Fashion houses

The 19th century saw the emergence of the first fashion stores, where the public could buy luxury goods, attractive accessories, sometimes ready-to-wear clothing and often made-to-measure outfits. They were preceded by magasins de nouveautés (‘novelty shops’) where companies like Anton Sinkel, Benedictus Lampe, and Clemens & August Brenninkmeijer (C&A) sold their own products. The first department stores were born of the activities of such shops. Wealthy clients were attracted by the broad range of goods and services on offer. Another new feature of these modern retailers was the use of fixed prices, contrasting with the practice of previous centuries, when most purchases had been made either by haggling or at auction. The goods were attractively displayed and shop windows played an increasingly important role in the process of enticing customers to buy. Moreover, the stores published catalogues, known as prijscouranten (‘price lists’), through which customers in the Netherlands were able to order all the latest fashion novelties and outfits direct from Paris.

The first great international fashion store to arrive in the Netherlands was the branch of the Belgian firm of Hirsch & Cie that opened on the Leidseplein in Amsterdam in 1882. Hirsch & Cie aimed to attract a well-to-do, worldly clientele and one of the features that made it so popular was its tearoom: one of the few places where women could meet without being chaperoned by husbands or parents. International department stores had such tearooms but up to 1880 there had been no such places in the Netherlands.

Hirsch sold couture clothes made to its own design but also Parisian couture outfits made via the ‘licensing system’, as it was known. Under this system, Hirsch bought original patterns by Parisian designers and thereby acquired the right to produce identical made-to-measure copies for its clients. This system was to be used by many well-known Dutch couture houses, such as Maison Kühne in The Hague and Maison Kuyper in Zeist. It worked perfectly until the 1960s, when youth trends in fashion began to threaten the existence of traditional couture. The 1970s saw the closure of a succession of Dutch couture houses: in 1973, Maison Kühne in The Hague and Maison Linette in Den Bosch; in 1976, Maison Hirsch in Amsterdam, and a few years later Heineman & Oswald in The Hague and Maison Kuiper in Zeist.

View all under Fashion houses