Jacques Heim, the unsung visionary - "Vintage pre-loved designers" series: unsung designers of the 20th century

Jacques Heim, the unsung visionary - "Vintage pre-loved designers" series: unsung designers of the 20th century

Jacques Heim, the unsung visionary


1/ Collection drawing, Maison Jacques HEIM ©Paris Musée, Palais Galliera
2/ Portrait of Jacques Heim, 1958, DIKTATS website
3/ Jacques Heim Fall 1959 Haute Couture CollectionJacques Heim A/H 1959-60 "Fanfaron", Svend-Heim hat. Photo Philippe Pottier. Model Catherine Pastrie.

French couturier, precursor of the bikini in 1932, direct competitor of the man who invented the “anatomical bomb”, president of the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne and fervent supporter of ready-to-wear (RTW).
Does the name Jacques Heim ring a bell?

Jacques Heim is the first designer to be showcased in our series of articles on “pre-loved designers”, unsung figures of the 20th century who nevertheless shaped the fashion of their time. Vintage fashion is not only about breathing new life into exceptional pieces that have languished in closets, it is also a way to keep the history of fashion alive by bringing forgotten designers back into the spotlight. Jacques Heim is an excellent example. He is one of the most important designers in the history of Haute Couture, and yet has remained largely unknown to the general public, compared with prestigious designers such as Christian Dior, Gabrielle Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, etc.
This is precisely the mission of Lysis: to promote access not only to high-end second-hand pieces, but also to knowledge of the history of fashion, becoming aware of what lies behind the value and the timeless beauty of each rediscovered piece

The origins of a visionary fashion designer with a passion for art

Jacques Heim was born in 1899 in Paris. Shortly before his birth, his parents, Jewish, of Polish origin, opened a fur workshop. From the 1920s, he worked alongside them and soon began to make dresses and coats. He collaborated with the artist Sonia Delaunay, a pioneer of abstract art, and together they mixed fashion and art. In 1925, they even took part in the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris, where they presented “the simultaneous store” and their “textile paintings”: clothing combined with painting, colors with geometric prints, all highly innovative for the time.







 1/ Two models wearing fur coats designed by Sonia Delaunay, with the car belonging to the journalist Kaplan and painted after one of Sonia Delaunay's fabrics, International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts, Paris 1925 Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris
2/ Jacques Heim (Furs) & Sonia Delaunay 1925 Art Exhibition: vintage original print published in 1925 Jacques Heim (Furs) & Sonia Delaunay


In the 30s he created the Revue Heim, in collaboration with art critic Marcel Zahar. "It is the first connection between art and fashion since perhaps Lucien Vogel's Gazette du Bon Ton in 1912," writes Didier Grumbach in his book Histoire de la mode.

1/ Heim - Revue Heim, n°4 (1932, March) / Site diktats 

During this same period, Sonia Delaunay returned to painting while the couturier decided to add a couture department to the original business: the family fur workshop became the Jacques Heim couture house. His creations made a strong statement and were resolutely modern, with the use of new materials and an adept sense for proportions.
His love for art did not stop here. Throughout his life, Heim collected paintings by Picasso and Modigliani.

The scandalous "Atome" swimsuit by Jacques Heim

In 1932, Jacques Heim launched “Atome”, a two-piece swimsuit consisting of a ruffled bra and high-waisted bloomers that showed the stomach but covered the navel - the bikini was not far off. The name “Atome” comes from its size and its small amount of fabric. Unfortunately, it was not a success. Women of the time were not yet ready to reveal so much of their bodies.

But couldn’t we say that Heim was the creator of the bikini? The bikini was launched by Louis Réard and officially unveiled for the first time in 1946 during a presentation at Piscine Molitor in Paris, worn by Casino dancer Micheline Bernardini. The outfit initially sparked indignation! It was extremely provocative for the time, most models are said to have refused to wear it. The name also challenged the codes; it refers to the American nuclear test that took place the same year, on Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands, in the Pacific.

The fierce battle between these two swimsuit designers was played out in their advertising and slogans: “The bikini: an anatomical bomb” vs. “Atome, the smallest swimsuit in the world”. It wasn't until the sexual liberation of the 1960s that this swimsuit finally found its place in the public eye.

 Evolution of the two-piece swimsuit, "Atome "
1/ Atome in the 1940s
2/ Jacques Heim and his Atome Bikini-1946

Jacques Heim shakes up the codes of Haute Couture 

Unlike “Atome”, Jacques Heim's “Haute Fourrure” line was an immediate success. The “Heim Rabbit” even earned him a great reputation! So much so that Gabrielle Chanel, Lanvin and Poiret, big names in Haute Couture, entrusted him with the creation of their fur collections. Success was within reach, just as it was for his beach suits inspired by Tahitian pareos and his peasant suits decorated with embroidered wool.

Jacques Heim was once again a pioneer with his Spring-Summer 1934 collection, the first to use cotton in Haute Couture. At the time, silk, organza or muslin were preferred over cotton. In 1937, he moved to 15 Avenue Matignon, an address more in keeping with his new “Haute Couture” status.

The same year, he launched “Heim Jeunes Filles”, with collections designed to suit the tastes of young girls, which was to be another success. Young girls now had their own salons with catalogs where they chose their outfits made from silk, lace and other soft, easy-to-wear materials. In 1946, Jacques Heim signed the first license agreement for women's ready-to-wear clothing for his brand “Heim Jeunes Filles” with an American company, Junior Ligue

1/ Model in champagne-pink and white check wool topcoat, double-buttoned in pink by Jacques Heim Jeunes Filles, photo by Francesco Scavullo, Harper's Bazaar, February 1962


The post-war period and the role of Jacques Heim in the development of ready-to-wear clothing

In 1940, the Second World War was raging, and in accordance with Aryanization laws, Jacques Heim had to give up his position to a temporary administrator. Two years later, while trying to return to free France, hidden in a locomotive, he met Pierre Balmain. In 1943, he was arrested during another trip and narrowly avoided the concentration camps.

After the war, Jacques Heim was part of the renewal of the female silhouette initiated by Christian Dior and his "New Look", creating floral feminine figures with cinched waists and full skirts, as shown in his “Fracinelle” dress with its graphic asymmetry.


1/ Spring - Summer 1949, day dress in midnight blue taffeta, whose skirt opens to let two rows of black and white striped taffeta petticoats escape. Palais Galliera, Fashion Museum of the City of Paris

In 1949, he entrusted the manufacture of his coats and jackets to C.Mendes, a family factory that manufactured models for the greatest couturiers. Not finding any specialists for the reproduction of his dresses, he founded his own clothing house, Maria Carine, in 1950. It was the first company that provided worldwide distribution of ready-to-wear garments under the label of a designer. In 1956, he opened a Haute Couture salon in Rio de Janeiro under the label “JH”, which occupied one of the floors of the Mesbla department stores.

In 1958, his fame was such that he became president of the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, and remained so until 1962. His presidency came at a time of transition between the decline of Haute Couture and the advent of ready-to-wear in the fashion world. As soon as he was appointed, he founded the Prêt-à-Porter Creation group, a promotion and coordination group, to which nine major fashion houses belonged, such as Carven, Lanvin and Nina Ricci, with the aim of placing the spotlight on ready-to-wear creations.

Jacques Heim's desire to extend the work of the couturier to luxury ready-to-wear lines goes back to a trip to New York in 1934 with the couturier Lucien Lelong. In the late 1950s, he noticed that Haute Couture sales were falling, particularly due to the increase in copies and counterfeits. Jacques Heim, through this group, encouraged the development of ready-to-wear and made the brands aware of this commercial opportunity. His ambition was to modernize Haute Couture and his creations illustrated this change perfectly, with “Heim Jeunes Filles” or “Jacques Heim Actualité”, revolutionary and less expensive collections. The concept of luxury ready-to-wear was born!

Jacques Heim was one of the first to bring fashion shows out of the fashion houses. Until the 1960s, photographs were forbidden during Haute Couture shows and live sketches were also forbidden, as counterfeiting was omnipresent. As the ban was lifted, at the end of the 1960s, and it was considered that the designer's reputation was the most important, the scenography of the shows was transformed, and they ventured beyond the traditional salons.

In November 1962, Heim had his models take off for a fashion show aboard a plane at 6,000 meters above ground, from Paris to Geneva. In the same vein, that year, Gaby Aghion had his first Chloé dresses shown at the Café de Flore in Paris in 1962.

His reputation was such that he became the official dressmaker of Madame de Gaulle in France during the presidency of General de Gaulle, as well as Mamie Eisenhower in the United States. He dressed many film and theater actresses, such as the magnificent Sophia Loren.


1/ Jacques Heim A/H 1951, Model Ann Gunning. Photo ©Henry Clarke/Galliera/Roger-Viollet

Jacques Heim's legacy in the vintage world

Jacques Heim died on January 8, 1967, and his fashion house closed two years later. More than a designer and an artist, he was a visionary director, a major player in the democratization of fashion. After his death, the New York Times commented in one of its columns “Jacques Heim, a great jovial man who looked more like a businessman or a banker than a couturier”!

Jacques Heim is one of those designers that the general public has forgotten over time. Unlike the “sleeping beauties” such as Maison Patou, he has not been brought back to life thanks to investors who believe in the historical potential of these houses. His archives now lie in the hands of former customers, and are passed on to new generations, or are found by fashion enthusiasts, who may not know anything about this great designer, but know how to recognize a beautiful piece.

We hope that Jacques Heim's story will make you want to search for his creations, to hunt out his most beautiful pieces: timeless short jackets, cheerful printed silk scarves, elegant wool coats, cocktail dresses, couture evening dresses, and more.

Our mission at Lysis is precisely to revive vintage pieces from designers who are both known and unknown to the public, but who have left their mark on fashion history through their creativity. The power of vintage is to remember these men and women while giving a second chance to iconic pieces of great quality.


D.Grumbach, History of fashion, Editions du Regard, 2008
D.Bruna and C.Demey, History of fashion and clothing, Editions Textuel, 2018

Watch this video from INA archives:  https://www.ina.fr/ina-eclaire-actu/video/caf97040536/la-mode-1962

Want to learn more about designers ?

Read our article about Thierry Mugler. 

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.