Ready to learn more about the best French designers? Here’s a list of brilliant French fashion designers you need to know.
French designers have for centuries fulfilled a pivotal role in designing and setting fashion trends worldwide.
French fashion designers have set the standard for fashion since the reign of King Louis XIV, a lover of fashion and extravagance, during the 17th century.
French designers adhered to the call for changes in fashion. French designers moved to more wearer-friendly, modern, and comfortable clothes without compromising quality, style, or individualism.
The first couturier houses were established in Paris, the fashion capital, in 1858.
Meet nineteen of the most fabulous French designers of all time and be inspired by the lives and work of these creative geniuses and their contributions to the fashion industry.
19 Best French Designers Of All Time
Here are the most famous French designers in no particular order.
Coco Chanel ruled the fashion industry for almost sixty years.
She played a vital role in changing women’s fashion from uncomfortable layers of fabric, corsets, and petticoats to comfortable, practical garments.
Her classical innovations include the ever-popular Chanel suit, “the little black dress, quilted purses, and costume jewelry. Not bad for someone that started her career by designing hats.
Chanel grew up dirt-poor, having to stay at an orphanage since the age of twelve.
However, she started earning money as a café singer in her early adulthood. During this time, Chanel met Arthur Capel.
He financed her tiny millinery shop in Deauville, France, where she designed and sold hats and trimmings.
Chanel grew from having a tiny millinery shop to owning a couture house, textile mill, jewelry shop, and perfume laboratory by the late 1920s.
The “cash cow” was Chanel No5, the perfume created by Ernst Beaux that, according to Chanel, made a woman smell like a woman.
The matriarch of the Chanel empire loved caviar and red wine.
Coco Chanel lived in the Ritz hotel in Paris for thirty-four years and died in 1971 at eighty-seven, leaving behind a legacy of hard work and innovative designs. She is one of the most famous French people of all time.
Chanel always resisted limitations and, through her work, encouraged all women to do the same, not only in fashion but in all areas of life.
The French fashion designer Christian Dior (1905-1957) founded Dior. The French fashion brand sells clothes and shoes exclusively to Dior boutiques worldwide.
Christian Dior and Chanel are French designer icons that revolutionized women’s fashion.
Born into a wealthy family, fashion designer Dior started his career training to serve in the French foreign service.
However, financial woes in the 1930s forced Dior to join Figaro Illustré, illustrating fashion.
Designing led him to design alongside Robert Piguet, a leading couturier in Paris at the time. Four years later, he joined fashion designer Lucien Lelong.
WWII took its toll on French fashion. Only with Christian Dior’s introduction of the New Look line was French fashion restored to its rightful place in the fashion industry.
However, Dior’s New Look sparked controversy since his designs featured longer hemlines, small shoulders, and voluminous skirts combined with cinched waists.
So much different from the short skirts and padded shoulders during WWII.
Dior managed to commercialize Parisian fashion worldwide by introducing new silhouettes in 1950 that included the A-line, H-line, and Y-line. Dior’s New Look was an overnight sensation.
Christian Dior drew inspiration from the pretty, elegant pieces his mother used to wear when attending Deauville Races in the 1900s.
He incorporated these designs into the New Look range. He described the style as a post-war cultural symbol of youth, hope, and the future.
3. Louis Vuitton
Louis Vuitton’s designs became popular amongst the elite during the reign of Napoleon III.
Napoleon commissioned Louis to create special luggage for his wife to pack and transport her “fashions.”
Vuitton jumped at the opportunity and soon became well-known among the elite of France, designing and creating fashionable, durable, and luxurious suitcases.
French designer Louis Vuitton (1821-1892) founded his namesake label in 1854, producing high-quality leather items and classic pieces.
What started as a box-making and packing store soon became home to a new concept designed by Vuitton.
An entirely new trunk made from a lighter canvas proved to be more durable and withstood water and odors better than leather.
The key selling point in the innovative design was a rectangular shape instead of the dome shape used up to that point.
In addition, the new trunks were easily stackable and more convenient for shipping by rail or steamboat.
Thierry Hermès (1801-1878) opened a harness workshop in Paris in 1837. From the workshop in rue, Basse-du-Rempart produced leather products that met his customer’s expectations.
Hermès produced horse harnesses that embodied discreet finesse while at the same time could handle all kinds of conditions.
His work was first recognized with an award at the Universal Exhibition of 1867.
Hermès has a rich history with six generations of artisans to this day, keeping the brand relevant by keeping up with changing trends without compromising on quality, durability, and craftsmanship.
