Biography of Jules-François Crahay for Nina Ricci

Updated: Apr 8


The next dress I’ll be recreating is this design from Nina Ricci, c. 1957. The dress was designed for Ricci by the designer, Jules-Francois Crahay.


Vogue Paris Original, #1388, Nina Ricci by Jules-Francois Crahay c. 1957.
Vogue Paris Original, #1388, Nina Ricci by Jules-Francois Crahay c.1957

Crahay was 39 years old when the pattern was released.

He was exposed to the business of fashion by his mother, a Belgian couturier, and he worked for her as a sketcher as a young teen. He briefly moved to Paris to study art and fashion, but returned to Belgium to work for his mother again until the war. While serving during the war as a Belgian officer, he was captured by the Germans and became a prisoner of war for five years in Germany.


He was described as a modest and quiet man, short, with thin lips, cool brown eyes, and ginger color hair.


Portrait of a Designer, The New York Times, Wednesday, July 26, 1961, Photo of Crahay
Portrait of a Designer, The New York Times, Wednesday, July 26, 1961

Below is a drawing of Crahay by fashion illustrator, Rene Gruau.



After the war, in 1951, Crahay returned to Paris, and opened his own couture shop with a society woman who sponsored him. He was a relatively unknown designer, and certainly not a household name. His workers were inadequately trained, and he quickly ran out of funding. Through word of mouth, friend's of Ricci's told them about Crahay, and Robert, Nina Ricci's son, asked him to join their designing staff.


Robert Ricci was the executive mind behind his mother, who eventually took full control of her fashion business in the 1950s.


The retiring Nina Ricci, wanted to transition out of designing, so to keep her fashion brand going, Robert Ricci hired Jules-François Crahay as the head couturier for the house in 1952, initially collaborating with Mme. Ricci.


Here is a photo of the retiring Nina Ricci - doesn't she look like a queen!

For the first collection, Crahay contributed about twenty styles. Then, he added a few more each year. Below, is an ensemble released by the house of Ricci in 1952. To my eye, Crahay's influence is already evident.

Nina Ricci Narrow Ball Dress, Frances Mclaughlin. Vogue, September 15, 1952
Nina Ricci Narrow Ball Dress, Frances Mclaughlin. Vogue, September 15, 1952

When Crahay arrived at Ricci, the house wasn't widely known, but it did have a small, but solid, clientele of exclusive, chic Parisians. Recognition and praise for Crahay's talent began to blossom several years after this Vogue Paris Original pattern was released.


By 1959, Crahay was designing the entire collection of more than 200 styles at Ricci as chief designer, suddenly bringing himself and the house of Ricci to "overnight success." The fashion press elevated Crahay to the top of the couture.


What was once a small and quiet establishment suddenly began receiving attention for designs described as "feminine in the extreme, beautiful of coloring and fabric, un-bizzarre and elegant." His skirts were, "billed and full, both on the suits and the evening dresses." The line that made him famous was his "bouffant" line, although it was his harmony, craftsmanship, and editing that brought the attention of the press, not a revolutionary line.


Crahay said, "I want to exalt women and emphasize their softness, roundness. I want to follow the feminine route."


"I want to exalt women and emphasize their softness, roundness. I want to follow the feminine route."

Here is a photo of Crahay next to his designs:

Crahay designs for Nina Ricci in 1959
Crahay for Nina Ricci, c.1959 The New York Times, Feb. 26, 1959

Crahay held Balenciaga and the late Christian Dior in high esteem. Below, is a tunic suit created by Crahay, which, if you look closely, may have a Balenciaga or Dior influence:


"Paris: The Crahay Silhouettes That Stole the Show," The New York Times, Feb. 26, 1959
"Paris: The Crahay Silhouettes That Stole the Show," The New York Times, Feb. 26, 1959

Crahay's rounded silhouette was also featured in Vogue Magazine:


Vogue's Eye View of Paris, Henry Clarke. Vogue, Mar 1, 1959
Vogue's Eye View of Paris, Henry Clarke. Vogue, Mar 1, 1959

The fashion press compared Crahay to the late Christian Dior, and described his work as the first real challenge to the then entrenched rulers of the couture, such as Balenciaga, Givenchy, and Yves Saint Laurent of Dior. At the time, these houses were designing austere clothes, or clothes for their shock value, and Crahay disrupted their philosophy by presenting feminine and round curves. He wanted to see the end of austerity. Like the late Christian Dior, Crahay designed his collection to magnify the female form, building his reputation around “his charming bell-skirted suits and small-waisted dresses.”


He said, "My goal is not to surprise. Fashion is continuity, the chain of events inevitably linked together."

"My goal is not to surprise. Fashion is continuity, the chain of events inevitably linked together."

Although her designs may not be directly reflected in his work, the designer Crahay admired the most was Madame Gres, about whom he is quoted to have said, "She does not create fads. She is greater, higher than that. She has an instinct for dressmaking."

"She does not create fads. She is greater, higher than that. She has an instinct for dressmaking."

Below is an example of a 1959 Ricci dress designed by Crahay that is currently housed at the MET. You can get a sense of how he designed for the ultra-feminine woman.

Crahay eventually left Ricci in 1963, and moved to the house of Lanvin, where he continued to provide designs for the home seamstress through Condé Nast. There, at Lanvin, his aesthetic was described as "folkloric" with ethnic influences, which included a blend of Russian, Tibetan, and North African themes. Here is a pattern released during his time at Lanvin:


Vogue Paris Original #1898; c.1968; Lanvin by Crahay
Vogue Paris Original #1898; c.1968; Lanvin by Crahay

...with an identical haute couture dress currently housed at the MET.


Crahay designed for women who wanted the grandeur and lavishness of couture. He once said: "I have no use for afternoon clothes. Fashion leaps from the little morning suit to the evening gown."


"I have no use for afternoon clothes. Fashion leaps from the little morning suit to the evening gown."

I hope, by recreating this dress, we can remember and reconstruct Crahay's elegant and feminine design aesthetic that once attracted the attention and praise of the entire fashion world.