portrait etching by Paul Helleu
Madame Madeleine Chéruit (died 1935) was among the foremost couturiers of her generation, and one of the first women to control a major French fashion house. Her salon operated on Place Vendôme in Paris under the name Chéruit (French pronunciation: [ ʃeʁi ]) from 1906 to 1935.
Madame Chéruit and her house of couture took fashion from the Belle Époque through the Jazz Age with the leaders of French style. In 1910, one reporter wrote glowingly, "With taste, so original, so fine, and so personal, Madame Chéruit has placed her house of fashion at the first rank, not only in Paris, but in the entire world." During her career, she refined creative excesses for her aristocratic clientele, who favoured richly ornamented dresses, and, with Parisian designers such as Lucien Lelong and Louise Boulanger, she transformed high fashion into the reality of ready-to-wear.
Many basic facts about the life of Madame Chéruit are uncertain. Vogue magazine described her as "a Louis XVI woman because she has the daintiness, the extravagant tastes, the exquisite charm, and the art of those French ladies who went gaily through the pre-revolution epoch." She apparently received her early training in dressmaking in the late 1880s with Ernest Raudnitz at his house of couture, Raudnitz & Cie, located in the heart of Paris. The salon especially appealed to women who wanted ensembles that exuded an air of youthfulness and simplicity made of the finest fabrics. Mme Chéruit’s talent, and that of her sister – named Huet, who remains a mystery – was such that they ascended to leading positions in the firm. Mme Chéruit notably helped launch the career of Paul Poiret, one of the twentieth century’s most innovative fashion designers, by making a decision to buy a collection of twelve of his first designs in 1898. By 1900, labels sewn into fashion created at Raudnitz bore the words, Raudnitz & Cie, Huet & Chéruit Srs., 21, Place Vendôme, Paris – with the names of the sisters in larger, more prominent type. And by 1905, dress labels read, Huet & Chéruit, Anc.ne Mon. Raudnitz & Cie ("Huet and Chéruit, formerly Mr. Raudnitz and Co.").
The next year, the fashion house and its more than 100 employees became her own, and was rechristened "Chéruit." The salon occupied the richly ornamented hôtel de Fontpertuis on Place Vendôme, designed in the 17th century by Pierre Bullet. She quickly hired an architect to expand it to serve her growing clientele. Mme Chéruit became one of the most noted designers of her time, with the unveiling of her latest creations closely followed by the press, her image drawn by leading artists, and even her name mentioned by Marcel Proust in his Remembrance of Things Past.
In 1912, Mme Chéruit signed a contract to collaborate with Lucien Vogel to produce his new fashion magazine, La Gazette du Bon Ton, that would exclusively publish her designs. Six other top Paris designers – Georges Doeuillet, Jacques Doucet, Jeanne Paquin, Paul Poiret, Redfern & Sons, and the House of Charles Worth – joined the project. Vogel hired leading Art Deco artists to fill the pages with striking illustrations of the designers' fashions that he joined with essays by noted writers. The magazine printed its images on fine papers using the extravagant color pochoir technique, making it a true fashion showcase. Mme Chéruit had a special affection for the artistic style of Pierre Brissaud, and he created most of the fashion illustrations of her work that appeared in the pages the Gazette.
Mme Chéruit’s new walking suits and afternoon dresses became fashion staples in 1914. When World War I struck and continued for four horrific years, most Paris fashion houses shut down, but Chéruit remained open. However, the house of Chéruit, itself, was acquired by Mesdames Wormser and Boulanger, who, Vogue observed in 1915, kept the salon "to its original type but bring much originality to it." In addition to beautiful evening gowns, Chéruit built its fame on chic cinema wraps, works in fur, children’s clothing in rayon, lingerie, blouses, and wedding trousseaus. Fascinated by the effect of light on fabric, Chéruit’s dressmakers worked with taffeta, lamé, and gauze, and followed the latest trends in art, hand-painting Cubist designs on dresses. Its striking creations drew the attention of silent film stars, such as Jeanne Eagels.
With Coco Chanel's move towards simpler fashions in the 1920s, Chéruit’s opulent tastes lost appeal. Mme Chéruit retired in 1923, but her Paris house of couture continued to produce talked about fashions, including stylish flapper styles, for more than a decade. In 1935, shortly after the peak years of the Great Depression, Elsa Schiaparelli famously took over Chéruit's 98-room salon and work studios.
Today, dresses by Chéruit may be found in the collections of major museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The fashion house was reestablished at its original location, 21, Place Vendôme in Paris, in 2008.
Chéruit fashions, 1912–1916
- Childs Gallery, Paul César Helleu: "Madame Chéruit" (1900), commentary about a portrait, downloaded 31 March 2012
- La Ville lumière : Anecdotes et documents historiques, ethnographiques, littéraires, artistiques, commerciaux et encyclopédiques, Paris: Paris Direction et Administration, 1909, p. 97 (translated from French)
- Vintage Handbags, Madeleine Chéruit, includes quotes from Vogue, 1915
- Valerie Steele (1991), Women of Fashion: Twentieth-Century Designers, New York: Rizzoli, p. 207
- Linda Walters, ed., & Patricia Cunningham, ed. (2005), Twentieth-Century American Fashion, Oxford, UK: Berg Publishers, ISBN 184520073X], p.21
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, "Paul Poiret (1879-1944)"
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Wedding Dress, Raudnitz and Co. - Huet and Chéruit (1900), digital image of dress label
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Suit, Raudnitz and Co. - Huet and Chéruit (1905), digital image of dress label
- Archivi della Moda del Novecento, Madeleine Chéruit, atelier
- Marcel Proust (1919), À la recherche du temps perdu, tome 5, p. 165, « ... Non, répondait Elstir, mais cela sera. D'ailleurs, il y a peu de couturiers, un ou deux, Callot, quoique donnant un peu trop dans la dentelle, Doucet, Chéruit, quelquefois Paquin. Le reste sont des horreurs. »
- Mary E. Davis (2006), Classic Chic: Music, Fashion, and Modernism, Berkeley: University of California Press, ISBN 0520245423.
- Antique Print Club, search: "Bon Ton" (Fashion/Pochoir), downloaded 31 March 2012
- Vintage Fashion Guide, Cheruit, downloaded 31 March 2012
- The Costume Gallery, Fashion Designers of Their Time, "Madeleine Cheruit, 1906-1935"
- Roaring Twenties, Classic Film Heroines, actress Jeanne Eagels
- Philadelphia Museum of Art Division of Education. "Shocking! The Art and Fashion of Elsa Schiaparelli - teacher's pack" (PDF). Philadelphia Museum of Art. Retrieved 2008-04-25.
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Search the Collections, "Madeleine Chéruit"
- Chéruit, 21, place Vendôme, Paris, website