Emilie Flöge

Emilie Flöge 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 specialised in fashioning the meerschaum pipes which, universally, the male population smoked at this time.

Emilie and Klimt met when the Flöge sisters sat as subjects for the painting of the old Burgtheater paintings that Gustav and his brother Ernst had been commissioned to paint. Ernst Klimt went on to marry Emilie's sister Helene in 1891, and so the families were connected.

Successful fashion stylist and designer

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.

Rethinking women's dress

Flöge's familiarity with Wiener Werkstätte projects and her own eclectic love of folk costume and Japanese textiles gave her a head start when it came to rethinking women's dress, which now linked her into the early feminist circles of Vienna.

Gustav Klimt
Austria 1862-1918
Emilie Flöge 1902
oil on canvas
178.0 x 80.0 cm
Wien Museum, Vienna

Reform dress was a powerful new statement of revolutionary modern values. Loose, flowing and bold, it was a fashion that rejected the tight-laced bolstered style of historicist Vienna. It celebrated instead physical freedom, self-expression, closeness to nature, and the vitality of other ethnicities from within the Austro-Hungarian Empire itself to the Far East.

Perhaps too, the vogue for the liberated pagan and uninhibited dance of Isadora Duncan, whose bare feet and loose garments freed movement, was also inspirational. Reform dress was a style for the mature, self confident and articulate woman.

Schwestern Flöge – a thriving business

Schwestern Flöge was to survive and thrive for 34 years as the most progressive of Vienna's female population made the pilgrimage to its premises. A large overlap existed between the clientele of the Wiener Werkstätte and the Schwestern Flöge. Many of Klimt's and Hoffmann's clients were sent to or chose to go to the sisters' chic couture house, and until the Wiener Werkstätte opened its own fashion department in 1911, the talented trio were largely without competition.

© 2011 National Gallery of Victoria