A designer’s reputation in the fashion industry is subject to the vicissitudes of fortune – reputations wax and wane, and a celebrated name can lapse into obscurity between one decade and the next. Sometimes a combination of longevity and the designer’s own ingenious self-publicity can ensure that a reputation flourishes and endures, even at the expense of others – Chanel, for example, while undoubtedly an innovative designer and businesswoman, also had a knack for shaping her own legend, and is today credited in some sources with everything from inventing the Little Black Dress to inspiring the entire look of the 1920s. The truth is rarely so simple – fashion of the 1920s had its roots in the first decade of the 20th century, and the changing silhouette had its source in the work of more than one designer.
At any given time I’m usually keeping an eye out for information on more than one fashion house. Research today is facilitated through many resources, and with the ongoing digitalisation and accessibility of records, progress can be made even sitting at a desk in our own homes. I keep folders on every named designer of the 1910s – 30s I can find, be they a Parisian couturier or a local dressmaking label, as one never knows when more information will turn up. Magazines like L’Officiel and Les Modes are illustrated with pages of creations by artists that were well known in their day, and yet have lapsed into comparative obscurity today. And while my research on Blanche Lebouvier has just started and is far from complete, I’m putting a few notes online in the hopes that others may contact me with more information.
The French publication of 1909 “La Ville lumière : anecdotes et documents historiques, ethnographiques, littéraires, artistiques, commerciaux et encyclopédiques” records the following background on Blanche Lebouvier (in my rather shaky transation!):
At number 3 [rue Auber] today we see the cute little place occupied by the house of Blanche Lebouvier. This atelier was founded in 1889 by Blanche Lebouvier, who settled at that time in the hotel she owned in Boudreau street and not the three stories we know now. The fashion house soon underwent a large development and was distinguished by the exquisite taste of her creations.
Soon, due to the increasing extension of business, Blanche Lebouvier did raised her three-story hotel and sales fairs, fittings and workshops now occupy the entire building. We see the most graceful evening toilet, sumptuous coats and charming little tailored suits with a special chic.
Blanche Lebouvier is proud to have the most aristocratic clientele and most refined, who appreciate the very original and very personal note in these delicious models.
It is rare to find create truly original things and not wane into banality. The vast variety of models is one of the characteristics Ms. Lebouvier ticks, which includes a lot of imagination and a very great art to satisfy its many customers, guaranteed to always find in her lovely creations the brand distinction of exquisite elegance and good taste. Women flock to salons. This nice little hotel in the Rue Auber, where to increase their seductiveness Mme Lebouvier combines so many pretty and gracious things.
Founded in 1889, by October 1898 American newspapers were writing that this “relative newcomer” was atop a “wave of success”, holding her position among the world’s leaders in dress design “through sheer merit and sustained effort”. Specialising at that time in afternoon gowns, it was stated that she was the most sought after private dress designer in Paris that season, and that the Grand Prix, Paris’ greatest fashion event, had been “a Lebouvier exposition”.
Her work was featured regularly in Les Modes throughout the 1920s and at least into the early 1930s, and we know that the Atelier was situated at 3 Rue Boudreau with a Marie Louise listed as Directrice, but information about her later years is elusive. This is an ongoing research project with further work to be done in sources like trade directories etc, and if anyone has more information I’d love to hear from them!