Fashion, Served Haute

by Erin Feith, Research Assistant
June 14, 2022

By the time the Levilion fashion house debuted in mid-1860s Paris, the city of light was the undisputed capital of haute couture. In the decade prior, the world-famous House of Worth and others had begun revolutionizing the industry and drawing international clientele to France. With its rapid growth and cutting-edge styles, Levilion capitalized on this revitalized scene and highlighted why the nation became nearly synonymous with fashion.

14 Rue de Rome (blue pin) on an 1870 map of Paris, just north of the Champs-Élysées.
Fashion plate in The Illustrated American, July 4, 1896

In 1866, Madame Levilion opened the doors of her fashion house at 31 Boulevard Malesherbes and instantly connected it to the world of high style. The boulevard, completed just a few years earlier, traversed some of the most exclusive streets in Paris and was less than a mile from Worth, the Champs-Élysées, and Louvres. Perhaps due to this proximity, Levilion quickly expanded to a larger salon a short distance away at the desirable 14 Rue de Rome where it remained for decades. Under the leadership of Madame Levilion’s children, and later long-time employees Monsieur Dacheux and Madame Ory, the fashion house garnered greater attention abroad. Indeed, the Levilion name was known across the United States, from Philadelphia, where the firm exhibited at the Centennial International Exhibition of 1876, to Texas, where a sketch of their design was showcased in an 1897 issue of the El Paso Daily Herald

Levilion’s pulse on existing and upcoming fashion trends contributed significantly to its sustained prominence. Designing gowns for all occasions from garden parties to formal evening events, the firm incorporated the latest styles into their designs. Excellent examples of this can be seen in the turn-of-the-century cape and evening gown bodice (top photo) on display in MCHS’s current exhibit, From the Waist Up, where in vogue details, such as bright colors, textured fabrics, and avant-garde silhouettes are easily recognized.

Label inside the seafoam green evening bodice.

With the outbreak of WWI and France’s entrance into the conflict, Levilion was likely forced to close its doors on the Rue de Rome. However, for nearly half a century prior, the firm’s name and chic designs circulated in fashion plates and editorial columns read by women around the world. Thus styling countless women during its tenure, the Levilion fashion house attested to Paris’s role as a haute-bed of couture.

The cape and bodice by Levilion will be on exhibit through August 14.