Jean Patou commercial, L'Officiel de la Couture, 1958. © Jalou Gallery.

Fashion Failure? A Business History Approach to the Closure of the Couture House of Jean Patou (1987-2001)

​Jean Patou established his eponymous couture house in 1914 and managed it until his sudden death in 1936. Yet, the family-run house did not die with its founder: it was passed on to a second and then third generation. In the late 1980s, the house of Jean Patou experienced a second golden age when Christian Lacroix worked as the in-house designer from 1981 on. However, in February 1987, Christian Lacroix, together with his communication partner Jean-Jacques Picart, decided to establish his own couture house, supported by financier Bernard Arnaud and his company La Financière Agache. Bernard Arnault was then in the process of constituting his giant luxury conglomerate Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH). The house of Patou sued Lacroix, Picart, and Agache. Three years of trial started, which ended in 1990 with the success of the house of Patou, but Patou would not reopen.

The paper asks why a couture house that survived many changes in the fashion industry over seventy years as well as internal challenges ended its couture activity so abruptly in 1987.? Beyond circumstantial reasons, often advanced as the only explanation, both exogenous and endogenous factors will be considered, among them: political, conjectural, economic, cultural, stylistic, organizational, managerial, and gender-based aspects.

Talk given at the Graduate School of Economics at Osaka University.

April 21, 2016.