Paquin is a readily recognisable name yet it is her husband, Isidore Paquin, a wealthy banker, that is most often credited with her success. Jeanne Paquin was an exceptional woman, far ahead on her contemporaries. She pioneered many aspects of couture fashion including being the first women to have a recognised haute couture house, opened in 1891, along the famous Rue du La Paix. It was Paquin that first sent models to the races and the opera to showcase her beautiful gowns to the social elite. She became the first woman designer to be awarded the Légion d’Honneur and was the President of the Haute Couture section of the 1900 Paris Exposition, a great honour and a huge accomplishment for a woman of that time. She was the first couture house to open branches abroad including; London, New York, Buenos Aires and Madrid.
Paquin and Paul Poiret were neighbours on the Rue du la Paix and fierce competitors. Poiret was seen as the flamboyant and outrageous designer who pushed the boundaries of acceptability, always challenging but not always changing the ways of Parisian women. Paquin in contrast, was seen as the house with style and taste, Jeanne appeared to judge the tolerable limits of change better than Poiret, with one exception. The House of Paquin executed Paul Iribe’s designs for the previously mentioned play Rue du la Paix, with almost disastrous results. As previously mentioned the play was received with mixed reactions with much of the commentary critical of the 50 costumes paraded through out the scenes. They were described as bizarre and likened to the “poor taste of Teutons” and that “Madame Paquin will face a lot of problems getting them accepted by French women who care about an aesthetic line” . Her biographer states she was “simply amused” by the controversy but was quick to point out that her house had produced the costumes for Iribe and did not designed them.
Jeanne is also noted for making black the new black, until then fashion houses never designed in black. She did this by lining black jackets and coats with dazzlingly bright silks of red, turquoise and purple or embroidering basic black gowns in sparkling jewel like colours. Her favourite colours were white, gold and pale green and I have created the Empress in those colours.
At her peak Jeanne Paquin dressed royalty, the rich and the famous of Europe including the Queens of Belgium, Portugal, and Spain and the dress for Jane Avril’s opening solo show in Paris.
Her husband and confidant died shortly after World War 1 which had a devastating effect on Jeanne, she handed the financial reigns over to her brother and by 1920 the design control to Mademoiselle Madeleine. The House of Paquin prospered for a few more decades then ceased to exist by 1956.