• Emilie Flöge in her reform dress and Gustav Klimt in his smock in the garden of the Villa Oleander at the Lake Attersee, 1910

    Emilie Flöge, a Fashion Icon and a Kiss

    Fashion designer Emilie Flöge was far more than the muse of Austria’s most famous painter: The successful entrepreneur also revolutionized the fashion standards of her time.

    Emilie Flöge and Gustav Klimt in a rowboat in front of the Villa Paulick, photographed by Emma Bacher, 1909

    In the footsteps of Emilie Flöge

    Haute Couture at the Turn of the 20th Century

    The Austrian author Thomas Bernhard coined the term „Lebensmensch“ to describe the most important person in one’s life. Emilie Flöge, who was born in 1874, must have been Gustav Klimt’s Lebensmensch. Whoever delves deeper into Klimt’s history will find it is deeply entwined with hers. Numerous letters and photographs of day trips and summers spent together attest to what was at least a life-long friendship and mutual affection. Much has been speculated about the actual nature of their relationship. Both designer and artist were discreet about their friendship. Klimt had a son with two different women at nearly the same time - in all, he is said to have fathered 16 illegitimate children - and Flöge remained an independent, emancipated entrepreneur all her life. Together with her sisters Pauline and Helene, she founded the fashion salon “Schwestern Flöge“ in 1904, located at the „Casa Piccola“ on Mariahilfer Straße 1b. The studio was flourishing and at its height employed up to 80 seamstresses to serve clients of the upper bourgeoisie.

    A Pioneer in Fashion

    It is safe to say that not every lady who sat for a portrait by Gustav Klimt also purchased one of Flöge‘s Avantgarde designs. But as creative head of the studio, she deserved much more attention than she has so far received in many decades of research into Klimt and his life. Her fashion label was a perfect example of Viennese Modernism: a Gesamtkunstwerk from the actual label to the interior of the store, commissioned from the Wiener Werkstätte, Koloman Moser, and Josef Hoffmann. Emilie focussed on creatively redesigning the “Reformkleid,” which was intended to liberate women from the corset and until then was not exactly known for its beauty or design.

    Emilie herself wore the willowing, floor-length dresses consistently and liked to combine them with jewelry from the Wiener Werkstätte. „Even on the famous photographs that show her and Klimt on a boat ride on Lake Attersee, she is wearing her designs and is adorned with brooches and necklaces from the Wiener Werkstätte. Thus she presented in the countryside what she had created in the city,” explains Sandra Tretter. Sandra is the director of the Klimt-Foundation, which runs the Gustav-Klimt-Zentrum on Lake Attersee, and has dedicated herself to researching the life of the Viennese fashion designer.

    While Klimt’s art made him immortal, Flöge, who died in 1952, was largely forgotten as a designer. Experts assume that she lives on in Klimt’s most famous painting, the “Kiss.” Flöge is laid to rest in an honorary grave on the protestant cemetery in Wien-Simmering.

    Emilie und Pauline Flöge, Gustav Klimt, Hermann Flöge (hidden) und Hermine Flöge in the motorboat at the lake Attersee, 1905

    Emilie Flöge: Milestones of her Life

    Places of Inspiration

    1874 - Emilie Flöge is born as the youngest of four children.

    1892 - Through her sister Helene’s wedding with Klimt’s brother Ernst, she became Gustav Klimt’s sister-in-law.

    1895 - First known correspondence between Klimt and Emilie Flöge.

    1897 - First joint summer vacation of families Klimt and Flöge in Fieberbrunn in Tirol.

    Between 1900 and 1916, Gustav and Emilie regularly spent summers near Lake Attersee: in Litzlberg am Attersee, in the Villa Paulick in Seewalchen, in the Villa Oleander in Kammer or at the Forsthaus in Weißenbach. This is documented by numerous pictures showing Emilie in her avant-garde dresses, as well as over 40 landscape paintings Klimt created there.

    Emilie Flöge in her reform dress in Litzlberg am Attersee, photographed by Gustav Klimt, 1906

    1904 - Opening of the fashion studio „Schwestern Flöge“ together with Emilie’s sisters Helene and Pauline. Emilie is the creative head, networker, and testimonial of the label. She travels to Paris regularly to attend trade shows and bring back the newest trends. Her clients are ladies of Vienna’s high-society. Klimt is also sending some of his clients to the Flöge sisters.

    When Klimt died in 1918, part of his estate went to Emilie.

    1938 - Emilie closes her business for good.

    1952 - Emilie dies in Vienna, her honorary grave is located at the protestant cemetery in Wien-Simmering.

    „Emilie Flöge was, in every respect, an unusual woman by the standards of the early 20th century."

    Gustav Klimt, Der Kuss (Liebespaar)
    Sandra Tretter, Director of the Gustav-Klimt-Foundation

    Interview with Sandra Tretter

    Sandra Tretter, director of the Klimt-Foundation, which runs the Gustav-Klimt-Centre on Lake Attersee, has dedicated her work and that of her team not only to researching Klimt’s life, but the work and life of the extravagant fashion designer Emilie Flöge. In 2016, you put on the first ever exhibition focussed entirely on Emilie Flöge at the Gustav-Klimt-Centre at Lake Attersee. Why do we know so little about Flöge?
    Sandra Tretter: It is true that she was overlooked by art historians for way too long. Even her grave on the protestant cemetery was only discovered in 2006, by an english hobby-researcher and Flöge fan, one year after the Friedhofsrecht had expired. Thankfully, the burial plot wasn’t vacated yet and was changed to a grave of honor. Her intricate fashion was very much sought after and, much like Klimt’s paintings, a must-have among the fashionable and artistically minded. Where can one find works by Emilie Flöge?
    Sandra Tretter: Unfortunately only very few of Flöge’s dresses still exist. We have a bathing dress with the original label, the Wien Museum has two dresses in its collection. It is still being researched whether Klimt’s painting shift is a design by Flöge. Her creations are definitely very rare and much sought after items in today’s art world. And where can one walk in Flöge’s footsteps?
    Sandra Tretter: Definitely at Lake Attersee, where Klimt and Flöge enjoyed their summers. Our exhibition at the Klimt-Centre in Schörfling is a good start. Then there is the Klimt Garden or the Klimt Theme-Trail, a boat tour along the northern shore of Lake Attersee which leads past the Villa Paulick, and the newly built Emilie-Flöge-Platz, as well as the boathouse which is shown in a portrait series with Klimt. How would you describe Emilie Flöge?
    Sandra Tretter: She was an independent, emancipated, and profit-oriented entrepreneur, and certainly the creative head behind the fashion studio „Schwestern Flöge“ (Flöge Sisters). She was a professional networker who knew how to use her contacts to the Wiener Werkstätte as well as her connections to the ladies of the high society who wanted to commission portraits. She was, in every respect, an unusual woman by the standards of the early 20th century.

    The Klimt-Foundation dedicates the year 2021 to Gustav Klimt's love of nature. And in celebration of 10 years of the Gustav Klimt Center in 2022, one of Klimt's most famous paintings shall return to this region.

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    •                 Belvedere Vienna _ Klimt _ Kiss