“Any girl who can wear a sweater can wear my clothes,” declared the French fashion designer Guy Laroche, summarizing his signature style, which had a soft character and did not go to extremes. Laroche was born in 1921 in La Rochelle, France. At the age of nineteen, after attending a fashion show with a friend, the realm of fashion captivated him. He began working in the millinery industry; his entry into fashion was marked by an assistantship with the Greek fashion designer Jean Dessès, whose draped chiffon dresses had met with high acclaim (the ones that would later be produced by Laroche would receive similar praise).
In 1955, the 34-year-old Laroche visited New York to undertake courses to learn the new (at that time) production methods for ready-to-wear clothing. “I wanted to be different. I came to New York,” he stated, “for the air, the—I don’t know what. I go back to Paris full of snap, snap!” Indeed, his studies in the United States would later prove valuable, as the knowledge acquired during this trip would become the foundation for his own fashion label. The inauguration of the House of Guy Laroche took place soon after his return to Paris in 1956.
His first atelier was located at 37 Avenue Franklin Roosevelt, hosting his sequined evening gowns and sleek tailored suits. In 1957, Laroche introduced a new silhouette, the “sack” dress, which was narrow around the hem and featured natural shoulders, three-quarter sleeves, and had a loose-fitting form. By 1961, Laroche had not only opened a new boutique at 29 Avenue Montaigne, but had also launched his first ready-to-wear collection—providing his clientele with more affordable clothing. His first menswear collection would follow in 1967, adding to his reputation, as his first perfume for women (entitled Fidji and made by Josephine Catapano) had done in 1966. Fidji was succeeded by the first perfume for men, Drakkar, which was launched in 1972.
A significant milestone in the designer’s career was being awarded the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur in 1987 for his contribution to French fashion. Previously, in 1985, Laroche had received the nineteenth Dé d’Or award for his fall/winter collection of 1985. In 1989, he received a second Dé d’Or award for the last collection he ever designed, shown on 25 January 1989, at the Grand Hotel in Paris. Less than a month later, on 17 February, he died.
Various preeminent fashion designers have collaborated with the House of Guy Laroche. In 1968, Issey Miyake carried out an apprenticeship as assistant designer; Azzedine Alaïa also worked for the house for two seasons. In 1997, Alber Elbaz was appointed creative director for one year, adding a fresh, bold, and sleek perspective to the house’s collections. In a different context, in 1980, stylist Isabella Blow was also associated with the French label: during a stay in the United States, she worked as a shop assistant at a Guy Laroche boutique in west Texas.
In 2004, YGM Trading acquired the fashion label and the French fashion designer Hervé Peugnet, also known as Hervé L. Leroux, was appointed artistic director. In November 2007, the Franco-Swedish fashion designer Marcel Marongiu succeeded Leroux. Marongiu is inspired by the work of Andrea Palladio, Peter Greenaway, and Yannis Kounellis—a passion that is reflected in his collections. His creations for the House of Guy Laroche feature bold cuts and sophisticated prints in a modern approach to the female silhouette; these elements accompany the French label into the early twenty-first century.
One of the winning pieces in the history of the label was the dress worn by the actress Hilary Swank on her appearance at the 77th Academy Awards ceremony in 2005. The navy blue ready-to-wear Guy Laroche gown had a high neck, long sleeves, and an intense cutout back. It received extensive favorable coverage in the press, reviving the name of the French label.
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