Hermès specializes in leather goods, home furnishings, perfume, jewelry, watches, and lifestyle accessories.
5. Nina Ricci
Nina Ricci (1883-1970) moved from Turin to Florence and from Florence to France, where she became an intern at a tailor shop in her early teens.
She joined the Raffin fashion house in 1908, and twenty years later, she became the founder and designer of her eponymous label.
To ensure her designs flowed well and the fabrics worked together, Nina worked directly on the mannequin.
Nina designed refined, feminine, and romantic styles that became extremely popular.
Nina Ricci House expanded rapidly during the 1930s and, apart from garments, branched out to include leather products and trendy accessories.
After WWII, Ricci and other fashion designers hosted a fashion exhibition at the Louvre to re-establish French fashion and raise money for relief efforts.
Displaying the fashion of forty French fashion designers, using one hundred and forty-five mannequins. The exhibit toured the USA and most parts of Europe.
6. Yves Saint Laurent
Yves Saint Laurent (1936-2008) was born in Oran, Algeria but died a renowned French fashion designer in France. Yves Saint Laurent designed women’s trousers suited for all occasions.
After a short stint in fashion school, Yves Saint Laurent’s talent caught the eye of renowned French designer Christian Dior. Dior hired Yves, only seventeen, as his assistant designer.
Yves Saint Laurent became head of the House of Dior after Dior’s passing.
Yves Saint Laurent was drafted into the French army in 1960 and suffered a mental breakdown which led to him being replaced at Dior.
However, in 1962 this exceptional designer opened his own fashion house, popularizing trousers for women.
Yves Saint Laurent soon became one of the most influential designers in Paris. He expanded his brand to include accessories, men’s clothing, household linen, and perfumes such as Y, Gauche, and Opium.
Two museums have been opened in honor of his work, one in his former haute couture house in Paris and another in Marrakech, Morocco.
7. Sonia Rykiel
Sonia Rykiel (1930 – 2016) was dubbed the “Queen of Knits” since she created the Poor Boy Sweater, which was once featured on the cover of Elle magazine.
Her career kicked off in a Parisian clothing store, dressing mannequins.
While pregnant, Sonia wanted a soft sweater but could only find a supplier in Venice. After that, she designed sweaters and debuted her maternity outfits and Poor Boy Sweater in Elle magazine.
Sonia was the first to add seams to the exterior of garments and wording to her designs. She even created a line of perfumes.
Her designs in knitwear proved that knitwear can be functional, fashionable, and trendy.
In 1980 she was named one of the most elegant females worldwide! Sonia Rykiel launched underwear with H&M, wrote a song alongside Malcolm McLaren called “who the hell in Sonia Rykiel,” and made a guest appearance in a 2010 movie called “Bill Cunningham’s New York.”
The French designer authored books on designing and could find inspiration from anyone and anywhere, describing herself as willing, doubting, and irreverent.
Celebrities like Audrey Hepburn and Brigitte Bardot, a famous French actress, helped popularize Rykiel’s designs.
Jeanne Lanvin’s career kicked off in 1889 in a small hat shop in Paris.
This hugely talented young designer dazzled with her hat designs before establishing her fashion house, “Lanvin (Mademoiselle Jeanne) Modes, in 1893, which was an instant success.
Jeanne had a daughter, which she clothed in her designer garments. This caught on with elite French mothers, and soon the orders for girls’ wear exceeded those for hats.
Jeanne tapped into the market by designing clothes for both girls and women. 1908 saw Jeanne dedicate a part of her store entirely to children’s clothing.
This step led to her entering a new era when she opened a Young Ladies’ and Women’s department where mothers and daughters could purchase their Lanvin outfits.
After introducing House Lanvin to the world, she expanded her business to include furniture, rugs, curtains, stained glass, and wallpaper.
Designing, alongside Armand-Albert Rateau, everything needed for decorating homes in the Art Deco Style of the era.
Lanvin expanded and produced Perfumes. She was the first Parisian designer to create a made-to-measure clothing line for men.
Jeanne Lanvin was an extraordinary designer, businesswoman, and mother who left an empire in her wake.
9. Pierre Balmain
Pierre Alexandre-Claudius Balmain (1914-1982) founded a fashion house in 1945.
He had numerous elite clients, including the Duchess of Windsor, the Queen of Belgium, and film stars of the 1950s who revered his designs. Rapid expansion led to him opening branches in New York and Caracas.
