Abstract: Perfumes, Pragmatism, and Princesses: Lucien Lelong, President of Paris Fashion

Sarah Scaturro

Abstract

Lucien Lelong's (1889-1958) contribution to the business of fashion is little known or appreciated. A 1913 graduate of the elite Parisian business school, Hautes Études des Commerciales, Lelong developed his parents' small dressmaking business into one of the largest, most successful and respected haute couture houses of the first half of the twentieth century. He was a unique French couturier inspired by American pragmatism and business methods, launching a highly successful international perfume division and creating the first ever ready-to-wear line by a haute couture house in 1934. As the director of his fashion house, he oversaw all aspects of it, including design, production, quality control and personnel. He strategically combined his private and professional life, using his wife, the exiled Russian Princess Natalie Paley, as the face of his house. In 1937 he was elected by his peers as the president of the Chambre syndicale de la haute couture—it was his strong leadership, business acumen, and tactful diplomacy that led the Parisian haute couture system through the German occupation of WWII, ensuring not only its survival, but its rapid postwar economic resurgence.