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The Rise of The Great Fashion Houses

Jun 24, 2022
Arts & Culture
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21
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The 20th century saw the creation of world-famous luxury fashion houses.

In this episode, we'll explore the stories of Chanel, Dior, Gucci and Versace, and look at how they changed what we wear.

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about The Rise of the Great Fashion Houses.

[00:00:28] This is actually part two of a three-part series on Fashion. 

[00:00:33] Part one was on some of the historical curiosities of fashion, where we looked at how changes in society have led to changes in fashion over the years.

[00:00:43] And part three is going to be on the rise of fast fashion, of modern cheap, disposable, fashion, where we’ll look at how this is impacting society, impacting fashion, and impacting the environment.

[00:00:57] OK then, The Rise of the Great Fashion Houses.

[00:01:03] In this episode we’ll focus on four fashion houses in particular: 

[00:01:08] Chanel Gucci, Dior and Versace. 

[00:01:11] They all, in their own different ways, have left a mark on the world of fashion, and are some of the most valuable and desirable brands in the world.

[00:01:22] As you may know, Dior and Chanel are French, while Gucci and Versace are Italian.

[00:01:28] And France and Italy are two countries that are intrinsically linked with fashion, with high quality clothes and people dressing well.

[00:01:37] One country that isn’t always associated with great fashion sense is the country I’m from, England.

[00:01:46] So it might surprise you to find out that the person most commonly credited as being the world’s first fashion designer was, in fact, an Englishman.

[00:01:58] His name was Charles Frederick Worth, and he established what’s believed to be the first fashion house, the House of Worth, in 1858. 

[00:02:09] OK, there was a French connection, he lived, worked, and was no doubt inspired, in Paris, but he was born in the English market town of Bourne, in central England, which is, I should add, not considered to be a world fashion capital.

[00:02:27] Worth’s innovation was to allow his clients to choose the colours, cloth, and style of the dress before work started on it. 

[00:02:37] He was also the first person to attach a label inside the finished pieces of clothing, putting his mark on the item.

[00:02:47] If this doesn’t sound particularly innovative or new to you, it’s important to remember how people chose clothes for the majority of history. 

[00:02:58] If you were rich, you would have someone who would take your measurements and make your clothes to measure. If you were very rich, if you were Marie Antoinette for example, you might have a personal dressmaker, someone whose entire job was to make your dresses.

[00:03:17] If you were not rich, you would probably make your clothes yourself from bought cloth, or someone in your household would do it for you.

[00:03:26] There simply wasn’t the concept of pre-made clothes. This only really existed for military uniforms, where everyone had to wear the same thing, the clothes were male, and being the perfect fit wasn’t of great importance.

[00:03:42] I imagine that you are wearing pre-made clothes now - you went to a shop, found a t-shirt and a pair of trousers that fitted you, and you bought them. 

[00:03:53] That “off the peg” style only really started in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

[00:04:00] But we’re not talking about “off the peg” fashion now, we’re talking about something much more glamorous.

[00:04:07] And there are few women more associated with glamour than the creator of our first fashion house, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel.

[00:04:17] The great fashion house Chanel was founded in 1910 and, coming as it did at the start of the 20th century, and led by its eponymous founder, Coco Chanel, it signalled a break with the complex, over-engineered and oppressive women‘s fashion of the previous century. 

[00:04:37] Out with corsets and frills

[00:04:40] In with fluid, stylish and boy-like or androgynous shapes. 

[00:04:46] Think of the wide-legged, pyjama-style trousers and simple striped tops in the style of fisherman from Brittany in the north of France that became fashionable in the 1920s. 

[00:04:59] The philosophy was, as Coco Chanel put it, “Nothing is more beautiful than freedom of the body.”

[00:05:07] Her revolutionary designs became emblems of female emancipation, but of a particularly stylish or chic kind. 

[00:05:16] Coming after a world war when women had needed to do many of the jobs previously done by men, the fashion reflected female aspiration and lifestyle. 

[00:05:28] Beginning with a small shop or – to use the French word borrowed into English – boutique in Deauville, Normandy in northern France, Coco Chanel branched out also into costume jewellery, famously saying that the point of jewellery “isn’t to make a woman look rich but to adorn her–not the same thing.” 

[00:05:52] Adorn means to make something more beautiful. 

[00:05:56] It’s an important statement, as historically the point of jewellery had been precisely to show off how rich you were.

[00:06:04] Coco Chanel‘s nautical look spread: those iconic Breton tops were favoured and therefore popularised by such world-famous figures as Pablo Picasso and became one of the characteristic styles we associate with brand of Chanel. 

[00:06:22] Another was something that became called the Little Black Dress. 

[00:06:27] If you can’t picture this “little black dress”, it’s simply a loose fitting black dress. 

[00:06:34] It might not sound revolutionary to you now, especially as if you were to go to Paris you’d probably find a large percentage of the population wearing black, but at the time black was reserved for funerals, and it certainly wasn’t a colour worn by stylish women, who would typically wear bright colours. 

[00:06:56] Chanel changed all that, and by creating this small but elegant black dress, she gave women a stylish option, adding that it allowed any woman to “walk around like a millionaire”, and with it she pushed forward a fashion revolution. 

[00:07:14] Further iconic Chanel creations included the so-called Chanel suit. 

[00:07:20] As well as reflecting the increasing part that women were starting to play in public life, this two-piece suit was inspired by menswear and, in particular, sportswear. 

[00:07:33] There is an interesting additional factor to this creation. The richest man in Britain, the Duke of Westminster was Coco Chanel’s lover at the time. 

[00:07:44] She observed his no doubt splendid and huge wardrobe or sets of clothes. 

[00:07:50] It was not just the cut, the style of his jackets, but also the material that was used that caught her eye

[00:07:59] This was something called tweed, a rough outdoor cloth woven in the western highlands of Scotland and not previously thought to be suitable material for the finest, haute couture, clothes. 

