Louis Feraud; Master of French Fashion


It all started with sundresses in a little shop on the Riviera. When Brigitte Bardot was photographed in one, a creation made of white pique with patches of appliqued lace, French designer Louis Feraud became the darling of the fashion world.

On Tuesday, Feraud, one of the masters of French haute couture, died at his home in Paris. He was 79.

Highly regarded as an artist, author and philanthropist as well as designer, Feraud, who retired in 1995, had Alzheimer's disease for the past four years. His business has been run by his daughter, Kiki, who succeeded her father as designer in 1966, and his ex-wife, Zizi.

Feraud, the son of a baker, was born in Arles, France, in 1921. After serving in the military during World War II, he worked for a time as a journalist and ski instructor before turning permanently to art.

Then the artist who loved painting women ("It never seems to work when I make a man. I have no feeling for it," he once said)--met and married Zizi, who loved fashion, in 1947.

With his painter's eye and Zizi's flair for fashion, the couple started making clothes and operated a tiny boutique in Cannes, on the French Riviera.

In 1956, Feraud found a shop, workshop and apartment on the Faubourg St. Honore directly opposite the Elysee Palace, the French presidential residence. He presented his first couture collection in 1960 in a group that included separate shows by Dior, Givenchy and Lanvin.

"We invited 1,000 people to the first show and about three came," Feraud recalled then. One of them was legendary fashion doyen Oleg Cassini, a friend of a friend. Just as Feraud had always claimed that his fashion empire was founded on the dress worn by Bardot, he also credited Cassini with getting the word out to stores and the press that there was a new designer in town.

As much artist as couturier, Feraud soon made a niche for himself with his clever black and white geometrics and bright, graphic clothes that ranged from fairly conservative suits to ruffled, Spanish-style dresses.

He favored themes such as Mexican fiestas or the symbols on playing cards and dominoes. Some of his most beautiful, luminous scarves were his own colorful designs.

Wives of the French president's advisors would pass the time in his store while their husbands were across the street at the Elysee Palace. Celebrities from Elizabeth Taylor to Danielle Mitterrand were among his customers.

When asked about the differences between American and French women, Feraud once replied: "French women are small, clever, fine and quick-witted. They get power and they hold it. French women like to rule. Americans are blond, sportive, rapid and intelligent. They want to rule too, but they only get power later in life. And they can be more violent in the pursuit."

In the late 1950s and 1960s, Feraud expanded, showing his work on runways in Japan, the United States, Britain and South America. In 1970, he became a partner of the German firm, Fink, for a ready-to-wear line widely considered to be very high quality.

His reputation continued to grow, aided by the introduction of his menswear collection in 1975. The success of perfumes such as "Justine," his first scent for women, and "Corrida," for men, confirmed his preeminence in Parisian fashion. He later created several perfumes for Avon and made contributions to the work of other designers, including Daniel Hechter and Jean-Louis Scherrer.

Flourishing sales of his Feraud's ready-to-wear line brought him the freedom to write and paint.

He had several important exhibitions at the Grand Palais and New York's Urban Gallery, and various shows of paintings and silks in France. He published two novels in French and won several awards, including the Golden Thimble prize for excellence in couture in 1978 and 1984, and was named officer of France's Legion d'Honneur in 1994.

In September, the Netherlands group Secon--which has owned Feraud's ready-to-wear franchise for the past two years--announced it was buying the entire haute couture business. Kiki, his only child, announced then that she would retire.

His first wife, Zizi, had continued to work with Feraud after they were divorced and Feraud married and then divorced his second wife Mia Fonssagrives, the daughter of fashion photographer Irving Penn and model Lisa Fonssagrives.

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