Born: Paris, circa 1936. Education: Studied ballet, Conservatoire de Danse Classique, Paris, and fashion, Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne. Career: Assistant at Christian Dior, 1955-57, and to Saint Laurent at Dior after Dior's death, 1957-59; left to design for Louis Féraud, 1959-61; founded Jean-Louis Scherrer label, 1962; ready-to-wear collection and Scherrer Boutique ready-to-wear lines introduced, 1971; signature fragrance, 1980; Scherrer 2 perfume, 1986; bath line, 1981; bought by Japanese firm, Sebu-Saison Group, 1990; diffusion line, Scherrer City, 1992; Scherrer replaced by Erik Mortensen and forced out of company, 1992; signed menswear license with Société Korn, 1994; Bernard Perris hired to head design department, 1994-97; Stéphane Rolland hired as designer, 1998; opened shop in Beijing, 2001; Parfums Jean-Louis Scherrer spun off, 2001. Awards: Dé d'Or award, Paris, 1980. Address: 51 avenue Montaigne, 75008 Paris, France.
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His early training as a dancer exposed Jean-Louis Scherrer to theatrical costumes and prepared him to design clothes that would suit the public roles of women connected with politics, theatre, and the arts, as well as the more private roles lived by the wives of wealthy Arabs, whose patronage once accounted for up to a third of the House of Scherrer's income.
From an early apprenticeship with Christian Dior in Paris, Scherrer learned the basics of cutting and draping, alongside a young Yves Saint Laurent. When Saint Laurent inherited the house of Dior, Scherrer successfully started his own haute couture establishment during a period when critics foretold the demise of traditional couture. He quickly became known for designs described as classic, restrained, sophisticated, and sexy but not vulgar. His customers read like a roster of the world's wealthiest women: Mme. Anne-Aymone Giscard d'Estaing, wife of the then-President of France, as well as his daughter, Valerie-Anne Montassier; Baronness Thyssen; Olympia and Nadine de Rothschild; Queen Noor, the wife of the then-King of Jordan; Patricia Kennedy Lawford; Isabelle d'Ornano; Ann Getty; Nan Kempner; Françoise Sagan; Michéle Morgan; Raquel Welch; and Sophia Loren.
In the mid-1970s dozens of American stores, including Bergdorf Goodman in New York, carried Scherrer. Chiffon evening dresses, often accented with sequined embroideries, were a staple, as was deluxe ready-to-wear. These were simpler clothes, more moderately priced than the thousands of dollars of the couture, but still expensive-looking. One such boutique outfit, modeled by Scherrer's daughter Laetitia, featured a leopard print shaped blazer jacket with matching leopard cloche hat, worn with a slim black leather skirt.
Scherrer was not a maker of trends, but of refined deluxe versions of trends. When everyone was showing tiered flounced skirts during the 1980s, Scherrer made a restrained version that just grazed the knee and was topped by a long-sleeved shirt-collared bodice, in luxurious silk. A prime example of Scherrer's hallmark "exotically pampered appearance" was a lavishly embroidered coat in mink-bordered beige cashmere, hooded, reminiscent of Anna Karenina and following in the footsteps of Saint Laurent's revolutionary Russian-inspired looks of the late 1970s. Scherrer, in fact, often borrowed exotic details from the East. Chinoiserie and Mongolian-inspired coats and jackets frequently appeared in his collections. At the apex of 1980s opulence in couture, Scherrer indulged in pearl-decorated rajah jackets, tunics, and trousers. In a spirit of Arabian Nights fantasy much like Paul Poiret's, jeweled and feathered turbans completed the ensembles.
Even Scherrer's day clothes featured opulent touches: velvet appliqués on wool, or gold piping on trenchcoats. Chiffon and silk were used for dresses and skirts; leathers and furs decorated coats. While hemlines rose during the remainder of the decade, Scherrer continued to show calf-length skirts. For him, surface texture and sumptuous workmanship were more important than innovative lines. The longer covered-up fashions satisfied his customers' modesty requirements, dictated by Islamic law, while also proclaiming their wealth and status.
Into the 1990s Scherrer continued to employ luxury materials and to explore a variety of trends—long, short, bright colors (a departure from conservative beiges, grays, and white), patchwork prints, plaids, jumpsuits, feminine versions of men's suits and hunting attire. The Scherrer boutique continued to offer sleek toned-down versions of the high fashion items in over 100 markets in 25 countries. In Europe and Japan scores of Jean-Louis Scherrer accessories could be obtained, and a bestselling signature perfume launched in 1979 was followed by a spicy floral haute couture perfume, Scherrer 2, in 1986.
Financial difficulties resulted in the late 1992 firing of Scherrer from the firm he founded, and he fought back in the following year in court, winning a cash settlement but not the use of his name. The company, Jean-Louis Scherrer S.A., however, continued by hiring Erik Mortensen as couture designer, then announced a licensing agreement for a new menswear collection with Société Korn in 1994. Mortensen was replaced by Bernard Perris, and soon rumors of a possible sale of the embattled house circulated in the industry. Denied by both Seibu-Saison (which owned 95-percent of the company) and Hérmes (which owned the remaining 5-percent), the rumors persisted, and in 1997 Groupe Emmanuelle Khanh bought the ailing fashion house.
Soon after the acquistion, Perris departed as artistic director and Stephane Rolland was appointed new designer in 1998. By the 21st century, the house of Jean-Louis Scherrer had bounced back with a flashy showing in Bangkok and the opening of a new location in Beijing. The Bangkok show, commemorating the golden wedding anniversary of the King and Queen of Thailand, showcased Rolland's bright, nature-inspired prints as well as the sophisticated, feminine dresses and separates for which the company was renowned.
—Therese Duzinkiewicz Baker;
updated by Nelly Rhodes