[00:08:13] Chanel would go on to make tweed an integral part of the design of her two-piece suit jacket. 

[00:08:20] Such stars as Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Brigitte Bardot and Princess Diana would wear it, all adding to the fame and desirability not just of the Chanel Suit, but of everything Chanel would create.

[00:08:34] And, over 110 years after the first Chanel boutique was opened, Chanel is a multibillion dollar brand and as desirable as ever.

[00:08:44] Now, for our next stop we need to go east and south to Italy and, more specifically, to Florence. 

[00:08:53] It was here that a man called Guccio Gucci opened his first shop in 1921. 

[00:08:59] As a young man, Gucci had worked as a porter at the luxurious Savoy Hotel in London where he observed the luggage of the wealthy. 

[00:09:10] Gucci’s background was in the family business, which made luggage, suitcases and so on, as well as equipment for horse riders.

[00:09:20] Soon, Guccio Gucci, helped by his three sons, was branching out

[00:09:27] Interestingly, it was an embargo or set of sanctions imposed upon Italy by the League of Nations in 1935 because of Italy’s invasion of Abyssinia–or Ethiopia, as it’s called today–it was this that forced an important innovation for Gucci. 

[00:09:46] The sanctions led to a shortage of leather, so Gucci had to start using fabrics, which he used to his advantage.

[00:09:56] Gucci wanted a way to make his bags more distinctive, more recognisable and because you can easily print on fabrics, Gucci created what would become his signature interlocking diamond symbol, which was stamped onto every bag, making it instantly recognisable.

[00:10:15] Shops proliferated or grew fast. 

[00:10:19] In the post-war period, Gucci shops opened all across Europe, then New York, Tokyo, and Hong Hong Kong, and there are now around 500 Gucci stores worldwide.

[00:10:31] Perhaps the most significant boost to the fortunes of Gucci came in 1990 when the previously unknown but brilliant young designer Tom Ford joined the company. 

[00:10:43] When he became Creative Director in 1994, his influence was massive. 

[00:10:48] In 1995, his famous Fall 95 collection marked a lucrative new period for the company. 

[00:10:56] Such stars as Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Lopez and Madonna were photographed on the famous red carpet wearing Gucci. 

[00:11:04] An important additional factor behind the company's success was, perhaps counterintuitively, the decreasing influence of the Gucci family. 

[00:11:15] This process began in 1989 when an American holdings company, called Investcorp, bought almost half of the company‘s shares. 

[00:11:25] In 1993 Maurizio Gucci, the grandson of the founder, Guccio Gucci, sold his shares to Investcorp, meaning that the Gucci family no longer controlled the Gucci brand. 

[00:11:39] At this point, I need to introduce the rather gruesome but colourful and intriguing topic of the troubled Gucci family history and the murder of Maurizio, Guccio’s grandson, in 1995. 

[00:11:53] If you have seen the film, House of Gucci, you will be familiar with all of this. 

[00:11:59] In short, Maurizio was murdered by a paid assassin or hitman, in Milan as he was about to go into the company's offices. 

[00:12:09] The hitman shot him three times in the back and shoulder and then finally in the head. 

[00:12:15] Sensationally, the person found guilty of ordering and paying for his murder was Maurizio’s former wife Patrizia. 

[00:12:25] She ended up serving 18 years in prison, and was released in 2016. 

[00:12:31] She was actually offered the opportunity to be freed 5 years earlier, in 2011 under the condition that she found some sort of work, but she refused, declaring "I've never worked a day in my life, and I'm certainly not going to start now". 

[00:12:48] Now, it is back to France for our third fashion house, and it’s here that we’ll meet a man who went from extreme wealth to extreme poverty, and then back again. 

[00:12:59] It’s Christian Dior.

[00:13:01] Christian Dior’s eponymous fashion house, Dior, was created in 1946, right at the end of the Second World War.

[00:13:10] It was both the best and the worst time to be launching a luxury fashion house. 

[00:13:16] Paris had been occupied by the Nazis from June 1940 until August 1944. Europe was just recovering from the most catastrophic war in its history, clothing was rationed, and there wasn’t much money going around to spend on beautiful clothes. 

[00:13:34] Paris might have been a cultural centre for style and fashion at the start of the 20th century, but the city was a shadow of its former self.

[00:13:45] But Christian Dior sensed an opportunity. 

[00:13:48] He had come from a family that was rich–his family owned a wealthy fertiliser company–but then had lost it all after the Great Depression. 

[00:13:58] Dior did his apprenticeship, he cut his teeth, with designers such as Robert Piguet and Lucien Lelong, where he was forced to design clothes for the wives of Nazi officers.

[00:14:11] And in 1946, after Paris was free from the Nazis, he set out on his own

[00:14:19] Now, let’s remember that women’s clothes during the second world war had been focussed on practicality

[00:14:27] Given the rationing, it was all about making the most with what you had, and not wasting anything.

[00:14:34] Dior took this idea and threw it out of the window, he got rid of it completely. 

[00:14:41] He wanted a return to the glamour of the past, wanting women who wore his clothes to feel that they were wearing something luxurious, over the top, and fabulous. 

[00:14:51] He designed flowery dresses, the complete opposite of the drab, brown and grey wartime uniforms.

[00:14:59] This was, for the time, radical, but it set Dior on the path to success, and by the late 1940s Christian Dior was responsible for 75% of Paris’ fashion exports and a whopping 5% of France’s total exports.

[00:15:19] His style was seized upon by critics and customers alike, with the editor of the famous American magazine, Harper’s Bazaar, saying “This is a new look”.

[00:15:31] It certainly was a new look, but Dior wouldn’t live long enough to see it for any real length of time. 

[00:15:38] In 1957, just 11 years after he started his fashion house, he was dead, after suffering a heart attack at the age of 52.