Balmain initially studied architecture and declared that “dressmaking is the architecture of movement.”
This outlook explains his success as an influential French fashion designer, especially in evening wear.
Balmain diversified his business to include perfumes and accessories to complement his clothing line.
Balmain was made an officer of the Legion of Honor and published his memoir, My Years and Seasons, in 1964.
Many celebrities love this French design brand, including Kim Kardashian and Gigi Hadid.
French fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy (1927-2018) designed signature dresses for actress Audrey Hepburn, among others.
Givenchy was noted for his couture as well as ready-to-wear designs. With Spanish designer Balenciaga, Givenchy introduced the “sack silhouette” in 1957.
The movie, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, introduced Givenchy’s new high-bosomed princess dress without sleeves or a belt. The design worn by Audrey Hepburn became an instant hit.
1952 saw Givenchy opening his own fashion house and receiving love from celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor and Jackie Kennedy.
To keep orders coming, he carefully managed his business to reduce overheads to keep the prices of his designs affordable.
Givenchy’s first collection was a hit and gained international recognition. He enjoyed using silk prints, embroidered fabrics, delicate styles, and imaginative accessories in his designs.
11. Thierry Mugler
French designer, Thierry Mugler (1948-2022), was described by supermodel Jerry Hall as “having been timeless and ahead of his time.”
His style became known as “power dressing” since he designed bold collections displayed at highly stylized runway shows.
Mugler had a flair for understanding gender fluidity and incorporated this gift in designing clothes that represented the sexuality and heat of the 1970s and 1980s.
Mugler’s first label was “Café de Paris,” which he established in 1973. 1974 was the year he founded Thierry Mugler.
Mugler found inspiration and talent in the LBGTQ community. He used trans models in his runway shows as early as the 1980s, proving that Mugler was a forward-thinking, modern French designer.
Mugler became more involved with fragrances during the 1980s when he created the ever-popular perfume Angel.
12. Paco Rabanne
Francisco Rabaneda y Cuervo, born in Spain in 1934, fled with his mother to France, escaping the Spanish Civil War in 1939. Once in France, he became known as Paco Rabanne.
Rabanne studied architecture and, after completion, designed costume jewelry for the most fabulous couture houses in Paris, including Nina Ricci, Givenchy, Pierre Cardin, and others.
In 1966 Rabanne turned the fashion industry upside-down with his debut collection, “Twelve Unwearable Dresses in Contemporary Materials” The contemporary collection put Rabbane firmly on the map. To this day, his designs are still deemed contemporary.
Paco Rabanne is all about perfume! Rabanne is renowned for using unconventional fragrances, turning them into classic perfumes.
For example, lady Million and Lady Million Absolutely Gold Parfum are packed in gold-capped bottles alongside the version for men, aptly named 1 Million.
Other perfumes in the Paco Rabanne range include Black XS, Paco Rabanne Olmpéa, and Invictus.
The Legion d’Honneur was bestowed upon Paco Rabanne in 2010 to acknowledge his work and contribution to the French fashion industry.
13. Jean-Paul Gaultier
Jean-Paul Gaultier was born in 1952 and grew up in a suburb of Paris.
Showing an affinity for fashion, he designed clothes for his mother and grandmother. Jean-Paul started his apprenticeship with Pierre Cardin.
Jean-Paul established his own label and presented his first collection of women’s fashion in 1976.
In 1982 he set up his own shop, and in 1984 he created a men’s collection. In 1986 he opened his first boutique in Paris.
Finally, in 1993 Jean Paul Gaultier entered the accessories and perfume market, marketing his perfume in distinct corset-shaped bottles.
He secured his place in the fashion industry in 1997 by showing his first haute couture collection.
Jean Paul Gaultier’s contribution to French fashion was acknowledged in 2001 by being awarded one of France’s highest honors, “Knight of the Legion of Honor.”
14. Pierre Cardin
Pierre Cardin (1922-2020). The French fashion designer is well known for designing clothes for women and pioneering high-fashion designs for men.
Cardin became a tailor at a men’s shop at the age of seventeen in Vichy, France, and after WWII, joined the fashion house of Paquin.
At Paquin, he helped design the costumes for the film Beauty and the Beast and worked for the house of Christian Dior.
He opened his first shop in 1950 and gained popularity for being a men’s suitmaker. He invented the “Space Age” look by incorporating short tunics, vinyl, helmets, and goggles into his collection.
Cardin became famous for licensing his name for various products, and other fashion designers soon followed.
Louboutin is known for designing high-end shoes with trademark red soles.
