A worker adjusts an evening gown on a fashion model at Jean Patou, ca. 1938. © Private Archives.
La face cachée de la Lune : Les ateliers de couture de la maison Jean Patou dans l’entre-deux-guerres
The Far Side of the Moon: Couture Workshops at the House of Jean Patou in the Interwar Years
This article discusses the creation and production of haute couture collections at the house of Jean Patou. In particular, it unveils the tension between the personalisation of fashion in the figure of the couturier and the intrinsically collective nature of fashion labour. The organisation of couture workshops, where the new designs were elaborated, was strictly hierarchical. At the helm, the heads of workshops worked both as managers (chefs de service), dressers (essayeuses), and designers (modélistes). The creation process involved many actors, including Jean Patou himself whose specific role is reassessed in the present article. The apparent lack of changes in the designs ordered by both private and professional customers suggests that the house of Patou tried to standardise its creations. This fits into the broader picture of production rationalisation at Patou, which also entailed mechanising the workshops and optimising communication between different departments, both corollaries to the principles of scientific management being more widely implemented at the time. However, the supposed modernity of production lines at Patou was more discursive than operative : the process remained largely indebted to practices developed in the couture industry since the 19th century. Dependent on highly skilled workers, the house of Patou offered particularly attractive wages while imposing strict contractual obligations. Workers’ mobility across firms it contributed to the dynamism of Parisian haute couture industry as it disseminated successful artistic, technic and organisational legacies. Incidentally, the diffusion of best practices within the Patou company fostered its longevity after the death of the couturier in 1936.
Peer-reviewed article published in Apparence(s), 2017.