[00:15:49] Luckily he had already appointed a successor, a man he hired when he was only 19 years old. 

[00:15:55] The man’s name was Yves Saint Laurent, but Yves Saint Laurent's tenure at Dior wouldn’t actually last very long. 

[00:16:02] He was out by 1960, just 3 years after Christian Dior’s death.

[00:16:08] But, as you’ll no doubt know, this wouldn’t be the end of the road for Yves Saint Laurent, and he went on to launch his own incredibly successful fashion house.

[00:16:18] And as for Dior, it is another global powerhouse, and is now controlled by LVMH, the huge corporation that includes brands such as Moët & Chandon, Hennesy, Louis Vuitton, and Bulgari.

[00:16:34] Now, on to our final fashion house, Versace, or as it should be pronounced, Versace.

[00:16:41] If you say the word Versace to anyone, they will certainly think immediately of luxurious and very expensive items. 

[00:16:49] They may well call to mind Versace‘s famous symbol, the head of Medusa. 

[00:16:55] As you may know, Medusa is a mythological figure, a beautiful woman with snakes for hair, who had the ability to mesmerise people and make men fall in love with her. 

[00:17:08] The Italian founder of Versace, Gianni Versace, said that he chose this emblem because he hoped that people would fall in love with the brand and have no way of going back. 

[00:17:21] The Versace story begins later than that of Chanel, Gucci, or Dior, when in 1978 Gianni Versace founded his first boutique in Milan. 

[00:17:34] Soon known for his innovative designs, with their flashy prints and bright but stylish colours, the company’s rise was swift

[00:17:43] Like Chanel, Gucci and Dior, he expanded into other areas, but clothing was always central.

[00:17:51] His perhaps unique approach was to always make sure that his clothes were worn by the up and coming celebrities of the day, meaning his creations would always be in the news. 

[00:18:03] Gianni Versace was both a friend and a clothes supplier to such iconic stars as Elton John, Michael Jackson, and Princess Diana.

[00:18:13] He was also credited with creating the phenomenon of the supermodel, frequently photographed with names such as Naomi Campbell and Claudia Schiffer, and making sure that the most glamorous models of the day were pictured wearing clothes he had designed.

[00:18:30] As with the tale of Gucci, there is a grim and tragic end to the story of Gianni Versace. This was his senseless murder on the steps of his Florida mansion in July 1997. 

[00:18:44] But unlike with Gucci, there was no evil wife.

[00:18:48] He was the fourth victim of a serial killer called Andrew Cunanan, who was found dead by his own hand within weeks of Gianni’s murder. 

[00:18:57] So, there we go. In brief, the stories of four of the most powerful and important fashion houses in the world, and five if we include our perhaps unlikely Englishman at the start.

[00:19:10] It goes without saying that, although the target audience for these great fashion houses might be people who are willing to spend hundreds if not thousands of Euros on one item of clothing, the trickle-down effect that they have had on what we all wear has been immense.

[00:19:27] First and foremost, these designers were artists, and the human body was their canvas

[00:19:34] Sure, the clothes they made might have been incredibly expensive, but as Aldo Gucci famously once said, “quality is remembered long after the price is forgotten”.

[00:19:48] OK then, that is it for today's episode on The Rise of the Great Fashion Houses. 

[00:19:54] I hope it's been an interesting one, and no matter whether you are the sort of person who only wears Versace or you've never stepped into one of these shops in your life, well I hope you've learnt something new.

[00:20:06] As a reminder, this is part two of our three part series on Fashion. 

[00:20:11] Part one was on the curiosities of fashion, where we looked at some unusual fashions through the ages, and the reasons that fashions change, and next up, in part three, we’ll look at the world of fast fashion.

[00:20:24] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:20:28] What other fashion designers have had a similar or even greater influence than the four I mentioned?

[00:20:35] Who do you think had the most interesting life?

[00:20:37] Whose influence was the most important? 

[00:20:40] And, if you are the sort of person who is really into designer clothes, if you could only pick one of the four, who would it be and why?

[00:20:49] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:20:57] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:21:02] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode

[END OF EPISODE]

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about The Rise of the Great Fashion Houses.

[00:00:28] This is actually part two of a three-part series on Fashion. 

[00:00:33] Part one was on some of the historical curiosities of fashion, where we looked at how changes in society have led to changes in fashion over the years.

[00:00:43] And part three is going to be on the rise of fast fashion, of modern cheap, disposable, fashion, where we’ll look at how this is impacting society, impacting fashion, and impacting the environment.

[00:00:57] OK then, The Rise of the Great Fashion Houses.

[00:01:03] In this episode we’ll focus on four fashion houses in particular: 

[00:01:08] Chanel Gucci, Dior and Versace. 

[00:01:11] They all, in their own different ways, have left a mark on the world of fashion, and are some of the most valuable and desirable brands in the world.

[00:01:22] As you may know, Dior and Chanel are French, while Gucci and Versace are Italian.

[00:01:28] And France and Italy are two countries that are intrinsically linked with fashion, with high quality clothes and people dressing well.

[00:01:37] One country that isn’t always associated with great fashion sense is the country I’m from, England.

[00:01:46] So it might surprise you to find out that the person most commonly credited as being the world’s first fashion designer was, in fact, an Englishman.

[00:01:58] His name was Charles Frederick Worth, and he established what’s believed to be the first fashion house, the House of Worth, in 1858. 

[00:02:09] OK, there was a French connection, he lived, worked, and was no doubt inspired, in Paris, but he was born in the English market town of Bourne, in central England, which is, I should add, not considered to be a world fashion capital.

[00:02:27] Worth’s innovation was to allow his clients to choose the colours, cloth, and style of the dress before work started on it. 

[00:02:37] He was also the first person to attach a label inside the finished pieces of clothing, putting his mark on the item.

