Abstract: Aux Galeries Lafayette and the Couture Industry, 1893-1952

Florence Brachet Champsaur


From a fashion history standpoint, the relationship between Aux Galeries Lafayette and the fashion industry is an ambivalent one. Founded in 1893, at the time of the "dictatorship" of Haute Couture over fashion, the Parisian department store rapidly developed the commercial and industrial means to take advantage of the "désir de mode" created by the fashion houses and communicated to the public by the rise of specialized magazines. While their international competitors were allowed to buy models or patterns from French fashion designers and sell them on to their customers, Parisian department stores were barred from this commercial system. With their very close proximity to the consumer, the Parisian department stores, relying on sales of feminine ready-to-wear garments and at the same time appropriating the symbols of Haute Couture, were in a position to take advantage of the obsolescence deliberately imposed by the most prominent fashion houses. As evidence of its involvement in the business of fashion, the firm also invested in fashion houses. In 1922, Théophile Bader, founder of Aux Galeries Lafayette, became a partner in the newly formed Vionnet & Cie, one of the most important Couture houses in Paris in the 1920s and 1930s. Study of this collaboration, which came to a sudden end in 1940 when Madeleine Vionnet's fashion house went into liquidation, is revelatory of the relationship between high fashion and French department stores.