NEW YORK — The first exhibition focusing on Lucien Lelong, who blended modern design with business acumen, will be staged next month at the Fashion Institute of Technology here.
Aside from establishing a name for himself in haute couture, Lelong mentored leading 20th-century designers such as Christian Dior, Pierre Balmain and Hubert de Givenchy. In his autobiography, Dior wrote, “Neither Balmain nor I will ever forget that … Lelong taught us our profession.”
Lelong, an accomplished sculptor, art collector and man-about-town, was at home with high society and the art world, often hobnobbing with the women he dressed. Marie-Laure de Noailles, Princess “Baba” de Faucigny-Lucinge, Marlene Dietrich, the Duchess of Windsor, Cole Porter’s wife Linda and Clare Boothe Luce were among his clients. Lelong’s second wife, Princess Natalie Paley, an exiled Russian princess, fashion model, and actress, encapsulated his ideal woman.
Bettina Ballard, a former Vogue editor and client, described Lelong’s customers as “the women who make fashion.” They sunbathed at the Lido, skied at St. Moritz, lunched at the Ritz, and danced at costume balls. Lelong’s fashion shows in his Avenue Matignon salon were not-to-be-missed dates in their social calendars.
In addition to design, Lelong finessed the presentation of his collections, and managed production, public relations and advertising. Following the lead of the American apparel industry, he introduced Lucien Lelong Editions, the first ready-to-wear line launched by a Paris couturier. Lelong’s empire included a successful perfume division, Parfums Lelong, known for its wide range of fragrances and witty presentations. Parfums Lelong and classic Lelong fragrances such as Indiscret and Tailspin still exist.
A sampling of those and Lelong’s other creations, including daytime dresses, evening gowns, accessories, perfume and even a doll from Théâtre de la Mode, will be on display at FIT’s “Modern Master: Lucien Lelong, Couturier (1918-1948).” By 1918, he had transformed the small couture business his parents had set up into the House of Lucien Lelong, which defined Parisian elegance for 30 years.
The items to be showcased were selected from the Museum at FIT, and from public and private collections. Archival material from the Special Collections of FIT’s Gladys Marcus Library will also be on view. Graduate students in FIT’s master of arts program in fashion and textile studies, as well as students in history, theory, and museum practice are organizing the show.