NEW YORK — The couturier Lucien Lelong trailblazed the way for generations of designers with his double "L" logo, fragrances, accessories, self-promoting ads and socialite clientele.
In 1918, he transformed his parents' business into the House of Lelong, a label that would be worn by revelers at Paris hot spots such as Ciro's, Maxim's and Le Boeuf sur le Toit for three decades to come.
Lelong was a champion of Modernism, a contemporary of Coco Chanel and Jean Patou, and former president of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture Parisian. A visit to "Modern Master: Lucien Lelong Couturier 1918 - 1948," on exhibit at the Museum at FIT, reveals less well-known facts.
At the apogee of his business, Lelong employed more than 1,200 people in his 16 workrooms, fitting rooms, salons and boutiques, including Pierre Balmain, Christian Dior, Jean Ebel and Hubert de Givenchy early in their careers. In his autobiography, Dior wrote, "Neither Balmain nor I will ever forget that…Lelong taught us our profession."
In addition to recognizing talent, Lelong had the foresight to create the first couture ready-to-wear collection, Lucien Lelong Editions, in 1934. Even more impressive was how he helped keep the Paris couture from relocating to Berlin during the German occupation.
Lelong designed with his well-traveled and sophisticated clientele in mind. He saw to it that striking high-society dames, including his second wife and muse, Princess Natalie Paley, were often seen around town in his clothes. He trumpeted his handiwork as "Kinetic Design," the principle that supported his belief that fashion should ease movement. That appealed to free-minded thinkers like Marlene Dietrich, Babe Paley, Clare Booth Luce, Marie-Laure de Noailles and Princess Liliane "Baba" de Faucigny-Lucinge.
Lelong, a sculptor, art collector and man-about-town, lived the life, too, often joining the women he dressed, skiing in St. Moritz, sunbathing at the Lido or lunching at the Ritz. Fashion shows at his Avenue Matignon salons were not to be missed, partly for Jean-Michel Frank's decor. Some of the more entertaining moments were not seen by most guests. Backstage, Lelong would sit on a stool, summon his models one by one and fluff up each one's skirt, telling them, "You are beautiful. You create beauty. That's why you are on this earth." Then with a wink of approval, onto the catwalk they would go.From a distance, his creations look relatively simple, but up close, they reveal blinding details. One of the most impressive examples in the FIT show is a floor-length afternoon dress with rows of different colored floral buds around the skirt. The top of the dress, however, is a lesson in design, since Lelong cut and sewed the same fabric into what looks like necklaces of floral buds on the chest. The kicker — the dress was part of his ready-to-wear collection, not couture.
The Modern Master exhibition — the first of its kind for Lelong — has been compiled by graduate students in FIT's Master of Arts program in Fashion and Textile Studies: History, Theory and Museum Practice. Among the relics the students uncovered is an ad from 1938 in which he is featured with Alix, Lanvin and Schiaparelli to endorse Cutex nail polish, and the "quick change" brooch that doubled as a three-lipstick stash but looked like a bus driver's coin dispenser.
Admiring a doll clad in a sparkling dress that Dior designed for Lelong shortly before he exited the house to go out on his own, student curator Sonya Mooney said, "Dior took a lot from Lelong — some workers, some models, some dressmaking techniques. But what he couldn't do at Lelong was be full-blown romantic."
Her co-curator, Sarah Scaturro, finished the thought, "Because to be a romantic, you have to look to the past, and that was definitely not what Lelong was about."
From overseeing America’s fastest-growing speciality retailers to codifying cool, WWD talked to the women who are leading the way for the future of beauty. Check out our Instagram Stories to see how these women built today and are creating tomorrow. (📸: @hannah_khymych) #wwdbeauty
For @laperlalingerie's spring 2018 show, the brand chose to host their event at @thevenetianmacao. With Chinese megastars @bingbing_fan and @hubing in attendance, La Perla debuted a rock ‘n’ roll-inspired collection. The show marked the start of Sands Macao Fashion Week, which runs from October 19 to 24 — the city’s first such event. Pictured here are models backstage with glimmering eyes. #wwdfashion (📷: Cheuk-Yin To)
Trending for spring 2018: top stitch design. Gone are the days of stitch just for seams — designers are using the once-minimal detail to create strong decorative elements. (📷: Paola Testa; Styled by @andrew_shang) #wwdfashion
@tradesy is turning the concept of a showroom upside down with its new space in Santa Monica. Here, the company plans to hold events, art exhibits and a showcase rare fashion pieces like this Louis Vuitton boxing set. Get all the details on Tradesy’s first showroom on WWD.com. #wwdnews
Spotted last night at the @erdem x @hm launch event: Kate Bosworth, Rashida Jones, Kirsten Dunst and Selma Blair. The party, which took place in LA, also marked the opening of their pop-up shop. “I was interested in creating a collection that wasn’t in any way disposable. It was about pieces you’d create and keep forever, things that have a permanence to it,” designer Erdem Moralioglu said. #wwdeye (📷: Katie Jones)
Renee Zellweger in yellow in 2001 and again in 2017. Chosen as one of the 12 @pantone Leading Spring Colors (and dubbed “Meadowlark”), it only makes sense that the bright hue stands the test of time and is making a resurgence this season, seen already on stars like @blakelively and @gigihadid. (📷: Donato Sardello & @rexfeatures) #wwdfashion #tbt
Dior’s 70th anniversary celebration continues with a new exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. “Christian Dior,” which is scheduled to run through March 18, takes a look at the founders tenure from 1947 to 1057 and feature 40 designs. Pictured here is an evening gown from the Ailée, fall 1948-49 haute couture collection. #wwdfashion (📷: Brian Boyle)