Louis Féraud obituary

Publié le par The Guardian - Vera Rule

The Guardianpublished 31/12/1999 at 01:17 GMT by Vera Rule

Couturier who brought a touch of Provencial sunshine to Paris fashion

Féraud LouisProvencal culture was always different, more real and yet sunnier than that of Paris, and, at least since the beginning of the local cotton-printing industry in the 18th century, so was the region's style of dress, especially around the city of Arles. The traditional costumes that les Arlésiennes wore for farandole dances, festivals and bullfights were famous throughout France, collaged together, as they were, from powerfully-coloured, block-printed and quilted cottons, lace and embroidery, silks and velvets and golden jewellery. And the region's working clothes, the cowboy shirts of the Camargue and the neckerchiefs of the fishwives, had a vivid Mediterranean character too.

The couturier Louis Féraud, who has died aged 78, was born in Arles, the son of a baker, and, when young, sketched girls in Provencal styles flaunting their natural shapes even through the flat, flapper years. He was also fascinated by the post-impressionist artists who came south to the Midi for the dazzle of light (his artistic hero was Van Gogh), and by the bohemians and exiled Americans living cheap along the coast, who swam and tanned and wore sports clothes all day.

Féraud began to paint, moving after the second world war to work in Cannes, a resort then just starting to host a film festival. Like Raoul Dufy, he enjoyed exploring the connection between graphic art and textiles - many later Féraud fabric and scarves were adaptations of Féraud's paintings. He also genuinely liked women, especially the post-war generation who summered barefoot and ungirdled along the Cote D'Azur, and wanted a less formal style of dress than the corseted, sculptured high Paris manner that dominated the years after Christian Dior introduced the New Look in 1947.

Féraud never gave up painting but, as a business, he opened a boutique of his clothes designs in Cannes in the early 50s. Walk-in customer Brigitte Bardot, then becoming the obsession of France, bought an unpretentious pique sundress suited to her 21 years. "Photographers and journalists followed her," he explained, "and within a week every woman up and down the Cote d'Azur was wearing my little white dress. We sold 500 of them in a matter of days."

Those Cannes designs had the ease of American resort and sports clothing. They were easy, like the mood of the times, and closer to life as it was lived than was Paris fashion. On their success, Féraud moved - nervous and homesick for the Provencal landscape - to the French capital with his wife Zizi, setting up his workshop and showroom on the Faubourg St Honoré - smack opposite the Elysée palace - and finally joining Dior, Lanvin and Givenchy as an haute couturier in the seasons of 1958.

He was delighted to access the craft skills available to Parisian designers - Féraud couture is still renowned for its beadwork and embroidery. But he always preferred to put his effort into garments wearable by real, if very rich and chic, women (and actresses, including Ingrid Bergman and Elizabeth Taylor), rather than fantasies modelled mostly for the camera. This, and his early entry into women's ready-to-wear in the 60s, in partnership with the firm of Fink, through which he utilised new, high-quality mass production factories in Germany, made him a precursor of companies like MaxMara and Jil Sander.

But Féraud did not have, nor did he seem to want, the personal celebrity of an Yves St Laurent or, later, Christian Lacroix, who actually shared his Provencal background and passions - they both adored the Arles corrida bullfights.

Paris couture in the late 70s and early 80s relied on ever more extreme catwalk drama to maintain big names and stimulate an excitement which then sold branded luxury goods and licensed perfumes worldwide. But Féraud simply went on consolidating his direct business in elegant, well-made clothes, adding men's ready-to-wear to the range, and shrewdly realising that fashion's obsession with youth was slighting a huge market of over-30s women.

Those with plenty of money to spend bought Féraud. In television's Dynasty, Joan Collins went on trial for murder in a Féraud ensemble; in Dallas, Priscilla also stood Féraud-clad before the court. Before companies like Ralph Lauren and Armani pitched to that demanding demographic in the mid-80s, Féraud ready-to-wear was turning over around £400m annually in Europe, the Far East and the US. He won fashion's Oscar, the Golden Thimble, in 1978 and 1984, and was made an officer of the Legion of Honour in 1994. He also wrote two novels, and shows of his paintings were decently received in Paris and New York.

Féraud divorced Zizi in the 1960s and was briefly married to Mia Fonssagrives, the daughter of fashion photographer Irving Penn and his muse, the supra-elegant model Lisa Fonssagrives. Zizi herself stayed with the firm until their daughter Kiki took over on her father's retirement in 1995.

Sadly, the onset of Alzheimer's disease denied Féraud the retirement he had long dreamed of back in Arles re-viewing old Marcel Pagnol movies, painting lavender fields, and sitting outside the Café Malarte drinking Chateauneuf-du-Pape and watching the girls go by.

Louis Féraud, couturier and painter, born 1921; died December 28 1999

Publié dans Avis de décès

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