A coat dress from the Viennese fashion salon “Schwestern Flöge”
Pure Avant-garde – this is what the dresses from the sisters Flöge’s Salon represented in turn-of-the century Vienna. Like one had his house built by Josef Hoffmann and his interior designed by the Wiener Werkstätte and had Gustav Klimt paint the portraits of the ladies of the house, one equally had to be dressed in the creations of the sisters Flöge.
The salon’s address was Mariahilfer Strasse 1b, above the Café Casa Piccola. It was furnished in the fashionable style of Josef Hoffmann and Kolo Moser, while Klimt designed the mosaic with the brand’s name above the entrance and its note paper. The interior was purely black and white and adjustable floor to ceiling mirrors graced the changing rooms, a sensation in Vienna at the time.
All of the three Flöge sisters were learned seamstresses, the eldest having owned a sewing school. While Pauline’s and Helene’s tasks were general organisation and bookkeeping respectively, the youngest, Emilie, was the creative head. She visited the fashion exhibitions in Paris and London, bought the fabrics and designed the clothes. At a time when – even in Paris – being a fashion designer was a male domain, Emilie was the first woman whose work was not only craft, but art.
Strongly influenced by the goals of the Wiener Werkstätte, Emilie, lifetime friend of Gustav Klimt, created the Reformkleid (reform dress) in 1903. It stood for individuality, artistry and excellent craft, and banned anything constricting.
Because the fashion of these times was just so: women were laced into corsets, girdles, hoop skirts, and exaggerated textile structures which often took their breath away. But on the other hand, a new female consciousness was growing. Women were admitted to Vienna’s university of Philosophy from 1897, and there were female journalists, artists and fighters for voting and equal rights.
This mood was perfectly mirrored in the creations of the Salon Schwestern Flöge which opened in 1904 and allowed women freedom (of movement). Fifteen years before Coco Chanel, the Reformkleid abolished corset and girdle. For the most part high-necked, the dresses fabric then moved fluidly around the body, the sleeves being wide and of excessive length.
And even though some made fun of the so-called smocks, the Salon Flöge was successful. However, this success stemmed mostly from creations that Emilie felt were a compromise. Viennese ladies only wished for a touch of modernism, few went all the way of the reform experiment. More so, the dresses were exquisite and very expensive. They were sewn by hand in the finest fabrics, and clients like Adele Bloch-Bauer, Margaret Stoneborough-Wittgenstein or Clarisse Rothschild treated them as status symbols.
The rise of national socialism in the mid 1930ies marked the beginning of the end for the Salon Flöge, as the wealthy, often Jewish clientele stopped ordering. After the “Anschluss”, Emilie had to close her business, and the designer died in 1952.
Mag. Alexandra Markl is a lawyer and freelance journalist; a visit to the exhibition „New Art from Vienna“ 2002 in Massachusetts started her steadily increasing interest in art.