Jean-Louis Scherrer: Fashion designer acclaimed by 'Vogue' as 'the Aladdin of Couture'

'When he sees me in something he doesn't like he simply refuses to leave the house,' his wife said

With a design signature he simply described as “very classic”, Jean-Louis Scherrer was a couturier whose forte for creating opulent evening wear prompted British Vogue to christen him “The Aladdin of Couture”. Incredibly feminine without being overtly fantastical, Scherrer's style lay in his flair for blending lavish embellishment with wearable silhouettes. “You can use marvellous fabrics, have wonderful, impossible embroidery – in fact, be superluxe,” he told Vogue in 1974, “and superluxe is what the couture is all about.”

Born in Paris in 1935, the son of a psychiatrist, Scherrer studied at the prestigious Conservatoire de Paris, intending to become a classical ballet dancer. An injury sustained as a consequence of a fall meant a change of career and, after training in preliminary couture techniques and fashion design at the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture, in 1956 he joined Christian Dior.

Working with the infamous inventor of the New Look made an indelible impression on Scherrer, not only in terms of gaining an invaluable apprenticeship, but opening his eyes to the inner workings of the industry. “It was Dior,” Scherrer observed, “who made fashion into a business by changing the length and shape every season.” When Dior died in 1957, Scherrer continued at the couture house. He was now designing under the direction of his former colleague Yves Saint Laurent, an assistant designer who had been unexpectedly appointed Dior's successor.

After a brief spell at Louis Feraud Scherrer launched his own label in 1962, famously presenting his first capsule collection of cocktail dresses in a wine cellar. It was a golden period for Paris couture, with André Courrèges and Yves Saint Laurent forming their own companies and embracing the concept of ready to wear. But although he was commercially aware, Scherrer encountered business problems from the start. He lacked the stability of a long-standing professional partnership – Pierre Berge was key to the survival of Saint Laurent – which would have ensured the longevity of his brand.

“I admired him among fellow couturiers because what he did was tasteful, sober and well-made,” the veteran couturier Hubert de Givenchy said. “I was always sorry about his setbacks, because he had a lot of talent and I don't know how his business was organised, but he had problems with his partners.”

In 1971 Scherrer was one of a handful of Parisian designers officially granted “Haute Couture” status. In the early 1960s his first premises had been on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore, but in 1972 he fulfilled a lifelong ambition and opened a boutique at 51 Avenue Montaigne. By the late '70s he was enjoying commercial and creative acclaim: he had a ready to wear label and had launched his first fragrance, and he was also hugely successful in Japan; he diversified into accessories, sunglasses, shoes and ties. In 1980 he was awarded a Golden Thimble for a collection centred on a Russian Czar theme.

He enjoyed global coverage of his catwalk presentations and reams of positive press and his early client list included a string of exotic beauties, glamorous figures and first ladies: Jacqueline Kennedy, Sophia Loren, Claudia Cardinale, Bianca Jagger and Raquel Welch, who wore one of his sheer dresses in the 1977 French film L'animal. The Scherrer label slowly evolved, becoming synonymous with the 1980s with its exaggerated shoulders, sharp suiting and refined tailoring. Polka dots, florals and animal prints became part of his repertoire and his design handwriting was distinctive for its international appeal.

In 1980 his wife Laurence gave an insight into her husband's lack of ego. “Jean-Louis is very sweet,” she said. “He doesn't mind if I buy a Kenzo or a Saint Laurent dress. In fact, when we're at small parties with friends he prefers to see me in somebody else's clothes. But he can also be extremely difficult. When he sees me in something he doesn't like he simply refuses to leave the house.”

His daughters were both involved in the fashion industry: Laetitia combined a career as a model and animal rights activist while Leonor became a designer in her own right and muse to Givenchy's Riccardo Tisci.

Scherrer had always been directly involved in managing the business, entering into a series of deals which culminated in the label's sale to the Japanese company Seibu Saison in 1990. Although internationally recognised, with 130 employees and annual sales of $25 million, it was operating at a loss. In 1992 Scherrer was sacked from the house he founded due to “unsustainable losses”.

His outrage at his sudden departure and the way it was handled made headlines like “I Was Fired Like a Street Sweeper” in the industry newspaper Women's Wear Daily. Scherrer had become the first French designer to be dismissed from his own company. The label was designed first by Erik Mortensen and then from 1997 to 2007 by Stephane Rolland. The fashion house closed in 2008 but the brand was bought by the French Group JSB International in 2011, and the Scherrer name lives on via licensed products.

Mourning the passing of a couturier of the old school, Hubert de Givenchy said, “He brought his talent and his name to Paris fashion. In person he was discreet, well brought up, and a very kind friend.”

Jean-Louis Scherrer, couturier: born Paris 19 February 1935; married Laurence Laetitia Coëffin (marriage dissolved; two daughters); died 20 June 2013.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Cleaner

£15000 - £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you've got first class custo...

Recruitment Genius: Mobile Applications Developer / Architect - iOS and Android

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a medium s...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Account Executive - £40K OTE

£11830 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working in a friendly, sales ta...

Recruitment Genius: Web Designer

£15000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most