Gaby Aghion was born in 1921 to an affluent family in Alexandria, Egypt. It was there she married Raymond Aghion, with whom she moved to Paris in 1945. Gaby was soon moved to create fashions that reflected the bohemian and intellectual life of the Left Bank. She founded Chloé in 1952, and the following year formed a partnership with Jacques Lenoir. The first Chloé show was staged in 1956, and the first Chloé boutique opened in 1971 on Rue Gribeauval.
Aghion’s most significant contribution to fashion is arguably her pioneering of ready-to-wear luxury clothing. Her garments sought to combine the quality of haute couture with styles that suited the young, modern, and active woman. In many respects, Aghion’s designs can be read in opposition to the structured formality of 1950s haute couture: Chloé designs offered a simple, nonrestrictive, and fluid aesthetic.
Fabric choice was central to achieving a “natural,” flowing look, with Aghion often favoring silk, chiffon, crepe de chine, and satin. Indeed, her childhood provided inspiration in this regard, with Aghion reportedly saying that: “In Egypt, the sand is like silk. It is fluid, it moves.” The Egyptian desert would similarly influence Chloé’s signature palette: neutral shades reminiscent of sand, pyramids, and sun-kissed skin—a tendency also reflected in the sandy shade of the Chloé typeface.
Pattern and embellishment at Chloé was influenced by 1920s art deco, with its geometric shapes and symmetry, as well as surrealist trompe l’oeil motifs—such as scissors “cutting” garments—as seen in spring/summer 1984. While rejecting fussiness in design, Aghion nevertheless embraced craft—particularly embroidery—although mobilized these traditional elements in a fresh, playful way. This focus on craft has endured over time, with Chloé collections continuing to feature intricate beadwork, embroidery, sequins, and lace. In 1974 Chloé launched its debut fragrance: one of the first to be released by a prêt-à-porter brand. Chloé is also famous for its luxury handbag range, with models such as the Paddington, the Marcie, and the Alice gaining a cult following.
Early designers at Chloé included Gérard Pipart, Tan Guidicelli, and Michèle Rozier. Karl Lagerfeld joined Chloé in 1965, becoming exclusive designer in 1974: a role he would inhabit up until his departure in 1983, when he was succeeded by Guy Paulin. Lagerfeld would later resume his role at Chloé in 1992. The fashion house underwent significant changes in 1985 when it was bought by Dunhill Holdings; Gaby Aghion and her business partner Jacques Lenoir departed soon after. Martine Sitbon joined Chloé in 1987, introducing an element of “strict chic” to the brand—with dresses in black and navy, as well as structured suits.
A bold move was made in 1997 when Stella McCartney, a graduate of Central Saint Martin’s School of Art and Design, was appointed creative director. McCartney was succeeded by Phoebe Philo in 2001, and it was under Philo’s direction that diffusion line See by Chloé was launched. Subsequent creative directors have included Hannah MacGibbon in 2008 and Clare Waight Keller in 2011.