Fashion’s High Court

September 19, 2010 • Magazine

Fashion's High Court

Fashion's High Court

Tue, 2000-09-19 11:00

Bonnie J Brown

September, what a perfect month; it has the outdoor fun of summer without the sweltering heat so the al-fresco concerts, barbeques, festivals and farmers markets that have filled up the past two months are finally enjoyable without having to make frequent trips into an air-conditioned interior. In addition to the pleasant weather, September is also a month that brings two of my favorite things: the U.S. Open and New York Fashion Week. While I’m not lucky enough to actually attend either, my days are filled with reading articles on what’s happening in the sports’ and fashion industries alike. And no designer is better to highlight these much loved September events than Jean Patou, who not only made an impact in the fashion industry and the modern fashion show, but also changed the fashions in women’s tennis.

Jean Patou, a French designer during the early 1900s, began his career, as most during this era did, by opening a dress shop, Maison Perry. However, his career as a dressmaker was short-lived thanks to the German invasion during the First World War. At the end of World War I, Patou was able to reopen his shop and became popular thanks to his knitwear and women’s ready-to-wear sports apparel, which were sold in small and medium sizes. Patou also became popular by doing away with the flapper look; he lowered the hem and raised the waistline, however, Patou’s fashion-adversary, Coco Chanel, is often credited with this reversal of silhouettes.

Patou’s true recognition as a designer came from updating knitted swimwear and redesigning the tennis skirt/dress, which was worn by the tennis phenomenon of the 1930s, Suzanne Lenglen. Patou shorted the tennis skirt to be thigh-length and trimmed the sleeves to be what we now consider tank-top style, very risque. Patou’s reputation grew thanks to Lenglen’s own popularity and success. She was known to make quite a showing of tantrums on the tennis court, sip brandy on the sidelines, not to mention win both Wimbledon and the French Open six times each. In other words, she was the Serena Williams of the Jazz Age. In addition to dressing Lenglen, Patou was a forerunner to today’s celebrity fashion shows and often packed seats with famous personalities such as Mary Pickford and wealthy society ladies of the time.

While his success endured most of the 1920s and some of the 1930s, the Depression and the Second World War brought an end to his height of fashion success, yet, his line was able to continue thanks to the sales of his many perfumes. Joy, is actually the second most popular perfume ever sold, ranked just below Chanel No. 5. Patou continued to design clothing that exuded a casual elegance until his death in the mid-1930s. His fashion house did go on with other lead designers, the most famous being: Karl Lagerfeld, Jean Paul Gaultier and lastly Christian Lacroix.

1. Suzanne Lenglen in Jean Patou
2. Jean Patou 1922
3. Jean Patou 1931
4. Jean Patou 1937


Image Layout: Laura Funk

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