Charles Frederick Worth “the father of couture”

Charles Frederick Worth (1825-1895) is often called the father of couture, although I would argue that the real first couturier (although she was not called one at the time) was Rose Bertin (1747-1813).

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Worth was born in Bourne, Lincolnshire, England on October 13, 1825. His first jobs were working with London textile merchants, and he moved to Paris, the center of the fashion world, in 1845. There he worked with Gagelin, which sold textiles and some ready-made garments, eventually becomming the lead salesman and opening a dressmaking department. This was where Worth established his reputation as a great designer, winning fashion contests at the Great Exhibition in London (1851) and the Exposition Universelle in Paris (1855). In 1858 Worth struck out on his own and opened his own business.

Worth had extremely good timing. Napoleon III ascended as emperor, and took as his wife the fashionable Eugénie, and the revitalization of France initiated by the emperor, and the trendsetting initiated by his wife, led to an insistence for high fashion that mirrored the fashion demands of the late 18th century. Empress Eugénie became a patroness to Worth, setting the stage for his enormous success.

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He was known for the lavish fabrics and trims which made up his beautiful garments, and often took historic influences. Apart from the one-of-a-kind designs he made for his wealthier clients, Worth also made collections which were displayed on live models, which less wealthy clients could order in their own size. He would provide entire wardrobes, including morning, afternoon, and evening dresses, nightgowns, wedding gowns, gowns for masquerade balls, and even costumes worn onstage by the famous actresses and singers of the time.

 

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his gorgeous evening gown from 1898-1900 shows the influence of the Art Nouveau movement that swept the world at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries. The scrolling velvet design is reminiscent of the wrought iron fences and banisters which adorned much of Paris architecture at the time.

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Wrought iron balconies in Paris.

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From the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
This gown from 1893-1900 was worn to a costume party, and shows the influence of the 18th century revivalism that was all the rage at the time (and in my opinion should be all the rage all the time). The gown resembles the robe a l’anglaise style prevalent in the late 18th century. Many Worth gowns show historic influences, due in part to Worth’s many visits to the National Gallery to study historic dress in his early years.

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Worth died in 1895, and his sons took over the family business, which continued to flourish until 1952 when his great-grandson retired.

Ensemble, Worth and Bobergh , 1862–65, French, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Ensemble, Worth and Bobergh , 1862–65, French, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art

From the Chicago History Museum

Wedding gown or evening ensemble, Worth and Bobergh, 1861, Chicago History Museum

From the Museo de la Moda:

Worth & Bobergh, 1867-1870, France, Museo de la Moda, Santiago, Chile

Back view, Worth & Bobergh, 1867-1870, France, Museo de la Moda, Santiago, Chile

From the FIDM Museum:

Worth & Bobergh Day Dress c. 1865 Silk Satin Helen Larson Historic Fashion Collection

From the Royal Ontario Museum:

Girl’s formal evening dress, with, sash, Charles Frederick Worth, Silk taffeta, 1867, Royal Ontario Museum

Girl’s formal evening dress, with, sash, Charles Frederick Worth, Silk taffeta, 1867, Royal Ontario Museum

More dresses were on display at  the Sous l’Empire des Crinolines‘ exhibition at the Musee Galliera in Paris.

Day dress, Worth & Bobergh, circa 1869, Silk faille, Gallerie

Some of the gowns in ‘Sous l’Empire des Crinolines‘ were borrowed from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, not surprising as they have what may be the largest collection of early Worth gowns,  including a beautiful golden ivory example, and a luscious apple green frock, and a sweet taupe & rose ensemble.

1865-1870 Charles Frederick Worth Ballgown

Worth & Bobergh, Green Silk Dress. Paris, 1866-1867, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Charles Frederick Worth, Taupe Silk Evening Dress with Rose Silk Trimmings. Paris, 1867-1870, PMA

From Beverly Birks Vintage Haute Couture Collection:

Worth afternoon dress, 1869-70

And from the Museum of the City of New York come four fabulous early Worth frocks, including what may be the earliest identified Worth gown and a stunning extent wedding dress with two bodices.

Ball gown, 1860, Worth, MCNY

 

Dress with day and evening bodices, 1864-67, Worth, MCNY

Evening dress, 1866-67, House of Worth, MCNY

Charles Frederick Worth, Evening Gown of Pale Blue Silk Taffeta. Paris, 1860s

Wedding dress with two bodices (evening bodice), 1869, House of Worth MCNY

Wedding dress with two bodices (day bodice), 1869, House of Worth MCNY

From paintings:

Elizabeth of Austria by Winterhalter, 1865

The empress Eugénie surrounded by her ladies-in-waiting, Franz Xavier Winterhalter, 1855.

There are also a couple of (well done) remakes of some of Empress Elisabeth of Austria’s most famous Worth dresses of the 1860s.  Unfortunately, I have yet to identify who made them!

Also check out this Flickr set of scans from a 1920s book of Worth fashions – it features a couple of early, and rare, photographs of the women in Worth ballgowns of the 1860s.

Court presentation ensemble

Artist: House of Worth (French, 1858–1956) Date: ca. 1888 Medium: (a) silk, metal, feathers, glass; (b–d) silk, metal; (e, f) silk; (g) feathers, silk, metal; (h–l) silk, metal Accession: 2007.385a–l On view in:Not on view

Evening dress

Artist: House of Worth (French, 1858–1956) Date: 1894 Medium: silk Accession: 2009.300.1095a, b On view in:Not on view

Evening dress

Artist: House of Worth (French, 1858–1956) Date: 1898 Medium: silk, rhinestones Accession: 2009.300.1099a, b On view in:Not on view

Evening mantle

Artist: House of Worth (French, 1858–1956) Date: ca. 1887 Medium: fur, linen Accession: 2009.300.127 On view in:Not on view

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