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Velvet evening dress based on a North African robe,[1] Babani, c.1925
Japanese kimono retailed by Babani, 1921. (IMA)

Babani, founded in Paris in 1894[2] by Vitaldi Babani, was a fashion house based on the Boulevard Haussmann specialising in imported exotic goods, including artworks and handicrafts, and from the 1910s onwards, original garments inspired by their imported merchandise.[3] The business closed in 1940.[3]


Vitaldi Babani was born in the Middle East, the source of some of his [her? 1] wares.[3] In the beginning Babani's merchandise consisted of objets d'art in bronze and ivory, furniture, rugs, embroideries and silks imported from China, Japan, India, and Turkey, which were sold from the establishment at 98 Boulevard Haussmann and from an additional shop at no. 65, Rue d'Anjou, Paris.[2]

In the first decade of the 20th century, it became very fashionable for Western women to wear Japanese nagajubans (the robes worn underneath a traditional kimono) for a peignoir, and Babani, through a series of advertisements in Le Figaro-Madame, successfully established himself as the foremost retailer of such so-called robes japonaises.[6] In addition to these, Babani, along with Paul Poiret, had a license to retail textiles and garments by the Venice-based designer Fortuny, including his famous pleated silk Delphos gowns.[7] Babani also imported textiles from the London department store Liberty & Co.[3] From about 1919, when Vitaldi's fashion-designer son Maurice joined the business, the label began to focus more on clothing and produced garments which were heavily influenced by their imported merchandise.[1] Maurice Babani's designs tended to be explicitly based upon their sources, such as a dress reproducing a North African embroidered robe, but using silk velvet rather than the woollen textile of the original.[1] It is thought that Babani owned embroidery workshops in Constantinople and Kyoto, where some of the textiles in their garments would have been produced.[3]

Notable clients included the Spanish artist Joaquín Sorolla, who while in Paris in September 1913, ordered two kimonos from Babani.[2] The actress Eleonora Duse bought a number of Fortuny garments there,[7] and Katharine Hepburn wore a white crushed velvet Babani dress with antique gold embroidery for her 1928 wedding to Ludlow Ogden Smith.[8][9]


In 1919, Maurice Babani was the second French couturier, after Poiret, to launch a perfume house, and the first to create exclusive marketing names for his perfumes.[10][11][12] His fragrances featured exotic names such as Afghani (1920), Abdulla (1926), Yashmak (1924), and Sousuki (1928) and came in distinctive black and gold packaging.[10]

In 1924, Elizabeth Arden tried exclusively marketing six Babani scents to American women as a "wardrobe of perfumes".[13] Despite Arden's publicity drive, Babani lacked sufficient recognition in the United States to make the venture succeed.[13]


  1. ^ a b c Martin, Richard; Koda, Harold (1994). Orientalism : visions of the East in Western dress. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art. p. 62. ISBN 0870997335.
  2. ^ a b c González Asenjo, Elvira (2012). Fortuny vistiendo a Clotilde (PDF) (in Spanish). Spain: Museo Sorolla. pp. 21–22. Retrieved 5 November 2012.
  3. ^ a b c d e Fukai, Akiko (2002). Fashion : the collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute : a history from the 18th to the 20th century. Köln [etc.]: Taschen. p. 712. ISBN 3822812064.
  4. ^ Cunningham, Patricia A. (2003). Reforming women's fashion, 1850-1920 : politics, health, and art. Kent: Kent State University Press. p. 215. ISBN 9780873387422.
  5. ^ Osma, Guillermo de (1994). Fortuny : the life and work of Mariano Fortuny (2nd pbk. ed.). New York: Rizzoli. ISBN 9780847817955.
  6. ^ Fukai, Akiko. "Japonism in Fashion" (PDF). Retrieved 4 November 2012.
  7. ^ a b "Delphos dress by Mariano Fortuny, retailed by Babani". Victoria and Albert Museum. Retrieved 5 November 2012.
  8. ^ Hepburn, Katharine (1996). Me : stories of my life (1st Ballantine Books trade ed.). New York: Ballantine Books. ISBN 0345410092.
  9. ^ "Kate's Treasures: An Auction Uncovers Katharine Hepburn's Rich Life". The People (Vol 61, No. 13). April 5, 2004. Retrieved 4 November 2012.
  10. ^ a b Groom, Nigel (1997). The new perfume handbook (2. ed.). London [u.a.]: Blackie Acad. & Professional. p. 23. ISBN 0751404039.
  11. ^ Mazzeo, Tilar J. (2010). The secret of Chanel No. 5 : the intimate history of the world's most famous perfume (1st ed.). New York: Harper. p. 27. ISBN 9780061791017.
  12. ^ Beaulieu, Denyse (2012). The Perfume Lover: A Personal Story of Scent. UK: HarperCollins. ISBN 9780007411832.
  13. ^ a b Woodhead, Lindy (2004). War paint : Madame Helena Rubinstein and Miss Elizabeth Arden : their lives, their times, their rivalry. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 9780471487784.
  1. ^ There is some confusion as to whether Vitaldi Babani was male or female. Some sources refer to either Madame Babani[4] or Mademoiselle Babani.[5] Most sources cited refer to Vitaldi Babani as "he".