The French Style Bureaus Become Key Players in the Re-Birth of the Paris Fashion System, 1950-1990

Thierry Maillet

In 1945 the Paris haute couture houses quickly resumed production. French couture was dominant and the ready-to-wear was almost none existent while in the United States 90 percent of the population was “industrially-dressed”. From 1948 to 1960, the Marshall Plan financed the transfer of techniques and knowledge through the Missions of Productivity. It contributed to the introduction of new American manufacturing techniques that became essential to the revamping of the European textile and fashion industries. While American influence, either soft through the media or hard through the machines, became crucial after the war it could not have diffused without agents of transfer.

In the early 1950s four women, all well-educated with university degrees and all Paris-based, were able to gain know-how and influence by working for magazines, trade unions and major retailers in France. In one way or another they were all four in close contact with the Missions of Productivity. From 1966 to 1970 they launched their own style bureaus and contributed to the rebirth of the French influence on the world of fashion, this time not through haute couture but through prêt-á-porter (ready-to-wear). This paper examines the role of these four women in revival of French influence in fashion, using tools and methodologies that were mostly invented in the New York fashion system before and during the war.