Fashion House: What maketh a Maison?

Ever since talk about Rihanna and Mr Arnault having conversations came about, I’ve set google alerts for “Rihanna” and “LVMH”. TODAY MY ALERTS WERE OFF THE HOOK.

FENTY: Rihanna and LVMH Partnership resulted in a luxury Maison.

Rihanna X Dior

From this BOF article, Fenty Maison will be a ready-to-wear line with accessories. It’ll be a Maison from scratch. LVMH has done one such partnership in the past: Christian Lacroix.

I am personally psyched to see how this develops primarily because I will be able to see a luxury fashion brand develop from the ground up, especially during a time where there are documentation, transparency and inclusivity of the customer. Not a lot of us had the opportunity to live through the days or the access when Balenciaga, Dior and Channel were building their brand. FENTY won’t be an haute couture house, however, LVMH says it is a Maison.

What is a Maison?

Referencing the legends and acknowledging that there will be a new Maison in town, made me question; What makes a Maison? Is any fashion business a Maison?

Maison (n)
1. "a house," 1570s, from French maison "house" (11c.), from Latin mansionem (see mansion).
2.  (Business) (= entreprise) firm

So a Maison de Mode is a Fashion House or Fashion Firm. There are many ways to dissect this. For this article; I’m going to look at key identifiers of a Maison. Let’s go back to an era that defined modern-day Maisons. How did Dior‘s Maison differ from Balenciaga’s?

No. 1 Maison Trademark: Cuts, Lines and Silhouettes

Designs from both Maisons were visually distinct. In response to the utilitarianism of WW1, Balenciaga and Dior were able to interpret the thirst for an anti-utilitarian aesthetic into the two distinct silhouettes below. Both silhouettes emerged in the lates forties, only to be perfected and fawned after as the silhouette developed through the fifties.

Christian Dior

Christian Dior changed the French fashion landscape, quenching the thirst for femininity and glamour. Known as ‘The New Look’; identified by a corseted waist and a full hip, Dior introduced the ‘Wasp’ Silhouette. The silhouette was revolutionary. Dior altered his existing Stockmann mannequin with a hammer to achieve this new silhouette.

Christobal Balenciaga

Through the ‘Cocoon’ Silhouette, Balenciaga redefined women’s femininity and shape. Freeing the waist, focusing on broader shoulders, driven by functionality; the Maestro of Couture, gave women an alternative to Dior’s New Look. Balenciaga’s signature silhouette would continue to undergo various evolutions as the designer experimented with different ways to interpret the liberation of the female form.

These visions of beauty came to define the respective houses. Pioneering new silhouettes also meant finding new ways to turn a roll of fabric into the dresses that have become such icons.

No 2. Maison Trademark: Fabrication as a Trade Secret

Inside a Maison

Fashion houses were defined not only by their unique aesthetics but also by the quality of tailoring or dressmaking and technique. As these fashion houses developed new silhouettes this also meant they had to develop new methods to achieve said silhouettes. The level of innovation required to materialise a sketch of a dress became synonymous with the fashion house and a testament of their craftsmanship. This process was their intellectual property; a trade secret each house would keep close.

Dior and I

Each house had its own touch.

Today, these iconic dresses are documented in museums and fashion films, X-rayed and studied. I dare say, you could hand each fashion house the same sketch and the construction of each garment would differ from the next.

Christian Dior’s Scallop Seams Detail

Looking ahead

So a Maison is strongly defined by its signature silhouette; Cristobal’s Cocoon silhouette and Christian Dior’s Wasp body. What silhouette can we expect from the FENTY Maison? Body con? Straight lines? I can’t wait to see it.

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