[00:02:47] If this doesn’t sound particularly innovative or new to you, it’s important to remember how people chose clothes for the majority of history. 

[00:02:58] If you were rich, you would have someone who would take your measurements and make your clothes to measure. If you were very rich, if you were Marie Antoinette for example, you might have a personal dressmaker, someone whose entire job was to make your dresses.

[00:03:17] If you were not rich, you would probably make your clothes yourself from bought cloth, or someone in your household would do it for you.

[00:03:26] There simply wasn’t the concept of pre-made clothes. This only really existed for military uniforms, where everyone had to wear the same thing, the clothes were male, and being the perfect fit wasn’t of great importance.

[00:03:42] I imagine that you are wearing pre-made clothes now - you went to a shop, found a t-shirt and a pair of trousers that fitted you, and you bought them. 

[00:03:53] That “off the peg” style only really started in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

[00:04:00] But we’re not talking about “off the peg” fashion now, we’re talking about something much more glamorous.

[00:04:07] And there are few women more associated with glamour than the creator of our first fashion house, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel.

[00:04:17] The great fashion house Chanel was founded in 1910 and, coming as it did at the start of the 20th century, and led by its eponymous founder, Coco Chanel, it signalled a break with the complex, over-engineered and oppressive women‘s fashion of the previous century. 

[00:04:37] Out with corsets and frills

[00:04:40] In with fluid, stylish and boy-like or androgynous shapes. 

[00:04:46] Think of the wide-legged, pyjama-style trousers and simple striped tops in the style of fisherman from Brittany in the north of France that became fashionable in the 1920s. 

[00:04:59] The philosophy was, as Coco Chanel put it, “Nothing is more beautiful than freedom of the body.”

[00:05:07] Her revolutionary designs became emblems of female emancipation, but of a particularly stylish or chic kind. 

[00:05:16] Coming after a world war when women had needed to do many of the jobs previously done by men, the fashion reflected female aspiration and lifestyle. 

[00:05:28] Beginning with a small shop or – to use the French word borrowed into English – boutique in Deauville, Normandy in northern France, Coco Chanel branched out also into costume jewellery, famously saying that the point of jewellery “isn’t to make a woman look rich but to adorn her–not the same thing.” 

[00:05:52] Adorn means to make something more beautiful. 

[00:05:56] It’s an important statement, as historically the point of jewellery had been precisely to show off how rich you were.

[00:06:04] Coco Chanel‘s nautical look spread: those iconic Breton tops were favoured and therefore popularised by such world-famous figures as Pablo Picasso and became one of the characteristic styles we associate with brand of Chanel. 

[00:06:22] Another was something that became called the Little Black Dress. 

[00:06:27] If you can’t picture this “little black dress”, it’s simply a loose fitting black dress. 

[00:06:34] It might not sound revolutionary to you now, especially as if you were to go to Paris you’d probably find a large percentage of the population wearing black, but at the time black was reserved for funerals, and it certainly wasn’t a colour worn by stylish women, who would typically wear bright colours. 

[00:06:56] Chanel changed all that, and by creating this small but elegant black dress, she gave women a stylish option, adding that it allowed any woman to “walk around like a millionaire”, and with it she pushed forward a fashion revolution. 

[00:07:14] Further iconic Chanel creations included the so-called Chanel suit. 

[00:07:20] As well as reflecting the increasing part that women were starting to play in public life, this two-piece suit was inspired by menswear and, in particular, sportswear. 

[00:07:33] There is an interesting additional factor to this creation. The richest man in Britain, the Duke of Westminster was Coco Chanel’s lover at the time. 

[00:07:44] She observed his no doubt splendid and huge wardrobe or sets of clothes. 

[00:07:50] It was not just the cut, the style of his jackets, but also the material that was used that caught her eye

[00:07:59] This was something called tweed, a rough outdoor cloth woven in the western highlands of Scotland and not previously thought to be suitable material for the finest, haute couture, clothes. 

[00:08:13] Chanel would go on to make tweed an integral part of the design of her two-piece suit jacket. 

[00:08:20] Such stars as Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Brigitte Bardot and Princess Diana would wear it, all adding to the fame and desirability not just of the Chanel Suit, but of everything Chanel would create.

[00:08:34] And, over 110 years after the first Chanel boutique was opened, Chanel is a multibillion dollar brand and as desirable as ever.

[00:08:44] Now, for our next stop we need to go east and south to Italy and, more specifically, to Florence. 

[00:08:53] It was here that a man called Guccio Gucci opened his first shop in 1921. 

[00:08:59] As a young man, Gucci had worked as a porter at the luxurious Savoy Hotel in London where he observed the luggage of the wealthy. 

[00:09:10] Gucci’s background was in the family business, which made luggage, suitcases and so on, as well as equipment for horse riders.

[00:09:20] Soon, Guccio Gucci, helped by his three sons, was branching out

[00:09:27] Interestingly, it was an embargo or set of sanctions imposed upon Italy by the League of Nations in 1935 because of Italy’s invasion of Abyssinia–or Ethiopia, as it’s called today–it was this that forced an important innovation for Gucci. 

[00:09:46] The sanctions led to a shortage of leather, so Gucci had to start using fabrics, which he used to his advantage.

[00:09:56] Gucci wanted a way to make his bags more distinctive, more recognisable and because you can easily print on fabrics, Gucci created what would become his signature interlocking diamond symbol, which was stamped onto every bag, making it instantly recognisable.

[00:10:15] Shops proliferated or grew fast. 

[00:10:19] In the post-war period, Gucci shops opened all across Europe, then New York, Tokyo, and Hong Hong Kong, and there are now around 500 Gucci stores worldwide.

[00:10:31] Perhaps the most significant boost to the fortunes of Gucci came in 1990 when the previously unknown but brilliant young designer Tom Ford joined the company. 

[00:10:43] When he became Creative Director in 1994, his influence was massive. 

