Emmanuelle Khanh, 1937 – 2017

Emmanuelle and Quasar, c. 1964

Best known for her eyewear designs, Emmanuelle Khanh began life in Paris with the name Renée Georgette Jeanne Mézière on Sept. 12, 1937. At the age of 20, she married her husband Nguyen (Quasar) Manh Khanh, an engineer who became famous as the inventor of inflatable furniture.

The same year she married Quasar, she also began working as a house fitting model (live mannequin) at Balenciaga where she took the name Emmanuelle. She began to make her own clothes, and with fellow house model Christiane Bailly and the backing of French cotton magnate Boussac, Khanh created a ready-to-wear collection of nouvelle fashions in 1962 under the label ‘Emma Christie’ – a fusion of their first names. The collection included cotton culottes, bias-cut skirts and light tweed coats – easy fitting and modern pieces for the jeune femme that caught the attention of Elle magazine. Elie Jacobson, co-owner of the Paris boutique Dorothée Bis, said in 1963. “Emmanuelle is the one that really senses what young girls want.”

“Couture is dead. I want to design for the street” Khanh said in an interview with Life in March 1964. With fellow Parisian renegade designers Sonia Rykiel and Michèle Rosier, Khanh lead the French new wave fashion scene – the Paris version of London’s Mods – Khanh was often referred to as the ‘French Mary Quant.’ The New York store Paraphernalia carried her designs in 1966 including a dress made up of suede strips attached to each other by dome fasteners so the client could have any length she wanted.

She formed her own company, ‘Emmanuelle Khanh Paris’, in 1971 and became known for her 1930s-inspired dresses, fake fur coats, and enormous heavy-framed eyeglasses. In 1977, she began opening her own boutiques. In 1987, the company was reorganized as ‘Emmanuelle Khanh International’ as she moved into knitwear, skiwear, and lingerie. Financial difficulties required her to close her company in the late 1990s although her label was acquired in 2007 by a Dutch conglomerate. Khanh died February 17, 2017.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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4 Responses to Emmanuelle Khanh, 1937 – 2017

  1. Ah, that is a shame. The other night I was just packing up (to go into storage) a really fabulous early 1970s trouser suit by her (with alternative skirt) that is just as good (IMO, better) and chic as anything by YSL, a far more convincing “Paris spin” on the London pantsuit look. She did produce some really good clothing in her time, and it’s surprising how rarely you seem to see it.

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