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Callot Soeurs: a female fashion family affair

Callot Soeurs, one of the most influential and successful fashion houses of the early 20th century, was founded in 1895 by four sisters.

Europeana Foundation

On avenue Matignon in Paris, one may notice - or inadvertently step on - a mosaic representing a woman in a light-blue dress beside the words 'Callot Soeurs'. Commemorating the address of one of their shops, the mosaic keeps the memory of Callot Soeurs alive, one of the most influential and successful fashion houses of the 20th century.

Callot Soeurs was a successful Parisian fashion house between the 1900s and 1920s. Marcel Proust praised them as one of the greatest maisons de couture in his novel 'À la Recherche du Temps Perdu'.

The fashion house was founded in 1895 by four sisters: Marie Callot Gerber, Marthe Callot Bertrand, Regina Callot Tennyson-Chantrell and Joséphine Callot Crimont.

They descended from a family of art and textile dealers and were thus accustomed to the precious fabrics, lingerie and laces that their family shops were renowned for.

Their mother was an expert lacemaker. Lace, for its intricacy and beauty, was one of the fabrics that most characterised the sisters’ work. Their couture gowns were in fact realised with hand-made lace, usually reconstituted eighteenth-century lace. However, they also introduced more innovative fabrics such as gold and silver lamé and an elastic gabardine for their 'sport' couture.

Callot Soeurs is also remembered as being among the first designers to abandon the corset for less constrictive silhouettes.

Explore more: Silhouettes: a century of female fashion gallery

Marie Gerber, the eldest of the sisters, was a talented designer, having trained as a première in the atelier of Raudnitz & Cie. Inspired by the oriental and avant-garde arts, she eventually designed also dresses reminiscent of Cubist influences, made of laces and embroideries resembling collages. She draped fabrics on models and let her toile-makers execute the design.

Explore more: Fashion by Callot Soeurs

From 1901 to 1906, one of these toile-makers was no less than Madeleine Vionnet. Later, the great couturiére would recognise Callot Soeurs as those who inspired her in her work. She declared 'without the example of the Callot Soeurs, I would have continued to make Fords. It is because of them that I have been able to make Rolls Royces'.

After the death of Marie Berger, the couture house was run by her sons Pierre and Jacques, who continued to sell to the maison's loyal clientele. However, the economic crash of 1929 had a great impact on the business, which was then closed in 1937.

By European Fashion Heritage Association

Feature image: Silk damask tea-gown trimmed with lace, c.1905, Callot Soeurs, Paris, Victoria and Albert Museum, CC BY

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