[00:10:48] In 1995, his famous Fall 95 collection marked a lucrative new period for the company. 

[00:10:56] Such stars as Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Lopez and Madonna were photographed on the famous red carpet wearing Gucci. 

[00:11:04] An important additional factor behind the company's success was, perhaps counterintuitively, the decreasing influence of the Gucci family. 

[00:11:15] This process began in 1989 when an American holdings company, called Investcorp, bought almost half of the company‘s shares. 

[00:11:25] In 1993 Maurizio Gucci, the grandson of the founder, Guccio Gucci, sold his shares to Investcorp, meaning that the Gucci family no longer controlled the Gucci brand. 

[00:11:39] At this point, I need to introduce the rather gruesome but colourful and intriguing topic of the troubled Gucci family history and the murder of Maurizio, Guccio’s grandson, in 1995. 

[00:11:53] If you have seen the film, House of Gucci, you will be familiar with all of this. 

[00:11:59] In short, Maurizio was murdered by a paid assassin or hitman, in Milan as he was about to go into the company's offices. 

[00:12:09] The hitman shot him three times in the back and shoulder and then finally in the head. 

[00:12:15] Sensationally, the person found guilty of ordering and paying for his murder was Maurizio’s former wife Patrizia. 

[00:12:25] She ended up serving 18 years in prison, and was released in 2016. 

[00:12:31] She was actually offered the opportunity to be freed 5 years earlier, in 2011 under the condition that she found some sort of work, but she refused, declaring "I've never worked a day in my life, and I'm certainly not going to start now". 

[00:12:48] Now, it is back to France for our third fashion house, and it’s here that we’ll meet a man who went from extreme wealth to extreme poverty, and then back again. 

[00:12:59] It’s Christian Dior.

[00:13:01] Christian Dior’s eponymous fashion house, Dior, was created in 1946, right at the end of the Second World War.

[00:13:10] It was both the best and the worst time to be launching a luxury fashion house. 

[00:13:16] Paris had been occupied by the Nazis from June 1940 until August 1944. Europe was just recovering from the most catastrophic war in its history, clothing was rationed, and there wasn’t much money going around to spend on beautiful clothes. 

[00:13:34] Paris might have been a cultural centre for style and fashion at the start of the 20th century, but the city was a shadow of its former self.

[00:13:45] But Christian Dior sensed an opportunity. 

[00:13:48] He had come from a family that was rich–his family owned a wealthy fertiliser company–but then had lost it all after the Great Depression. 

[00:13:58] Dior did his apprenticeship, he cut his teeth, with designers such as Robert Piguet and Lucien Lelong, where he was forced to design clothes for the wives of Nazi officers.

[00:14:11] And in 1946, after Paris was free from the Nazis, he set out on his own

[00:14:19] Now, let’s remember that women’s clothes during the second world war had been focussed on practicality

[00:14:27] Given the rationing, it was all about making the most with what you had, and not wasting anything.

[00:14:34] Dior took this idea and threw it out of the window, he got rid of it completely. 

[00:14:41] He wanted a return to the glamour of the past, wanting women who wore his clothes to feel that they were wearing something luxurious, over the top, and fabulous. 

[00:14:51] He designed flowery dresses, the complete opposite of the drab, brown and grey wartime uniforms.

[00:14:59] This was, for the time, radical, but it set Dior on the path to success, and by the late 1940s Christian Dior was responsible for 75% of Paris’ fashion exports and a whopping 5% of France’s total exports.

[00:15:19] His style was seized upon by critics and customers alike, with the editor of the famous American magazine, Harper’s Bazaar, saying “This is a new look”.

[00:15:31] It certainly was a new look, but Dior wouldn’t live long enough to see it for any real length of time. 

[00:15:38] In 1957, just 11 years after he started his fashion house, he was dead, after suffering a heart attack at the age of 52.

[00:15:49] Luckily he had already appointed a successor, a man he hired when he was only 19 years old. 

[00:15:55] The man’s name was Yves Saint Laurent, but Yves Saint Laurent's tenure at Dior wouldn’t actually last very long. 

[00:16:02] He was out by 1960, just 3 years after Christian Dior’s death.

[00:16:08] But, as you’ll no doubt know, this wouldn’t be the end of the road for Yves Saint Laurent, and he went on to launch his own incredibly successful fashion house.

[00:16:18] And as for Dior, it is another global powerhouse, and is now controlled by LVMH, the huge corporation that includes brands such as Moët & Chandon, Hennesy, Louis Vuitton, and Bulgari.

[00:16:34] Now, on to our final fashion house, Versace, or as it should be pronounced, Versace.

[00:16:41] If you say the word Versace to anyone, they will certainly think immediately of luxurious and very expensive items. 

[00:16:49] They may well call to mind Versace‘s famous symbol, the head of Medusa. 

[00:16:55] As you may know, Medusa is a mythological figure, a beautiful woman with snakes for hair, who had the ability to mesmerise people and make men fall in love with her. 

[00:17:08] The Italian founder of Versace, Gianni Versace, said that he chose this emblem because he hoped that people would fall in love with the brand and have no way of going back. 

[00:17:21] The Versace story begins later than that of Chanel, Gucci, or Dior, when in 1978 Gianni Versace founded his first boutique in Milan. 

[00:17:34] Soon known for his innovative designs, with their flashy prints and bright but stylish colours, the company’s rise was swift

[00:17:43] Like Chanel, Gucci and Dior, he expanded into other areas, but clothing was always central.

[00:17:51] His perhaps unique approach was to always make sure that his clothes were worn by the up and coming celebrities of the day, meaning his creations would always be in the news. 

[00:18:03] Gianni Versace was both a friend and a clothes supplier to such iconic stars as Elton John, Michael Jackson, and Princess Diana.

