The story of her life shows that there's no better runway than some of the most important and valuable paintings in history.
The first thing that catches your eye when looking at the stunning works of Austrian artist Gustav Klimt is definitely the dazzling amount of gold merged with vibrant colors. Then, once your eyes get used to the splendor, you start noticing those intricate patterns and details that bring each painting together. Klimt was definitely one of those master artists who created a wholly unique aesthetic with his art and the different disciplines he dabbled in. His work has the ability to captivate and take us to a different land dripping with gold and sensuous characters, but perhaps, the things that have always captivated me the most about his paintings are actually the attires he dressed his characters with. There’s something about them that makes them so appealing, as if they belonged to another realm. However, you might be surprised to know that most of these didn’t only belong to his canvases, but were also real pieces created by Emilie Flöge, Klimt’s lifelong muse and partner.
Flöge is known and remembered for being Klimt’s lover, but she was a very interesting character who didn’t need anyone's help to do what she loved the most: creating fashion. Flöge’s career in the fashion industry began when she started working at her sister’s dressmaking school, where she proved to be quite a talented seamstress, but she was more inclined to become a designer and create her own pieces, rather than just putting together pieces of fabric. Not long after she started working at the school, the sisters entered a couture competition, and they actually won. Besides the prize, which was a commissioned garment for an exhibition, they got an important clientele to start their own business.
By 1904, just a few years after winning the competition, they opened their highly successful boutique, Schwestern Flöge (Flöge Sisters), in one of the main streets of Vienna. What made this store so special and unique was that everything about it was unusual. For starters, it was run by independent women without the support of any man, which wasn’t that common at the time, and would even be seen as highly controversial and offensive for the morals of the early twentieth century. Besides that, they had a completely different concept from the one many important boutiques of Europe had. It’s said that Emilie was the one to give her own vision and love for avant-garde art to the store, making the experience a unique one, to the point that wealthy people from all over the world would go there to get the latest trends.
In the same way, although the store offered some of the main trends when it came to fashion, Flöge started separating herself from that aesthetic and started creating her own cutting-edge designs. Many credit Coco Chanel for revolutionizing women’s fashion by giving them more comfortable and wearable pieces for their everyday life, and that’s actually true, but at the same time, Flöge was creating really groundbreaking pieces, focusing on women's comfort. Most of her dresses consisted of very loose pieces with wide, ornamented sleeves. One of her staples was the use of traditional Slavic and Hungarian embroidery, quite popular among the Bohemian circles. Naturally, her unique art pieces weren’t that popular with clients who were looking for trendy, yet more conventional clothes. However, they were destined to be immortalized in art; to be precise, Gustav Klimt's art.
Something important to understand about Klimt and Flogë’s relationship was that it was unusual for the standards at the time. For that reason, many have portrayed her as his long-time mistress. However, it was much more than that. Each had their own personal projects and goals and did all they could to achieve them. When it came to their relationship, there’s no doubt that it was intense and meaningful, and even though they never formalized it, they saw each other as complementary beings to the other. This connection went beyond their personal bond, since both would help the other in their personal projects (Flöge’s designs in some of his paintings are the best examples of how well they got along together). It’s even said that his famous painting, The Kiss, was a painting of the couple showing the strength of their love and one of Flöge's most breathtaking creations.
Klimt died in 1918 after asking Emilie to be with him in his last moments. His passing hit her terribly, to the point that she stopped creating her unique attires and focused only on her job at the boutique. She had lost that person who had inspired her to go beyond the limits of creativity and the imagination. Apart from that, her life from that moment on wasn't that good either. When the Nazis invaded Austria, their business went down, and soon, they were forced to close. As if that wasn’t enough, by the end of the war, her house caught fire, and she lost most of the precious artworks and personal belongings Klimt had left her, as well as most of her greatest designs.
Emilie Flöge died in oblivion in 1952, and even though most of her works are physically gone, her brilliant designs will live forever, immortalized in some of the most important paintings in history. Her work was so advanced that, a couple of years ago, Valentino launched a collection inspired by some of her most influential and alluring outfits, and I bet you'd love to wear one of them.
Here are other stories you might like: