Designer Spotlight

LUCIEN LELONG, Grey-Blue Chiffon and Silk Wedding Dress, 1946

Mrs. Kay Boutin wore this long grey-blue chiffon wedding dress with full-gauged skirt, wide scoop neckline and chiffon bow for her wedding to Major Paul Boutin on May 29, 1946 in Paris, France.  Paul Boutin was a Major in the US Army and Mrs. Kay Boutin  was an Army Librarian with the special services. The Bride wore a white orchid in her hair, carried a bouquet of white orchids and wore long white kid gloves. The dress was made by Lucien Lelong, and this particular one was one of his designs post WWII.

This is the original Bill of Sale for the Delong wedding dress purchased on May 27, 1946, days before the wedding.

Lucien Lelong (October 11, 1889 – May 11, 1958) was a French couturier who was prominent from the 1920s to the 1940s.  He is most remembered for his heroic diplomatic efforts to sustain Parisian couture during World War II. He was elected as president of the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture in 1937, which would prove to be his greatest challenge and contribution to fashion.

As president of the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture, it was his job to negotiate with the occupying German regime. The Nazis wanted to move Paris fashion to Berlin by any means, including violence. On July 20, 1940 five Nazi officers arrived at the headquarters of the Chambre Syndicale on an ‘inspection’; five days later they broke into the building and requisitioned the archive and seize all of the  documents pertaining to the French export trade.

Lucien Lelong

Under the plan of the Nazis, Paris ateliers would be moved to Germany or Austria, where they would train a new generation of German dressmakers. The designers would also be moved. Within a generation, the Nazis expected, couture would be German, not French. Lelong pointed out that the plan was unworkable. The skills, he explained, were unteachable, that you could not transfer them, and it took decades to reach the necessary levels of craftsmanship.

This iconic photo of Lisa in a Lucien Lelong gown swinging precariously off the Eiffel Tower, was taken by Erwin Blumenfeld for Vogue 1939

By 1941 the Germans had issued textile ration cards to every design house. It was obvious that compliance with these regulations would spell the end of Paris couture. Lelong, through difficult negotiations, obtained exemptions for 12 houses. Lelong said, “Unfortunately the Germans noticed at the end of six months that 92 houses were operating, which led to more discussions. Finally we succeeded in keeping 60.” Madame Grés and Balenciaga both exceeded their yardage requirements one season and were ordered to close for two weeks. Banding together in a show of unity and force, the remaining houses finished the two collections so they could be shown on time.

Natalie Paley (Mrs. Lucien Lelong from 1927-1937) wearing a black sequined evening gown by Lelong, photo by Man Ray, 1934

Lelong is credited with saving over 12,000 workers from deportation into German war industries. Over the period of four years, 14 official conferences had been held with the Germans, at four of them the Germans had announced that la couture was to be entirely suppressed, and each time the French avoided catastrophe.

Lucien Lelong evening gown design illustrated by Rene Gruau, 1947

 Lelong employed many talented young designers and gave them the opportunity to grow professionally. Christian Dior, Pierre Balmain, Hubert de Givenchy, and Jean Schlumberger were all employed by Lelong at one time or another.

Lelong retired in 1948 and died a decade later near Biarritz. He showed a total of 110 collections during his career, and though closed his couture business, he continued a fragrance business which he had started in the 1924 and is still in existence today.

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