CR Muse: Emilie Flöge and the Art of Fashion

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This is CR Muse, a series dedicated to the remembrance of important artists and idea-makers from our past who have shaped culture as we know it today. From traditional creators to those of conceptual thought, we celebrate these women known not only for their work but their confident, eccentric style as well.

It’s hard to believe there was a time when fashion was truly groundbreaking. When ideas of how we dressed, or didn’t dress, sparked profound conversations about society. But the end of the 19th century, leading in to the 20th, designers like Paul Poiret and Coco Chanel were suggesting revolutionary styles that did away with the corsets and conventions that had defined womenswear for so long. Among these designers was Emilie Flöge, an Austrian couturier who influenced Gustav Klimt. (Born Aug. 30, 1894, she would have turned 144 this week.)

Flöge kicked off her fashion career as a seamstress, and in 1895, she began working at her sister Pauline’s dressmaking school. It was the beginning of a collaboration between the two, as just four years later, they entered—and won—a competition to design an exhibition dress. In 1904, joined by their other sister, Helene, the Flöge women opened their own boutique.

Titled Schwestern Flöge (which translated to “Flöge Sisters“), the shop specialized in couture that aligned them with the rational dress movement, which sought to free women from the confines of restrictive clothes like corsets, and perhaps from fashion itself. Flöge’s dresses hung loose, often in an A-line silhouette, and featured generous swaths of fabric.

If Flöge’s work was exemplary of anything, it was that anti-fashion did not equate boring. Her aesthetic was wonderfully decorative, and it nodded to Art Nouveau. She was not averse to feminine adornments like frills, and embroidery. In addition to her own creative prowess, she would often collaborate with Klimt on dresses, bringing in a new level of artistry that was popularized in his paintings. Their connection also brought Flöge customers, as many of Klimt’s clients were high-society women who had an appreciation for the avant-garde.

Flöge’s exact relationship with Klmit was unclear. From his paintings, many assumed that they were a couple (The Kiss apparently portrays them as one), though experts say that they were platonic companions. Regardless, they were incredibly close, often collaborating on clothing, and bringing together art and fashion in a way that is now incredibly familiar.

Sadly, Schwestern Flöge closed down when the Nazis invaded Austria in 1938, as many Flöge’s customers either fled or were forcibly taken away. While her name is forever cemented in the art world (her portrait, after all, is among Klimt’s most famous paintings), her contribution to fashion history is not forgotten, especially among other designers. In 2015, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli based their Fall/Winter 2015 collection for Valentino on her work, introducing a new generation to her unique styles. But what should truly inspire young women today is Flöge’s independence—and success—as both a businesswoman and a creative. It’s not just that she thrived in an era when women’s rights and freedoms were restricted, it’s that she was also able to find an eager audience for ideas that were wholly her own.

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