T h e S T R E A M :
Incredible Women in History: Louise Chéruit
A place of fashion
At 21 Place Vendôme in Paris, France today is a well-regarded fashion house - the recently resurrected house of Schiaparelli. The namesake and former fashion icon behind the original house of eclectic couture, Elsa Schiaparelli, was a self-taught seamstress with an eye for surrealism. She collaborated with artists like Salvador Dali and Jean Cocteau, and had a healthy rivalry with fellow designer Coco Chanel, who made a lasting impact on women’s fashion with the design of the wrap dress and the divided skirt. The original house of Schiaparelli, or as it was affectionately called, the “Schiap Shop”, operated from 1935 to the end of 1954 when Elsa closed its doors.
But the past holds yet another fascinating bit of fashion lore about this location, and it’s this to which we’ll be turning our focus. Even before Elsa Schiaparelli held court there, 21 Place Vendôme was home to another female fashion magnate - a pioneer in the field who first made her mark at a time when women were still mostly behind the scenes in the fashion world. She became one of the first women to head her own fashion house in France.
You may know this couturière better as “Madeleine Chéruit”, which is still a name that is used widely in reference to her - although the reason for that seems to be lost to history. But Madeleine was not her actual name. Her real name was Louise Chéruit, and she was born in France (as Louise Lemaire) to a mother who proceeded her as a seamstress in 1866.
Louise began to train professionally as a dressmaker at the Raudnitz & Cie salon in the late 1880s along with her sister, Marie Huet. The two women showed so much talent and creativity in their work that it took little time before they were promoted to lofty positions within the house. Following her marriage in 1895 to Prosper Chéruit, Louise went on to purchase some of the first designs by the very influential Paul Poiret in 1898, boosting his career to into the limelight.
Photo courtesy of the Museum of London blog
A new icon
Only two years later, in 1900, the labels that were sewn into the clothes produced by the former Raudnitz & Cie began to read “Raudnitz & Cie, Huet & Chéruit Srs.”. By 1905, Louise and her sister were getting top billing on the labels, which read “Huet & Chéruit, formerly Mr. Raudnitz and Company”. Then, in 1906, the house officially became simply “Chéruit”.
Louise remained a force to be reckoned with in fashion for most of her life, producing garments that were dazzling and glamorous, without being too ostentatious. Her dresses were both feminine and bold, but delicate in detail and ornamented with a thoughtful, sparing eye. Her fashion house, Chéruit, was so successful that Louise was able to remain in business during World War I, when most other fashion houses were forced to scale back dramatically or close down.
After a long and vivacious career in fashion, Louise turned 21 Place Vendôme over to Elsa Schiaparelli in 1935, ensuring that whether she was at the helm or not, the opulent collection of rooms that had held her beloved fashion house would continue to stand in her stead as a place for fearless, fashionable women.