Jean-Louis Scherrer, the retired couturier whose luxurious dresses and rich embellishments were symbolic of a particularly fruitful period of French fashion in the 1960s, when designers like Yves Saint Laurent and André Courrèges were establishing their own houses, died on Wednesday at his home in Paris. He was 78.
His death was confirmed by Didier Grumbach, the president of the Chambre Syndicale, the governing association for French fashion, who said that the designer had suffered from a long illness.
Mr. Scherrer, a tall, handsome man with chestnut hair, described his style as “very classic,” and his clothes were favored by members of elite society, most notably associated with Anne-Aymone Giscard d’Estaing, the first lady of France in the late 1970s. He continued working until 1992, when he lost control of his business after a series of changes of ownership.
His designs were first popularized in America by Bergdorf Goodman, which sold them exclusively after Mr. Scherrer opened his couture and ready-to-wear business with a store in Paris on the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in 1962.
“It was a time when the American stores were still buying the couture to be recopied,” Mr. Grumbach said.
At a Bergdorf fashion show for Mr. Scherrer in 1965, the store featured gray and plum wool dresses that were shown with coats, hats and boots covered with guinea hen feathers. A report in The New York Times noted that “the customers reacted like 5-year-olds at a puppet show.” Mr. Scherrer’s designs were also popular with many famous clients, including Jackie Kennedy, Sophia Loren and Raquel Welch, who appeared in his gauzy animal print dresses in the 1977 French film “L’animal.”
Jean-Louis Scherrer was born Feb. 19, 1935, in Paris, the son of a psychiatrist. In 1956, after studying fashion, he entered the studio of Christian Dior, working alongside Mr. Saint Laurent, and continued with him when Saint Laurent was named the successor to Dior, who died the following year. After working for Louis Féraud, and then starting his own label, Mr. Scherrer became known as a more restrained alternative to the daring designs of Saint Laurent, who had also gone into business for himself.
Mr. Scherrer, whose styles ranged wildly from bold animal prints to polka-dot dresses (but not too much fantasy, he said), once remarked that his months at Dior had made an important impression on him. It was Dior, he said, “who made fashion into a business by changing the length and shape every season.”
While Mr. Scherrer managed the business himself, a series of deals, including a sale to the Japanese company Seibu-Saison in 1990, left him with little control of a company that had grown to include roughly 130 employees and annual sales of $25 million, but was operating at a loss of more than $7 million. The sale to Seibu-Saison was made in a joint venture with Hermès, which dismissed Mr. Scherrer from his couture house two years later. It was described at the time as a first in the history of French fashion. The label was then designed by Erik Mortensen, and by Stéphane Rolland from 1997 to 2007, when the fashion line was closed.
The Scherrer label now remains active mostly in licensed products. Mr. Scherrer, who was divorced from his wife, Laurence, is survived by two daughters, Laetitia and Leonor.
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