[00:18:13] He was also credited with creating the phenomenon of the supermodel, frequently photographed with names such as Naomi Campbell and Claudia Schiffer, and making sure that the most glamorous models of the day were pictured wearing clothes he had designed.

[00:18:30] As with the tale of Gucci, there is a grim and tragic end to the story of Gianni Versace. This was his senseless murder on the steps of his Florida mansion in July 1997. 

[00:18:44] But unlike with Gucci, there was no evil wife.

[00:18:48] He was the fourth victim of a serial killer called Andrew Cunanan, who was found dead by his own hand within weeks of Gianni’s murder. 

[00:18:57] So, there we go. In brief, the stories of four of the most powerful and important fashion houses in the world, and five if we include our perhaps unlikely Englishman at the start.

[00:19:10] It goes without saying that, although the target audience for these great fashion houses might be people who are willing to spend hundreds if not thousands of Euros on one item of clothing, the trickle-down effect that they have had on what we all wear has been immense.

[00:19:27] First and foremost, these designers were artists, and the human body was their canvas

[00:19:34] Sure, the clothes they made might have been incredibly expensive, but as Aldo Gucci famously once said, “quality is remembered long after the price is forgotten”.

[00:19:48] OK then, that is it for today's episode on The Rise of the Great Fashion Houses. 

[00:19:54] I hope it's been an interesting one, and no matter whether you are the sort of person who only wears Versace or you've never stepped into one of these shops in your life, well I hope you've learnt something new.

[00:20:06] As a reminder, this is part two of our three part series on Fashion. 

[00:20:11] Part one was on the curiosities of fashion, where we looked at some unusual fashions through the ages, and the reasons that fashions change, and next up, in part three, we’ll look at the world of fast fashion.

[00:20:24] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:20:28] What other fashion designers have had a similar or even greater influence than the four I mentioned?

[00:20:35] Who do you think had the most interesting life?

[00:20:37] Whose influence was the most important? 

[00:20:40] And, if you are the sort of person who is really into designer clothes, if you could only pick one of the four, who would it be and why?

[00:20:49] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:20:57] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:21:02] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode

[END OF EPISODE]

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about The Rise of the Great Fashion Houses.

[00:00:28] This is actually part two of a three-part series on Fashion. 

[00:00:33] Part one was on some of the historical curiosities of fashion, where we looked at how changes in society have led to changes in fashion over the years.

[00:00:43] And part three is going to be on the rise of fast fashion, of modern cheap, disposable, fashion, where we’ll look at how this is impacting society, impacting fashion, and impacting the environment.

[00:00:57] OK then, The Rise of the Great Fashion Houses.

[00:01:03] In this episode we’ll focus on four fashion houses in particular: 

[00:01:08] Chanel Gucci, Dior and Versace. 

[00:01:11] They all, in their own different ways, have left a mark on the world of fashion, and are some of the most valuable and desirable brands in the world.

[00:01:22] As you may know, Dior and Chanel are French, while Gucci and Versace are Italian.

[00:01:28] And France and Italy are two countries that are intrinsically linked with fashion, with high quality clothes and people dressing well.

[00:01:37] One country that isn’t always associated with great fashion sense is the country I’m from, England.

[00:01:46] So it might surprise you to find out that the person most commonly credited as being the world’s first fashion designer was, in fact, an Englishman.

[00:01:58] His name was Charles Frederick Worth, and he established what’s believed to be the first fashion house, the House of Worth, in 1858. 

[00:02:09] OK, there was a French connection, he lived, worked, and was no doubt inspired, in Paris, but he was born in the English market town of Bourne, in central England, which is, I should add, not considered to be a world fashion capital.

[00:02:27] Worth’s innovation was to allow his clients to choose the colours, cloth, and style of the dress before work started on it. 

[00:02:37] He was also the first person to attach a label inside the finished pieces of clothing, putting his mark on the item.

[00:02:47] If this doesn’t sound particularly innovative or new to you, it’s important to remember how people chose clothes for the majority of history. 

[00:02:58] If you were rich, you would have someone who would take your measurements and make your clothes to measure. If you were very rich, if you were Marie Antoinette for example, you might have a personal dressmaker, someone whose entire job was to make your dresses.

[00:03:17] If you were not rich, you would probably make your clothes yourself from bought cloth, or someone in your household would do it for you.

[00:03:26] There simply wasn’t the concept of pre-made clothes. This only really existed for military uniforms, where everyone had to wear the same thing, the clothes were male, and being the perfect fit wasn’t of great importance.

[00:03:42] I imagine that you are wearing pre-made clothes now - you went to a shop, found a t-shirt and a pair of trousers that fitted you, and you bought them. 

[00:03:53] That “off the peg” style only really started in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

[00:04:00] But we’re not talking about “off the peg” fashion now, we’re talking about something much more glamorous.

[00:04:07] And there are few women more associated with glamour than the creator of our first fashion house, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel.

[00:04:17] The great fashion house Chanel was founded in 1910 and, coming as it did at the start of the 20th century, and led by its eponymous founder, Coco Chanel, it signalled a break with the complex, over-engineered and oppressive women‘s fashion of the previous century. 

[00:04:37] Out with corsets and frills

[00:04:40] In with fluid, stylish and boy-like or androgynous shapes. 

[00:04:46] Think of the wide-legged, pyjama-style trousers and simple striped tops in the style of fisherman from Brittany in the north of France that became fashionable in the 1920s. 

[00:04:59] The philosophy was, as Coco Chanel put it, “Nothing is more beautiful than freedom of the body.”

[00:05:07] Her revolutionary designs became emblems of female emancipation, but of a particularly stylish or chic kind. 

[00:05:16] Coming after a world war when women had needed to do many of the jobs previously done by men, the fashion reflected female aspiration and lifestyle. 

[00:05:28] Beginning with a small shop or – to use the French word borrowed into English – boutique in Deauville, Normandy in northern France, Coco Chanel branched out also into costume jewellery, famously saying that the point of jewellery “isn’t to make a woman look rich but to adorn her–not the same thing.” 

