Friday, December 3, 2010

Savoir Faire in the Rouff!

Are some of today’s arbiters of style and design going to be as well known in the future as what they are today? Or are they going to join the ranks of forgotten couturiers whose names only exist for the design savvy? Of course there are houses that will be around for eternity, like Chanel, Dior and St Laurent. However will Lacroix or others be forgotten in 50 years time?

There are so many names like Worth, Molyneux, Paquin, Desses whose names are only in Museums and fashion history texts. One such name is Maggy Rouff. Born Maggie Besançon de Wagner in Paris, 1896, she worked in her parent’s couture house of Drecoll, before opening on her own as Maggy Rouff in 1929.

Harmony and simplicity were cornerstones of Maggy Rouff's belief in elegance as a way of life, and the way of fashion. A truly elegant woman was in harmony with her environment and herself, and to Rouff this meant being properly dressed for every occasion. Patrons of her salon were secure in the knowledge that they would emerge with the right clothes, clothes that were fashionable, flattering, and appropriate. This did not mean she was conservative; rather, she believed novelty, and even surprise, were good for fashion. Novelty when allied with taste yielded chic, but novelty without taste was only eccentric.

A Rouff design was always “just right”, never too little or too much. A focal point was established in every costume, whether it be in the trimming, the cut of a sleeve or bodice, or the use of contrasting fabrics in swathes of fabric across the hips. Surfaces were enriched with different textures such as shirring or quilting. Her designs always enhanced an underlying sense of feminity.

Sarong-like style drapes of skirts, soft folds at a neckline, wrapped and tied surplice fronts and dramatic sleeves were a favoured feature and were common themes that ran through Rouff’s designs. Accents were also important and were always in perfect balance and proportion with the whole outfit, such as the embroidery on the evening dress below.

In 1942 while Paris was occupied by German troops, Rouff wrote La Philosophie de L'Elégance. Her justification for what might have been considered in such circumstances a frivolous topic was her belief that even in darkest times there must be faith in the future. Her book was, in a sense, an affirmation of the value and substance which the arts of elegance had given to her life and her success.

Rouff's daughter, Anne-Marie, took over the designing upon her mother's retirement in 1948. The house maintained the attitudes toward dress it had always expressed, and the clothes were still elegant and feminine, however it took a while for Anne-Marie to find her mother’s sense of equilibrium where design was concerned.

*Princess Grace of Monaco in a Rouff design

The house of Maggy Rouff did not survive the make-or-break period of the 1960s. Three designers worked for the house in the 1960s, during which time the business was transformed into a ready-to-wear house. The collections seem to have been aimed at a younger customer, but the original precepts of the house may have made it difficult to become established with a clientéle more interested in the pursuit of youth than the pursuit of elegance. The company was closed before Rouff's death in 1971.

Rouff once described herself as a couturier, deliberately rejecting the female title of couturière, "for I make a great distinction between the two terms," she said. "The couturier is a general who is more or less qualified, and who has, under his command, an army of collaborators. A couturière can, indeed, be very great and important . . . but the word by itself implies a knowledge and experience of manual labor. And I scarcely know how to cut!"


  1. Words to live by "Even in the darkest times there must be faith in the future"

  2. I've seen that beautiful black strapless dress with the gold embroidered bodice before, but never knew who it was by. Thanks.

  3. How sad that we know so little of Maggy Rouff today. Her designs are beautiful. Especially the embroidery on that evening gown, oh my. Stunning images, all. Wonderful post David!


  4. While I am not familiar with Ms. Rouff's name, no doubt the big houses of fashion today still pull from her archives for inspiration...amazing inspiration at that!


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