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  • To Fashion Its Freedom_Gustav_klimt_emilie_flöge_the_rational_dress_movement_zip_magazine


    01 March 2018





    By Barbara Allmann


    Vienna, 3 April 1897 – a day that goes down in art history as the day that 19 young artists turn their backs on their association and its academic and commercial orientation. These free spirits strive to express themselves in a personal, unrestrained and creative way. As “Secessionists,” they largely define the architectural design, arts and crafts, and the fashion of the years to come, lending their name to what is also called Art Nouveau. Gustav Klimt becomes the president of the Vienna Secession. At some point in his career, the successful painter crosses the path of fashion designer Emilie Flöge.

    Emilie Flöge was one of four children of a well-to-do Viennese pipe manufacturer. She started off her career as an ordinary seamstress but soon became a sought-after designer and successful businesswoman. In 1895, she founded a fashion school together with her older sister Pauline. In 1899, the sisters won a fashion competition and opened an haute couture Art Nouveau fashion salon in the prestigious Viennese shopping street Mariahilfer Strasse. Emilie was responsible for fashion and designs, which were true to the Wiener Werkstätte style. With Gustav Klimt as her life partner, she managed to make a career leap, winning over the wealthy Viennese clientele. Klimt himself designed dresses for the Flöge salon in the style of the Rational Dress Society, which was strongly promoted by the feminist movement because it permitted women to move and do sports more comfortably. This progressive society, which was founded in Victorian London in 1881, had a clearly defined purpose:

    The Rational Dress Society protests against the introduction of any fashion in dress that either deforms the figure, impedes the movements of the body, or in any way tends to injure the health. It protests against the wearing of tightly-fitting corsets; of high-heeled shoes; of heavily-weighted skirts, as rendering healthy exercise almost impossible (…).”

    The rational dress movement achieved its most important successes with undergarments as these hidden pieces of clothing did not expose their wearers to the ridicule of the uptight late Victorian society.

    Klimt and his Secessionist companions designed clothes that could be worn without a corset and were similar to a kaftan with wide sleeves hanging loosely from the shoulders. But as the number of people dressing in this revolutionary style was limited also in Vienna, the designers could not make a living with their courageous fashion. Emilie Flöge also made good money with more conventionally designed clothes. Being an established artist, Gustav Klimt portrayed many ladies of the high society, thereby paving the way for Emilie to meet her most well-off customers. The designer herself often posed for her partner: in 1891, Klimt portrayed his beloved Emilie for the first time. Experts believe that “The Kiss,” one of Klimt’s most famous paintings, depicts the lovers Klimt and Flöge themselves.


    Emilie was open to new ideas and always eager to see more of the world. Her business travels led her to the leading style metropolises London and Paris, where she was inspired by the latest trends in Art Deco fashion. In the early 1930s, when poverty also reached the middle class, fashion for those who could still afford it became even more “outrageous” and jewellery more garish.


    The annexation of Austria to Germany in 1938 marked the end of the Flöge salon, which had until then been Vienna’s leading fashion house. The most important customers were lost. Still, Emilie kept working in her inner-district attic flat in the Ungargasse in Vienna. Towards the end of the Second World War, a flat fire destroyed Flöge’s collections and several valuable pieces of Gustav Klimt’s legacy she had inherited at his death in 1918.



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