Gaby Aghion, a pioneering designer of luxury ready-to-wear and founder of the French fashion house Chloé, died at her Paris home on Saturday. She was 93.
Before Aghion founded Chloé in 1952–named after a friend, because she thought her own name sounded “like a fortune teller”–luxury ready-to-wear (pret-a-porter) barely existed. Paris fashion houses almost exclusively made haute couture–formal, made-to-measure clothing–which was out of budget for Aghion and her peers, who would resort to dressmaker knockoffs. Aghion’s concept for a line of luxury clothing that felt younger, more playful and carefree, was new at the time.
“A lot of things did not exist in France. Everything was yet to be invented, and this thrilled me,” she told Women’s Wear Daily in 2012. “I was carried away: It was like a tornado. I designed a small collection and decided to present it myself. I went to source the buttons, the fabrics. I was sticking my neck out.” Traveling around Paris with a suitcase, she sold samples of six summer cotton dresses she’d designed to several boutiques; they were an instant hit. Her designs were fresh, unabashedly feminine, and never without a sense of humor, with Art-Deco influence, graphic prints, and clever names (one dress was called Aubrey, for the whimsical English illustrator Aubrey Beardsley).
Aghion also had an eye for talent: In 1952, she discovered Karl Lagerfeld, who started out by selling her freelance designs, then became the house’s head designer from 1966 to 1983. He was succeeded by the likes of Stella McCartney, Phoebe Philo, Hannah MacGibbon, and current creative director Clare Waight Keller.