[00:05:52] Adorn means to make something more beautiful. 

[00:05:56] It’s an important statement, as historically the point of jewellery had been precisely to show off how rich you were.

[00:06:04] Coco Chanel‘s nautical look spread: those iconic Breton tops were favoured and therefore popularised by such world-famous figures as Pablo Picasso and became one of the characteristic styles we associate with brand of Chanel. 

[00:06:22] Another was something that became called the Little Black Dress. 

[00:06:27] If you can’t picture this “little black dress”, it’s simply a loose fitting black dress. 

[00:06:34] It might not sound revolutionary to you now, especially as if you were to go to Paris you’d probably find a large percentage of the population wearing black, but at the time black was reserved for funerals, and it certainly wasn’t a colour worn by stylish women, who would typically wear bright colours. 

[00:06:56] Chanel changed all that, and by creating this small but elegant black dress, she gave women a stylish option, adding that it allowed any woman to “walk around like a millionaire”, and with it she pushed forward a fashion revolution. 

[00:07:14] Further iconic Chanel creations included the so-called Chanel suit. 

[00:07:20] As well as reflecting the increasing part that women were starting to play in public life, this two-piece suit was inspired by menswear and, in particular, sportswear. 

[00:07:33] There is an interesting additional factor to this creation. The richest man in Britain, the Duke of Westminster was Coco Chanel’s lover at the time. 

[00:07:44] She observed his no doubt splendid and huge wardrobe or sets of clothes. 

[00:07:50] It was not just the cut, the style of his jackets, but also the material that was used that caught her eye

[00:07:59] This was something called tweed, a rough outdoor cloth woven in the western highlands of Scotland and not previously thought to be suitable material for the finest, haute couture, clothes. 

[00:08:13] Chanel would go on to make tweed an integral part of the design of her two-piece suit jacket. 

[00:08:20] Such stars as Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Brigitte Bardot and Princess Diana would wear it, all adding to the fame and desirability not just of the Chanel Suit, but of everything Chanel would create.

[00:08:34] And, over 110 years after the first Chanel boutique was opened, Chanel is a multibillion dollar brand and as desirable as ever.

[00:08:44] Now, for our next stop we need to go east and south to Italy and, more specifically, to Florence. 

[00:08:53] It was here that a man called Guccio Gucci opened his first shop in 1921. 

[00:08:59] As a young man, Gucci had worked as a porter at the luxurious Savoy Hotel in London where he observed the luggage of the wealthy. 

[00:09:10] Gucci’s background was in the family business, which made luggage, suitcases and so on, as well as equipment for horse riders.

[00:09:20] Soon, Guccio Gucci, helped by his three sons, was branching out

[00:09:27] Interestingly, it was an embargo or set of sanctions imposed upon Italy by the League of Nations in 1935 because of Italy’s invasion of Abyssinia–or Ethiopia, as it’s called today–it was this that forced an important innovation for Gucci. 

[00:09:46] The sanctions led to a shortage of leather, so Gucci had to start using fabrics, which he used to his advantage.

[00:09:56] Gucci wanted a way to make his bags more distinctive, more recognisable and because you can easily print on fabrics, Gucci created what would become his signature interlocking diamond symbol, which was stamped onto every bag, making it instantly recognisable.

[00:10:15] Shops proliferated or grew fast. 

[00:10:19] In the post-war period, Gucci shops opened all across Europe, then New York, Tokyo, and Hong Hong Kong, and there are now around 500 Gucci stores worldwide.

[00:10:31] Perhaps the most significant boost to the fortunes of Gucci came in 1990 when the previously unknown but brilliant young designer Tom Ford joined the company. 

[00:10:43] When he became Creative Director in 1994, his influence was massive. 

[00:10:48] In 1995, his famous Fall 95 collection marked a lucrative new period for the company. 

[00:10:56] Such stars as Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Lopez and Madonna were photographed on the famous red carpet wearing Gucci. 

[00:11:04] An important additional factor behind the company's success was, perhaps counterintuitively, the decreasing influence of the Gucci family. 

[00:11:15] This process began in 1989 when an American holdings company, called Investcorp, bought almost half of the company‘s shares. 

[00:11:25] In 1993 Maurizio Gucci, the grandson of the founder, Guccio Gucci, sold his shares to Investcorp, meaning that the Gucci family no longer controlled the Gucci brand. 

[00:11:39] At this point, I need to introduce the rather gruesome but colourful and intriguing topic of the troubled Gucci family history and the murder of Maurizio, Guccio’s grandson, in 1995. 

[00:11:53] If you have seen the film, House of Gucci, you will be familiar with all of this. 

[00:11:59] In short, Maurizio was murdered by a paid assassin or hitman, in Milan as he was about to go into the company's offices. 

[00:12:09] The hitman shot him three times in the back and shoulder and then finally in the head. 

[00:12:15] Sensationally, the person found guilty of ordering and paying for his murder was Maurizio’s former wife Patrizia. 

[00:12:25] She ended up serving 18 years in prison, and was released in 2016. 

[00:12:31] She was actually offered the opportunity to be freed 5 years earlier, in 2011 under the condition that she found some sort of work, but she refused, declaring "I've never worked a day in my life, and I'm certainly not going to start now". 

[00:12:48] Now, it is back to France for our third fashion house, and it’s here that we’ll meet a man who went from extreme wealth to extreme poverty, and then back again. 

[00:12:59] It’s Christian Dior.

[00:13:01] Christian Dior’s eponymous fashion house, Dior, was created in 1946, right at the end of the Second World War.

[00:13:10] It was both the best and the worst time to be launching a luxury fashion house. 

