The Couture Client as Patron of the Art of Fashion
This paper explores the relationship between consumers of haute couture and the designers they chose, addressing the overlooked influence one has on the other. While patrons provide economical support and help propagate artists’ ideals, the artists help legitimize patrons’ social distinction and good taste.
The client of couture turns to the designer for high fashion as means to establish and develop her strong personal style. She passively lends her body to the changes of fashions, but actively “interprets and creates the way it looks.” Without the client’s participation, there is no fashion; she represents the fulfilment of the designer’s vision. The client-couturier relationship begins when she commits to fittings, a time consuming ritual that can be compared to the patron’s visit to an artist’s studio. During these visits, the client is exposed to the craft and process of couture and has a chance to fully assimilate its luxuriousness and artistic qualities. To the artist and patron of fashion, clothes are a metaphor for identity.
The period between the two world wars is considered haute couture’s first golden age. At this time, the leading patrons of the art of fashion were sophisticated and cosmopolitan women who travelled constantly between Paris, New York and retort towns such as Biarritz and Palm Beach, feeling equally at home in all these places. Mona Bismarck and Daisy Fellowes, who were avid collectors of couture and featured in the world’s best-dressed list, will be explored. Aimee de Heeren, perhaps a lesser-known contemporary, was the quintessence of this glamorous circle. She was an international socialite whose lifestyle demanded the best of high fashion. Her discerning eye acknowledged Balenciaga’s genius when he first opened, in the late 1930s. De Heeren was also one of the first people to hurry back to Paris, hungry for couture, once the Second World War was over.
These three women, known internationally for their impeccable taste were not merely interested in fashion, they were avid collectors of couture and recognized fashion leaders. Through dress, they demonstrated their social superiority and good taste. They were trendsetters whose sartorial choices influenced the wider public of the art of fashion. The clothes they collected survive in the collections of the Museum at FIT, the Costume Institute and the Museum of the City of New York, and testify to their love of material luxury, cultural sophistication and authentic aesthetic expression.