Sunday, March 21, 2010

Charles Frederick Worth

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).

Image and video hosting by TinyPic


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.

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.

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

Image and video hosting by TinyPic
From the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art


These two gowns from 1887 and 1892 showcase the lavishness of a Worth design. The asymmetry of the skirt drapery is one of the hallmarks of Worth's exquisite craftsmanship. The sunburst and clouds on the skirt of the dress to the left show an oriental influence. A fascination and appropriation of eastern cultures has been present in all of the fine arts for centuries, and of course often translates to fashion. In particular, this dress seems to show a Japanese influence, possibly brought about by the renewed interest in Japan in the late 19th century due to the re-opening of Japan's borders to the western world by Admiral Perry in 1854.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic
The Japanese rising sun flag, adopted as the national flag of Japan in 1870.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic
From the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. This shows stylized clouds similar to the clouds in the gown.


Image and video hosting by TinyPic
From the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art


This 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.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic
Wrought iron balconies in Paris.


Image and video hosting by TinyPic
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.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic
A robe a l'anglaise from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

16 comments:

  1. What a wonderful article! Worth is one of my absolute favs as well. His whole attitude, self-promotion, and his adoption of the whole 'artist' persona make him really interesting to study. While Rose Bertin certainly could be credited as the first designer, Worth's smock, beret and his fostering of exclusivity, elevated the role the status it has today.

    As for the Japanese influences, what about this pic?(http://www.mfa.org/collections/search_art.asp?recview=true&id=14528) where you can see the stylized cloud motif and the asymmetry that was used on the skirt above. But it's def true that all the good pics of japanese art are all stuck in books on not on the interwebs - Sad face.

    So happy to have found a fashion history blog! Keep it coming!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks! I feel like Worth would be a really fun person to hang out with. Especially if he is wearing his awesome beret. And thanks for finding the picture! It works perfectly.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'm new reading about this man, I had never read about this man, but I realize he was a great designer, this topic is exciting for me because I'm so fashion.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Beautiful designs, my work involves fashion and designs, this post is very awesome, I read a few years back about him and indeed he was an amazing designer.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I am researching Worth's life and legacy to a vast extent and need lots of information so this has been really helpful... Can you give more guidance as to where to find great information?

    ReplyDelete
  6. Loved this! It helped me out with a test I have to take tomorrow! I'm studying fashion designing... keep up the great blogs! <3

    ReplyDelete
  7. Dear Fashion Historian,
    I have just found you, and already I love you! I am reading Claire Shaeffer's book, Couture Sewing Techniques, and she says of Worth, in mentioning his pioneer moves: "He began cutting garment sections with the grain ..."
    Does this mean that, prior to Worth, people just cut their pattern pieces willy-nilly without regard for warp and weft?

    ReplyDelete
  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  9. An original blog! I just love the way like you redacted those lines, specially the explicative style! I've got a blog, and it would be nice if you can add me in your list... it'll be my pleasure to learn more from this blog's insights.

    ReplyDelete
  10. can any one tell me about his Awards??

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. no we can't because there is no information on that or about how he died either.

      Delete
  11. thanks this helped alot with a school project!

    ReplyDelete
  12. this is great thanks your a genius

    ReplyDelete
  13. this really helped thanks

    ReplyDelete
  14. i got an A+ thanks to this rock on

    ReplyDelete