Anarchists of Style: Emilie Flöge


“It’s my life.  It’s not some man’s life that I’m here to help him out with.”

–Ellen Burstyn in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

Portrait of Emilie Flöge, Gustave Klimt, 1902

As a fashion designer and owner of a couture house popular with her city’s elite, Emilie Flöge must have stood out in fin-de-siècle Vienna, where female entrepreneurship was rare. She was an early adaptor and creator of reform dress (in an environment that still preferred the more conservative S-curve), further supporting the assumption that she was a character of note. But where did she go?

Today, all research about Flöge seems to collapse into the importance of Gustave Klimt, her confidant of more than 20 years. Were they or were they not lovers? How did Klimt’s involvement in the Secessionist and Wiener Werkstatte movement influence Flöge’s designs? The woman herself—her character and story—is simply overshadowed by the artist. She has yet to earn her own English-language Wikipedia page.

Here, a brief look at a woman whom I imagine has more historic resonance than her press reveals.

Emile Flöge, Madame d'Ora 1909

Her Story (What little we know)

Flöge was born in 1874 and graduated from the School for Applied Arts.  Her sister, Helene, married Ernst Klimt (the brother of the artist) in 1891. Not surprisingly, Emilie end Klimt met around that time.  A year later, Ernst died, leaving the artist responsible for his brother’s widow.  In 1902, Emilie was immortalized in Klimt’s Portrait of Emilie Flöge.

In a party dress

In 1904, Emilie—along with her sisters Helene and Pauline—opened the couture house Schwestern Flöge in Vienna’s upscale Mariahilferstrasse district. Its interiors were designed by Secessionist leaders Koloman Moser and Josef Hoffmann and promoted the Gesamtkunstwerk, complete work of art, aesthetic.  Many of the designs championed the artistic dress aesthetic: “healthy, therapeutic, visually compelling… reject(ing) the artificial, commercial, mass-produced ills of late nineteenth-century society.”1 Yet Vienna’s elite was not totally prepared to embrace this look; business success would require balance. As Wagener notes, “even the Flöge salon could not survive on artistic clothing alone and so continued to offer carefully constructed traditional styles.”2

Reception area of the Flöge salon

While many researchers address the possibility that Klimt and Flöge collaborated on designs, Cunningham proposes that Flöge worked on her own while Klimt contributed sketches that were later created by the house’s seamstresses.3 Did the business owner tell customers that the designs were created by the famous artist in order to increase their value? That would certainly be good business—and when one considers that Schwestern Flöge opened seven years before Hoffmmann opened the Werkstatte’s fashion division in 1911, it’s safe to assume the sisters were good at business, acting with forethought and temerity as they helped to establish an emerging lifestyle and aesthetic.

Emilie 1905, Photo by Moriz Nahr

Klimt photograph of Emilie, 1906

Klimt died in 1918, a victim of the influenza epidemic. Flöge continued at Schwestern Flöge until its closure in 1938. She never married and died in 1952.

Her Style

In addition to Klimt’s famous portrait, an abundance of photographs of Flöge remain available. In each, she appears the embodiment of the new age of dress—clearly a woman embracing a lifestyle and aesthetic that represents the new attitude toward beauty emerging in her time.

(Monica and Lisa are partners in The Anarchists of Style.)

In a house dress

Sources

1.       Houze, R. “Fashionable Dress and the Invention of ‘Style’ in Fin-de- siècle Vienna”. Fashion Theory, Vol. 5, Issue 1, 2001, pp. 29-56.

2.       Wagener, M. “Fashion and Feminism in ‘Fin de Siècle’ Vienna.” Woman’s Art Journal, Vol. 10, No 2, Autumn 1989-Winter 1990, pp. 29-33.

3.       Cunningham, P.  Reforming Women’s Fashion, 1850-1920. Kent State University Press. Kent, OH, 2003.

Additional Sources:

Fisher, Wolfgang. Klimt and Emilie: A Painter and His Muse. Overlook Press, New York. 1992.

Hickey, Elizabeth. The Painted Kiss. Atria Books, New York. 2005.

The Neue Gallery, www.neuegalerie.org.

Related Articles

3 Comments

  • Kat February 07, 2011 07.32 pm

    I really enjoyed this, thanks Lisa!

     
  • HollyColleen March 14, 2011 01.19 pm

    This is a great summary, thanks. You should create her wikipedia page!

     
  • Patricia Fray February 09, 2012 05.59 am

    Beautiful and interesting I really enjoyed this thank you!

     

Leave a Comment

Monthly Archive

Affiliations

Available now: Punk Style by Worn Through founder, Monica Sklar, PhD. Find it at : Amazon.com, Powell's Books, or a bookseller near you.