Emilie Louise Flöge

Emilie Louise Flöge (born 30 August 1874 in Vienna and died 26 May 1952 in Vienna) was an Austrian designer, fashion designer and businesswoman. She was the life companion of the painter Gustav Klimt.

Life and business career
She was the fourth child of the master turner and manufacturer of Meerschaum pipes, Hermann Flöge (1837–1897). Emilie had an elder brother, Hermann, and two sisters, Pauline and Helene.

Her first job was as a seamstress, but she later became a couturière. In 1895, Pauline, her elder sister, opened a dressmaking school and Emilie worked here. In 1899 the two sisters won a dressmaking competition and were commissioned to make a batiste dress for an exhibition. After 1904 Emilie, in partnership with her sister Helene, established herself as a successful businesswoman, the owner of the haute couture fashion salon known as Schwestern Flöge (Flöge Sisters) in one of the major Viennese thoroughfares, the Mariahilfer Strasse. In this salon, which had been designed in the Jugendstil by the architect Josef Hoffmann, she presented designer clothing in the style of the Wiener Werkstätte. During her trips to London and Paris she familiarised herself with the latest fashion trends from Coco Chanel and Christian Dior. However, after the Anschluss with the German Third Reich in 1938, Flöge lost her most important customers and had to close her salon, which had become the leading fashion venue for Viennese society. After 1938 she worked from the top floor of her home at 39 Ungargasse.

Association with Gustav Klimt
Emilie Flöge was a fascinating member of the Viennese bohemian (Bohemianism) and Fin de siècle circles and the life companion of the painter Gustav Klimt. In 1891, Helene, the younger sister of Emilie, married Ernst Klimt, the brother of Gustav Klimt, but when Ernst died in December 1892, Gustav was made Helene’s guardian. At that time Emilie was 18 years old and Gustav became a frequent guest at her parents’ home, spending the summers with the Flöge family at Lake Attersee.

After 1891, Klimt portrayed her in many of his works. Experts believe that his most famous painting, The Kiss (Klimt painting), shows the artist and Emilie Flöge as lovers. Klimt also drew some garments in the rational dress style for the Flöge salon – a style promoted by the feminist movement – and from 1898 other clothes designed by the Vienna Secession; the latter were worn without a corset and hung loosely from the shoulders with comfortable, wide sleeves. However, the clientele for what was at that time a revolutionary fashion was too small to provide a living and she accordingly earned money through conventional styles. Klimt was painting many ladies from the upper echelons of Viennese society and thus able to introduce Emilie Flöge to a prosperous client base.

In the final days of the Second World War, her house in the Ungargasse caught fire, destroying not only her collection of garments but also valuable objects from the estate of Gustav Klimt. She had inherited half of Klimt’s estate following his death in 1918, the other half going to the painter’s family.

In the 2006 film Klimt, Emilie Flöge was played by Veronica Ferres and Gustav Klimt by the American actor, John Malkovich.

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