Immovable force: The survival of Parisian Haute Couture, 1940-1944

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French haute couture is an industry that has withstood the test of time. From its inception in 1858 at Charles Worth’s innovative and groundbreaking shop, haute couture has become the most highly respected and revered segment of the fashion industry for its intimate understanding of design and craftsmanship. Couture is characterized by exquisite fabrics and intricate hand sewing techniques used in unique and original made-to-order designs for private clientele. Couture, along with the vibrant spirit generated by the chic women in France, was almost extinguished as the Nazis infiltrated Paris in the summer of 1940. Throughout the occupation, Nazi officials continually attempted to collapse French industries or infiltrate them in a way that benefited their war effort. In a time where art and culture were overrun by occupying forces across Europe, it is essential to understand those things that were able to withstand the oppression. In discussing German foreign policies, art and cultural ideals, and strategic economic and political maneuvers in conjunction with the view of Parisian haute couture concerning national identity and culture, I aim to present a compelling argument for couture’s strength and longevity as well as its role as both a cultural and economic powerhouse. The distinct tradition of Paris’ role as the capital of fashion, the skilled workforce built and engrained into French industry as a result of this tradition, and Nazi conceptions of French civilization formulated from German ideas of Zivilsation and Kultur worked in harmony to empower Parisian couture to survive the oppression of the Nazi occupying forces. By placing fashion, ideologically led by the couture industry, as a central component of French cultural identity, I introduce new analysis of often-cited materials.

Couture, Culture, Dress, France, Nazi