French fashion house Chloé is known for creating feminine womenswear, cult-favorite It bags, and playing host to runways filled with supermodels. But the label also has a reputation as being a springboard for some of fashion’s greatest creative directors. When Gaby Aghion launched Chloé in 1952, she created ready-to-wear pieces that could be purchased off the rack—an innovation which would soon become the norm. Aghion recruited a then-unknown Karl Lagerfeld to work with her in the ’60s, and by the ’70s he was heading up the house’s two annual collections. Lagerfeld, who went on to achieve great success at Chanel and Fendi, was not a fluke. Since Lagerfeld, the label has had more than its fair share of smart women who are in tune what the women of their era desire. Martine Sitbon, Stella McCartney, Phoebe Philo, and Clare Waight Keller have all become design stars after designing for the Chloé girl. Today, the brand’s latest creative director, Natacha Ramsay-Levi, announced her departure from Chloé, after a nearly four-year tenure. Will she go the route of other greats who have the storied maison on their résumés? Here, a brief history of the most beloved—and famed—designers’ tenures at Chloé.
Today, Karl Lagerfeld is a household name. (His black and white silhouette is almost as recognizable as a quilted Chanel bag.) However, back in April 1972, that was not the case. Lagerfeld joined maison founder Gaby Aghion at Chloé in 1964, and designed under the label, as well as for Fendi (and the occasional theatrical production) well into the ’70s.
From 1975 onward, Lagerfeld was sole designer of Chloé. Here he is in 1979, on the phone with bolts of fabric awaiting his review. (Notably, he styled his hair in the late ’70s as he still does today.) Lagerfeld would go on to debut his first collection for Chanel in 1983, a label that would make him, and the dusty house, famous.
In 1987, Martine Sitbon joined Chloé, and over the course of five years continued to promote the house’s sweet femininity. She also introduced influences such as menswear and cabaret, while at the same time designing for her namesake brand. As the first female designer of the French house since Aghion herself, Sitbon ushered in a new era, casting the biggest models of the day—Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, Claudia Schiffer—in her runway shows. Sitbon would go on to launch the well-loved Rue de Mail in 2006. In 2012, she was named a Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Mérite.
It seems as if Karl Lagerfeld had a soft spot for his first job. In 1992, he returned to the maison, cementing the free-spirited vibe as central to the Chloé girl’s look. For the spring 1997 collection, he cast supermodels Kirsty Hume, Nadja Auermann and other ’90s favorites to walk in his show.
In 1997, Stella McCartney was named creative director of Chloé. At age 25, she was the youngest to be appointed head of the French house. Fresh out of Central Saint Martins, she had created only two collections prior to taking the helm at the brand.
McCartney had much success at Chloé, although many doubted her skill and dismissed her as simply a rock-and-roll star’s daughter when she was first appointed her position. But her menswear-inspired pieces ended up anchoring the softer side of the house. Here, McCartney takes a lap around the runway arm in arm with Naomi Campbell, a year before she would go on to launch her namesake label. McCartney now operates over 51 freestanding shops and sells her collection in more than 77 countries.
In 2001, Phoebe Philo took the Chloé reins from her former Central Saint Martins classmate. Here, her finale bow at her debut runway show.
Phoebe Philo experienced great success at Chloé, and had the leading models of the day—Gemma Ward, Raquel Zimmerman, Caroline Trentini, and Erin Wasson—walk her runways, like her fall 2005 show. Earlier that year, Philo introduced the Paddington bag—arguably, the first It bag. Three years later she would go on to head up another French house, Céline—where she, and the label, became not only a go-to, but the only brand for the chic, cool, no-frills girl.
Clare Waight Keller designed knits at Gucci and led Scottish knitwear label Pringle before coming to Chloé in 2011. Keller honed in on a certain aspect of the Chloé girl, and that was the label’s ’70s bohemian feel. Like Philo before her, she introduced two bags that became must-haves, the Drew and the Faye.
Photographed by Dominique Charriau/WireImage
Natacha-Ramsay Levi, who headed up the brand since March 2017 as creative director and announced her plans to step down today, takes a bow at her final Chloé presentation for fall 2020 this past February. The standout show, which featured artworks by Marion Verboom, was
an example of a fashion designer-artist collaboration done right. Photographed by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Met Museum
Ramsay-Levi accompanied Gwyneth Paltrow to the 2019 Met Gala as her de facto date. Paltrow had this lemon chiffon dress custom-made by the designer, and her lifestyle brand Goop partnered with Chloé on a capsule collection of clothing the same year.