Born Lafitte, France, 1912.
Died Paris, 1954
Fath’s father was a painter and his great-grandmother had been a dressmaker. He trained in business school and attended a drama school (followed by a brief time in films) before opening as a designer, very modestly, in 1937. His first collection consisted of fewer than twenty pieces, but it contained the seeds of his future. His genius was quickly recognized and he was named one of the most important designers of 1939. On the outbreak of World War II he enlisted in the army; he was taken prisoner in 1940. On his release he reopened his house in rue François 1er. With his wife, Geneviève, he produced clothes for those who could afford them during the occupation until 1944, when he moved to avenue Pierre 1er and began his real period as a couturier. His success was considerable, not only because of his designs, but also because his personality was extravagant, ebullient and theatrical. He was essentially a social couturier – lavish parties, masked balls and outrageous behaviour were all excellent publicity, as Fath, the showman, realized. This is not to suggest that his social activities bought him approval as a designer: his clothes were praised purely on their own merits. He created young and sexy clothes that remained firmly in the haute-couture mould of elegance and sophistication and never slipped into vulgarity. The emphasis in his designs was always on the figure. He worked with a team and frequently draped materials on himself while his assistants sketched the results. His success grew each season, not only as a result of his design abilities and social showmanship, but also because of his shrewd business sense.
Fath’s large sales to private customers – among whom was Rita Hayworth, who chose Fath to design her trousseau for her wedding to Ali Khan – were augmented by the custom of wholesalers. In 1948 he signed a lucrative contract with the American manufacturer Joseph Halpert, for whom he produced two collections a year to be mass-produced in America; Fath Université was one of the first attempts at distributing clothes created to standardized sizes; and nearly half of the Fath revenue came from boutique sales, hats and perfumes. Fath received a Neiman-Marcus Award in 1949. When he died of leukaemia at forty-two, his wife continued the business, but she closed in 1957.
Fath’s premature death robbed the fashion world of a remarkable designer who was just coming to the peak of his creative powers. It is interesting to speculate how a man of his genius, originality and forward-looking attitude to fashion would have developed had he lived to work through the 1960s and 1970s. Certainly, it can be taken for granted that his impact on those uncertain decades would have been benevolent and considerable.
Major perfumes: Iris Gris (1949); Fath de Fath (1951).
No laide was ever more jolie than the one lucky enough to be wrapped in the elegantly