[00:13:16] Paris had been occupied by the Nazis from June 1940 until August 1944. Europe was just recovering from the most catastrophic war in its history, clothing was rationed, and there wasn’t much money going around to spend on beautiful clothes. 

[00:13:34] Paris might have been a cultural centre for style and fashion at the start of the 20th century, but the city was a shadow of its former self.

[00:13:45] But Christian Dior sensed an opportunity. 

[00:13:48] He had come from a family that was rich–his family owned a wealthy fertiliser company–but then had lost it all after the Great Depression. 

[00:13:58] Dior did his apprenticeship, he cut his teeth, with designers such as Robert Piguet and Lucien Lelong, where he was forced to design clothes for the wives of Nazi officers.

[00:14:11] And in 1946, after Paris was free from the Nazis, he set out on his own

[00:14:19] Now, let’s remember that women’s clothes during the second world war had been focussed on practicality

[00:14:27] Given the rationing, it was all about making the most with what you had, and not wasting anything.

[00:14:34] Dior took this idea and threw it out of the window, he got rid of it completely. 

[00:14:41] He wanted a return to the glamour of the past, wanting women who wore his clothes to feel that they were wearing something luxurious, over the top, and fabulous. 

[00:14:51] He designed flowery dresses, the complete opposite of the drab, brown and grey wartime uniforms.

[00:14:59] This was, for the time, radical, but it set Dior on the path to success, and by the late 1940s Christian Dior was responsible for 75% of Paris’ fashion exports and a whopping 5% of France’s total exports.

[00:15:19] His style was seized upon by critics and customers alike, with the editor of the famous American magazine, Harper’s Bazaar, saying “This is a new look”.

[00:15:31] It certainly was a new look, but Dior wouldn’t live long enough to see it for any real length of time. 

[00:15:38] In 1957, just 11 years after he started his fashion house, he was dead, after suffering a heart attack at the age of 52.

[00:15:49] Luckily he had already appointed a successor, a man he hired when he was only 19 years old. 

[00:15:55] The man’s name was Yves Saint Laurent, but Yves Saint Laurent's tenure at Dior wouldn’t actually last very long. 

[00:16:02] He was out by 1960, just 3 years after Christian Dior’s death.

[00:16:08] But, as you’ll no doubt know, this wouldn’t be the end of the road for Yves Saint Laurent, and he went on to launch his own incredibly successful fashion house.

[00:16:18] And as for Dior, it is another global powerhouse, and is now controlled by LVMH, the huge corporation that includes brands such as Moët & Chandon, Hennesy, Louis Vuitton, and Bulgari.

[00:16:34] Now, on to our final fashion house, Versace, or as it should be pronounced, Versace.

[00:16:41] If you say the word Versace to anyone, they will certainly think immediately of luxurious and very expensive items. 

[00:16:49] They may well call to mind Versace‘s famous symbol, the head of Medusa. 

[00:16:55] As you may know, Medusa is a mythological figure, a beautiful woman with snakes for hair, who had the ability to mesmerise people and make men fall in love with her. 

[00:17:08] The Italian founder of Versace, Gianni Versace, said that he chose this emblem because he hoped that people would fall in love with the brand and have no way of going back. 

[00:17:21] The Versace story begins later than that of Chanel, Gucci, or Dior, when in 1978 Gianni Versace founded his first boutique in Milan. 

[00:17:34] Soon known for his innovative designs, with their flashy prints and bright but stylish colours, the company’s rise was swift

[00:17:43] Like Chanel, Gucci and Dior, he expanded into other areas, but clothing was always central.

[00:17:51] His perhaps unique approach was to always make sure that his clothes were worn by the up and coming celebrities of the day, meaning his creations would always be in the news. 

[00:18:03] Gianni Versace was both a friend and a clothes supplier to such iconic stars as Elton John, Michael Jackson, and Princess Diana.

[00:18:13] He was also credited with creating the phenomenon of the supermodel, frequently photographed with names such as Naomi Campbell and Claudia Schiffer, and making sure that the most glamorous models of the day were pictured wearing clothes he had designed.

[00:18:30] As with the tale of Gucci, there is a grim and tragic end to the story of Gianni Versace. This was his senseless murder on the steps of his Florida mansion in July 1997. 

[00:18:44] But unlike with Gucci, there was no evil wife.

[00:18:48] He was the fourth victim of a serial killer called Andrew Cunanan, who was found dead by his own hand within weeks of Gianni’s murder. 

[00:18:57] So, there we go. In brief, the stories of four of the most powerful and important fashion houses in the world, and five if we include our perhaps unlikely Englishman at the start.

[00:19:10] It goes without saying that, although the target audience for these great fashion houses might be people who are willing to spend hundreds if not thousands of Euros on one item of clothing, the trickle-down effect that they have had on what we all wear has been immense.

[00:19:27] First and foremost, these designers were artists, and the human body was their canvas

[00:19:34] Sure, the clothes they made might have been incredibly expensive, but as Aldo Gucci famously once said, “quality is remembered long after the price is forgotten”.

[00:19:48] OK then, that is it for today's episode on The Rise of the Great Fashion Houses. 

[00:19:54] I hope it's been an interesting one, and no matter whether you are the sort of person who only wears Versace or you've never stepped into one of these shops in your life, well I hope you've learnt something new.

[00:20:06] As a reminder, this is part two of our three part series on Fashion. 

[00:20:11] Part one was on the curiosities of fashion, where we looked at some unusual fashions through the ages, and the reasons that fashions change, and next up, in part three, we’ll look at the world of fast fashion.

[00:20:24] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:20:28] What other fashion designers have had a similar or even greater influence than the four I mentioned?

[00:20:35] Who do you think had the most interesting life?

[00:20:37] Whose influence was the most important? 

[00:20:40] And, if you are the sort of person who is really into designer clothes, if you could only pick one of the four, who would it be and why?

[00:20:49] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:20:57] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:21:02] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode

[END OF EPISODE]