On July 2nd, the Maison Chloé unveiled a new building in Paris housing the label’s archives, showrooms, VIP fitting rooms and a photo studio. In a gallery space to the side of the Maison’s grand staircase Judith Clark, the curator and Professor of Fashion and Museology at the London College of Fashion, conceived an intriguing installation showcasing highlights from the house’s historic archives. “I wanted to reimagine the archive as an interactive experience where visitors can discover elements of the house’s history as they move through the space,” says the curator of Maison Chloé, which will also host a year-round program of exhibitions and events showcasing the label’s 65-year history and the legacy of its founder, Gaby Aghion, who passed away at 93 in 2014.
Born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1921, she moved to Paris with her husband shortly after the end of the war in 1945 and soon became part of a growing bohemian circle, which gathered in Left Bank cafés. “I got the sense that she never forgot where she came from,” says the curator, noting that for Gaby, Egypt was a color that recalled the rose-tinted beige of the desert sand dunes of her youth, one that would eventually become part of the house’s signature logo. “Gaby was an intriguing combination of femininity, intelligence and humor. Although she wouldn’t have described herself as such, she was very much a feminist in a male centered arena where certain expectations were placed on women of her class,” observes Judith, recalling the day in 1952 when Gaby announced to her husband that she would launch her own label.
Initially approaching stores she shopped at with her samples, she had the audacity to insist they not replace her Chloé labels with their own, which was customary amongst boutiques at the time. Gaby’s dresses sold out immediately, fulfilling a desire amongst young women at the time for wearable well made clothes in fine fabrics that required minimal alteration and were an antidote to the stiff formality of haute couture. “One important aspect of Gaby’s history that isn’t often brought up is that she was essentially an outsider and a foreigner working within the French fashion establishment. That was also reflected in the freelance designers she hired, such as the German-born Karl Lagerfeld, who joined the Chloé studio in 1963,” observes the curator, noting that as outsiders they brought a fresh perspective to the brand, which was key to its success.
Karl would eventually become the house’s lead designer by 1966 under Gaby’s supervision, who edited his piles of sketches to select the most directional designs. By the early ‘70s their collaboration had transformed Chloé from a niche brand catering to the French intelligentsia into an international business. During this period, the house became famous for its vaporous chiffon dresses and softly tailored suits, which attracted a new clientele of well-heeled women from the Gulf as well as bold-faced names such as Jackie Kennedy, Brigitte Bardot and Grace Kelly. Karl went on to log a total of 25 years at Chloé in two separate stints, from 1963-1983 and 1992-1997. A longtime advocate of promoting women in the fashion industry, Gaby saw clearly that former Chloé designers such as Martine Sitbon, Stella McCartney and Phoebe Philo were the best candidates for the job. It is a legacy that lives on at the house today, which is poised for a fresh chapter under its new creative director Natacha Ramsay-Levi.
To celebrate Gaby Aghion’s legacy, Bazaar explores a new generation from the Middle East and its diaspora who are redefining the Chloé woman on their own terms.
Read the full interview in the July/August issue of Harper's Bazaar Arabia, available on iPad and in-store now.