Jules François Crahay

Triplex 23.02.24 > 10.11.24

The name Jules François Crahay may not mean very much to you, and yet… This Belgian is one of the last geniuses of couture. For the first time, and thanks to extensive research, the museum is devoting an exhibition to him. An opportunity to discover or rediscover this undeservedly forgotten couturier.


‘A new star is rising in the firmament of Parisian fashion’, journalist John Fairchild wrote in Women’s Wear Daily in 1959. Jules François Crahay had just signed his first collection for the Nina Ricci fashion house. It was showered with praise and brought in countless orders. The press compared him to Christian Dior. The subsequent collections confirmed his reputation as a master of couture.


In 1964, he joined the Maison Lanvin, where he created some 40 haute couture collections and more ready-to-wear garments. He dressed celebrities like Claudia Cardinale, Princess Paola and Jackie Kennedy. His unique creativity and independent thinking opened the way to Belgian designers like Martin Margiela, Olivier Theyskens and Nicolas di Felice at the head of prestigious Parisian fashion houses.

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Affiche Jules François Crahay. Back in the spotlight

The first exhibition devoted to Jules François Crahay

Jules François Crahay. Back in the spotlight traces the long and fascinating career of this fashion virtuoso. Beyond a biographical aim, the exhibition seeks to define and enhance the renown of this designer’s unique style. As artistic director of the Nina Ricci fashion house between 1959 and 1963 and then at Lanvin from 1964 to 1984, Crahay set the tone for a light, playful, romantic fashion, a touch theatrical but always perfectly in control.


While his couture was not one to break boundaries or use statement-women, it was marked by independence and sometimes dictated fashion, shaping it through its passion for folklore and exoticism. And keeping its distance from both purism and futurism. He excelled, in particular, in the manipulation of fabrics, colours and motifs.


The exhibition covers half a century of the history of fashion while tracing the career of this little-known Belgian couturier. The Fashion & Lace Museum unveils its unique collection built up over the years. A selection of haute couture and ready-to-wear samples from this collection is supplemented by outstanding loans from the Palais Galliera – City of Paris Fashion Museum, the Museum of Decorative Arts, the Patrimoine Lanvin and other public or private collections. 65 silhouettes, accompanied by sketches, photos, films and archival documents bring to life the person and work of the famous yet forgotten couturier.

Nina Ricci haute couture, spring-summer 1960, ensemble with bolero, dress and bow belt in wild silk fluted fabric. Fashion & Lace Museum © Louis Kerckhof

Jules François Crahay

A key figure in the fashion sector during his lifetime, Jules François Crahay descended into oblivion after his death. The reasons include his discrete nature as well as the absence of a brand that would have kept his name alive. He left behind no archives after his death decades ago.


Jules François Crahay was born in Liège on 21 May 1917. From an early age, he was immersed in the world of couture. His mother had a workshop that offered “dresses and coats”. That world made a deep impression on him. In 1934, he moved to Paris to take courses in cutting at the Institut Mondial de Coupe. He spent two years there. When he returned to Liège, he worked for his mother’s company.


On 11 May 1940, he was taken prisoner and sent to a camp in Lower Saxony. He designed and made costumes for the camp’s theatrical troupe. He was liberated by the British on 8 May 1945 and returned home to Belgium. Twenty days later, his mother died at the age of 52. After that, he took over his mother’s fashion house and renamed it Jules Crahay.


In 1951, he moved to Paris to take over the Jane Régny fashion label. After presenting just two collections, the company went bankrupt. He then joined Nina Ricci as a designer. In 1959, he designed his first collection that was entirely haute couture. In 1963, he joined the Jeanne Lanvin company, replacing Antonio Castillo as designer. He would ultimately become the best paid couturier in Paris. Two years later, the Jeanne Lanvin fashion house reduced the size of its haute couture collection by half. Crahay also created the brand’s ready-to-wear line.


Over the course of his career, Jules François Crahay was awarded 3 Dès d’or. A record! He received the awards in 1977, 1981 and 1984, the year of his last haute-couture collection at Lanvin. Two years later, he designed the first collection in his ready-to-wear brand: Jules François Crahay. It was produced by the Japanese group Itokin. Two boutiques opened in Tokyo and Osaka.

Jules François Crahay died on 5 January 1988 in Monte-Carlo

Jules François Crahay, 1962 Fashion & Lace Museum

Jules François Crahay by Denis Laurent, exhibition curator

Jules François Crahay. Back in the Spotlight traces the long and fascinating career of this fashion virtuoso, born in 1917 and deceased in 1988. The subtext is a
history of high fashion, the role of the designer and the development of ready-to-wear for couturiers. Beyond its biographical ambitions, the exhibition also aims to define and showcase the designer’s singular style.

Jules François Crahay, the book

The first reference work on this Belgian couturier


The result of extensive research, the exhibition is accompanied by a publication edited by Lannoo: Jules François Crahay, Rediscovering A Grand Couturier
Under the direction of Denis Laurent


On sale at the museum and online
Price: €45