She loved folklore clothes and Japanese textiles. She started her own fashion salon in Vienna and became the Muse and platonic friend of Gustav Klimt.
I want to introduce you to Emilie Flöge, the woman behind the Reform dress and many of Klimt’s most renown works.
The dresses in Gustav Klimt’s paintings were real dresses, although their designer remained in the shadows.
When I first heard about the life of Emilie Flöge, I knew right away that I had to feature her on Philofem. I first came across her nonconformist silhouette while I was traveling through France last month. A friend sent me a couple of Edwardian photos featuring a tall woman standing right next to Gustav Klimt, pared with a chic and messy bob, a long dress that could have been from from 1972 Haight-Ashbury. Such bohemian flare for such a rigid era in history.
She might primarily be known as Klimt’s muse but she revolutionized fashion in Austria, liberating women from corsets about 10 years before Coco CHANEL released women from bodices in France.
Her father, Hermann Flöge was a Jewish manufacturer of Meerschaum pipes and when he died in 1897, Emilie and her two sisters worked to support themselves.
Inseparable from the Klimt brothers (Ernst and Gustav), Emilie and her sister Helene were part of the bohemian and artsy scene of Vienna. In 1891, Gustav was already painting Emilie’s portrait. She was 17 at the time.
Ernst married Helene Flöge in 1891 and when Ernst died a year later in December of 1892 of pericarditis, leaving a pregnant Helene behind, his brother Gustav Klimt became the guardian of Helene and her daughter. Gustav Klimt started spending a lot of time at the Flöge home and quickly became inseparable with Emilie. In 1904, the Flöge sisters opened their private fashion salon in the Mariahilfer Straße, a main shopping boulevard in Vienna.
In 1895, Emilie’s sister Pauline opened a dressmaking school and Emilie started worked with her as the creative mind behind the operation.
Emilie was creating her “Reform dress” by the early 1900s, a bold statement when women were still bound to corsets. Emilie’s reformative trend was merging wit the “Rational Dress Society” movement, a feminist dress reform movement that was lobbying for practical clothes to liberate women from painful and impractical clothing. Although her reform dress was a powerful statement of feminist freedom, Emilie was also creating more traditional clothing to bring in revenue as the reform dresses were still a bit too avant-garde for the Vienna haute society. Her reform dresses resembled kaftans with large sleeves that enabled the arms to move and a large waistline that encouraged the woman to breathe freely and be active.
Coco Chanel was heralded as the first fashion designer to have liberated women from the corsets but Emilie, the forgotten designer, was selling such designs ten years before Coco set up her first boutique in 1910 Paris.
Flöge combined art with easy fashion and regularly traveled to Paris to find inspiration. She had a direct contact with her customers and kept a hands-on control over her designs.
Her free-flowing designs and innovative lines kept the Schwestern Flöge (Flöge sisters) in business for nearly 30 years, until Austria was annexed to Germany.
Through her dresses, Emilie created and carried a spirit of freedom. Like many direct-to-consumer brands of today, Emilie liked to wear her own models, exuding a natural elegance that was also revolutionary. It almost makes me want to create one of them Reform dresses. I want to plunge into her bohemian, nonchalant-yet-extremely-chic kaftans and graze town with exquisite artists, like Emilie.