Christian Louboutin was born in 1963 in Paris and started his career as an apprentice in the dressing rooms of the Folies-Bergère, where he realized he was interested in designing shoes.
Roger Vivier became his mentor at the shoe brand Charles Jourdan. He also designed for Coco Chanel, Maud Frizon, and Yves Saint Laurent.
Louboutin opened his own business in Paris in 1992, still using the boutique and design atelier as headquarters.
Louboutin designed shoes and launched a handbag line, cosmetics, and fragrances in recent years.
16. Marine Serre
Marine Serre (Born in 1991), a tennis player turned fashion designer, was born in Corrèze, France.
She attended a specialist visual arts school upon realizing her interest in fashion. Next, she attended the La Cabre Mode Belgian Fashion Design Academy, graduating with the highest honors in 2016.
Serre’s graduate collection caught the eye of a Parisian concept store, A Broken Arm, showcasing her work on a pedal stool alongside Céline and Margiela.
In 2017 Marine Serre’s collection “Radical Call for Love” won the LVMH Prize, making her the youngest winner ever. Her athletic and futuristic style piqued interest worldwide.
She officially made her debut at the Autumn/Winter 2018 show. Serre’s designs are form-fitting and feature her signature crescent moon print.
17. Jeanne Damas
Thirty-year-old trendy, slender and cultured Jeanne Damas embodies the modern-day Parisian woman.
Born in 1992, Jeanne created her first Tumblr account at age thirteen. She is a French model, influencer, art director, and fashion designer who has been in the spotlight for some time.
Her ready-to-wear clothing brand, Rouje, just celebrated its fifth anniversary and is about to launch a line of beauty products.
Her Instagram has one and a half million followers who follow her every move and read everything she has to say about styles and fashion.
18. Bouchra Jarrar
Bouchra Jarrar was born in 1970 in Cannes and is an acclaimed French fashion designer, artistic director, and expert in Métiers d’art and French most intricate technics.
Bouchra studied at the Duperré Superior School of Applied Arts before joining Jean Paul Gaultier, designing costume jewelry for the house.
She worked for Balenciaga and Christian Lacroix before founding the Bouchra Jarrar label in 2009.
She closed the Bouchra Jarrar label in 2016 to focus on the renewal of the French Couture House.
Currently, Jarrar enjoys collaborations with the fashion and music industries through her love of photography and supports young women entering the workplace.
She was bestowed with the Insignia of Chevalier of the Ordre de Arts et Lettres in 2012.
The Bouchra Jarrar label received the haute couture appellation award in 2013 and, in 2017, the honor of the Officier of the Ordre des Arts et Lettres.
19. Christian Lacroix
Christian Lacroix was born in Arles, France, in 1951, and his design style included bold colors and patterns with a flair for the theatrical.
The French designer found inspiration from history and blended different periods into his designs.
Lacroix opened his haute couture Maison in 1987, focusing on creating and selling designs inspired by diverse cultures.
In 1989 he launched handbags, shoes, jewelry, scarves, glasses, and ties and sold them in his stores worldwide.
The French designer also did the interior design of several leading hotels.
Hotel Le Petit Moulin, Le Notre Dame hotel, and Hotel Bellechasse, including smaller luxury hotels worldwide, received attention from Lacroix.
More French Designers Worth Knowing
- Isabel Marant
- Jérôme Dreyfuss
- Alexandre Vauthier
- Claudie Pierlot
Final Words on French Fashion Designers
Whether you’re looking up these french designers for design inspiration or want to adhere to the Parisian style, we are sure that knowing more about these French designers will definitely help with that.
Did you enjoy reading about these Frech designers? Then share it on social media!
19 Best French Designers Of All Time
- Louis Vuitton
- Nina Ricci
- Yves Saint Laurent
- Sonia Rykiel
- Pierre Balmain
- Thierry Mugler
- Paco Rabanne
- Jean-Paul Gaultier
- Pierre Cardin
- Marine Serre
- Jeanne Damas
- Bouchra Jarrar
- Christian Lacroix
Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!
Before you leave for France, make sure you have a valid travel insurance policy because accidents happen on the road. We have been paying for Safety Wing travel insurance for a little over a year now, and we happily recommend them to our family and friends.
If you get sick, injured, or have your stuff stolen, you'll be happy to have the ability to pay for your medical bills or replace what was stolen.
Because, for just a couple of dollars a day (depending on how long your policy is for), you're going to get lots of things covered. Be smart and get travel insurance.