business that is a part of the HERA II Cultural Encounters research program. In the immediate postwar era, a major question in the fashion industry was whether the Paris hub would survive the advent of New York and London as new fashion capitals. The postwar era was nevertheless a time of re-birth of Paris haute couture, symbolized by the beginnings of the House of Dior, financially supported by textile entrepreneur Marcel Boussac. It was also the birth of the French prêt-à-porter, under American influence, but also capitalizing on the interwar French experiences of the confectionneurs and the couture edition lines. The French state supported both initiatives: the haute couture by granting direct subventions to a selection of enterprises, and the prêt-à-porter by launching the productivity missions to the United States, both investigated in this paper through archival records. From the nineteenth century, the Paris fashion industries had been plagued by piracy. The French law provided protection to fashion designs under three regimes: the copyright law, the patent law, and the trademark law. The two first could be used to protect design, the latter for the brand. But in practice, patents were too slow and expensive to be thoroughly used by the fashion industry. With the signing of the Universal Copyright Convention of Geneva in 1952, the protection of fashion design became easier in Europe, and several countries, notably Belgium and Italy, collaborated directly with France in order to curb piracy. But the United States, again, did not include fashions within the scope of copyright. This paper explores the strategies developed by French fashion designers to protect their innovations and make them profitable, using in particular the records of the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne and of the House of Dior. Both parts of the paper expose the changing landscape of postwar fashion, but also the resilience of the French industry, questioning the role of the state and of the protection of innovation in the preservation of a complex ecosystem in challenging times.