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October 13, 2023

20 Stunning Portraits of Fashion Designer Emilie Flöge From the 1900s and 1910s

Emilie Flöge (July 14, 1862 – February 6, 1918) was one of Vienna’s most successful fashion stylists and designers who created bold, stunning designs for the newly and increasingly liberated ‘modern’ Viennese woman.

Like her life-long companion Gustav Klimt, Emilie Flöge came from fairly humble origins. Klimt’s glorious portrait of her at the age of 28 conveys something of her strong personality. She was born in Vienna in 1874, one of three daughters of a wood carver who specialized in fashioning the meerschaum pipes which, universally, the male population smoked at this time.

As a business woman, Emilie Flöge was one of Vienna’s most successful fashion stylists and designers. In 1904, together with her sisters Pauline and Helene, she opened the couture house Schwestern Flöge (Flöge Sisters) in Casa Piccola on the Mariahilferstrasse. The couture house, with its interiors designed by Josef Hoffmann and Koloman Moser as a Wiener Werkstätte commission, quickly became a successful enterprise with wealthy clients who were committed to modernity in all its forms.

The success of the Flöge sisters’ business resulted in the entire first floor of the Casa Piccola eventually being used by their flourishing enterprise. While the reception room was in a striking black-and-white design, the walls of the next room were covered in felt. Samples of embroidery and lace were displayed in vitrines situated between the windows. The collapse of the Habsburg monarchy in 1918, and the ensuing years of impoverishment that gripped Vienna, represented a severe economic test for Emilie Flöge and her sisters, but they displayed remarkable business skills and were able to survive into a new era in which the pre-1914 world of aristocracy and Grossbürgertum became a vanished epoch of elegance and leisure.

Despite the horrific inflation of the early 1920s and the depression of the 1930s, Schwestern Flöge was able to remain in business. Although no longer as wealthy as they had once been, many customers remained loyal to an establishment that signified stylishness often raised to the level of art. Only with the Anschluss, the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany in March 1938, was the venerable shop forced to close down. With the loss of their Jewish clientele, Emilie and her sisters could no longer remain in business. The new Nazi rulers of Vienna regarded the shop as a symbol of an undesirable decadent era dominated by cosmopolitan Jews and haughty aristocrats, and were pleased when it expired.

Emilie Flöge’s haute couture shop was shuttered forever in 1938; in many ways, her personal ambitions had died two decades earlier. On January 11, 1918, Gustav Klimt was struck down by a stroke. The first recognizable words that he was able to utter were “Die Emilie soll kommen” (“Emilie must come”). After Klimt’s death from pneumonia on February 6, 1918, Emilie collected her letters to him, burning several laundry baskets full. But she never forgot their love for each other, and after the closure of her business, she retained a small room looking onto a courtyard at the Casa Piccola, turning it into a private and intimate museum in which the furnishings of Klimt's studio were kept. Emilie Flöge never wrote her memoirs, but despite the paucity of sources historians have been able to reconstruct the story of her powerful influence as the muse of one of fin-de-siècle Vienna’s greatest artists. Among the last survivors from an utterly vanished world, she died in Vienna on May 26, 1952.


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