The desolate starry nights of Van Gogh and the sinister black cat of the Chat Noir cabaret always seem to follow me when I step into a print store or art supply shop. The quantity of these images seems endless—and then there are the decadent gold patterns that unravel within themselves a woman’s face, shining at me from the shop walls. Her face and dress seem to be an extension of a greater work. For a long time I didn’t know who those paintings depicted. I would see them everywhere, from postcards to notebooks to Nike shoes.
One day, I caught a television segment on Austrian symbolist Gustav Klimt, and there on my TV screen were the patterned dresses and sophisticated women. The program uncovered some of the mysterious women within the paintings, including Emilie Flöge, Klimt’s best friend for almost thirty years. She was a seamstress and later couturiere, serving as collaborator, muse and model for many of Klimt’s paintings, where her unique fashion style and clothing was wonderfully depicted. Here are ten reasons why Flöge was as equally (if not more) awesome as Klimt.
1. More than just a muse for Klimt’s paintings, Emilie Flöge and her older sister Pauline established themselves as completely independent business women in 1895, a rarity in a time in which women were repressed and dependant on men. They opened up a couture house in Vienna called Schwestern Flöge that was extremely successful for over 30 years.
2. Emilie Flöge created a style that was known as ‘Reformed Dress,’ wherein the frocks were worn flowy and loose. Several of these styles are reminiscent of kimonos and North African tunics.
3. As women were literally breaking ribs and bones to fit into fashion trends, her garments and style were rebellious and radical. She threw the corset—still dominating women’s wear in the late 19th century—completely out the window.
4. Flöge was starting new trends in a male dominated world. Most designers were still men while Flöge began creating women’s clothing. She understood what women’s fashion was in need of and she wasn’t afraid to offer it, even if it went against the status quo of trendiness. These styles were greatly celebrated by local feminists.
5. Flöge designed dresses that were simple and straight, almost box cut. Klimt helped design many patterns for the dresses, reflecting his ties to Symbolism. These dresses were then depicted in many of his paintings, including ones he painted of Flöge herself. This was one of the first partnerships that brought together art and fashion directly and consciously.
6. Seriously though, where oh where would all those elaborate symbolist inspired patterns we see on the runway today be if it weren’t for the work of Flöge and Klimt?
7. Her clothing had the coolest influences, from Slavic folklore to Romanian embroidery.
8. I would argue that Flöge is to be the grandmother of the modern bat-winged style sleeve, reppin’ the witchy fairy look long before Lookbook was invented.
9. She could also be credited as being the first fashion model, with Klimt as the first fashion photographer. He took hundreds of photographs of Flöge in her creations.
10. The way this woman accessorized was pure magic. Elaborate hats with loose patterned dresses, just the right amount of jewelry—in the current blogosphere world she’d definitely be a street style muse.