Thursday, April 9, 2015

It Is Definitely Worth It!

 Early 1900s Court presentation dress. Moyse's Hall Museum, Bury St Edmunds.

It's been awhile since I did a post that was just about pretty pictures of beautiful things. And, so, I give you the story of Worth - Charles Frederick Worth, that is.

Charles Frederick Worth was born on October 13, 1825 in Bourne Lincolnshire to William and Ann Worth. He was their fifth and final child, and the only child other than his brother, William Worth III, to survive to maturity. Charles’ father, William II, left his family in 1836, after falling into bankruptcy, speculatively from gambling or alcoholism. Charles soon found a job in a printer’s shop.

After only one year, he expressed boredom in his current trade and his interest in fashion. Ann Worth died in Highgate, London in 1852, at the age of 59. At this point in time, Charles was a sales assistant at Gagelin in Paris.

In 1838, Worth worked for Swan & Edgar, a textiles shop in Piccadilly Circus, London. Seven years later, Lewis & Allenby, another leading British textiles shop, employed Worth. Still, he sought a more fulfilling life and, in 1846, Charles Frederick Worth moved to Paris.

Empress Eugenie wearing a gown designed by Charles Frederick Worth.

Within a decade, Charles Worth’s designs were recognized globally and were in high demand because of expert detailing and unique design. Worth’s dresses became excessively popular in the 1850’s. He offered a new approach to the creation of dresses, offering a plethora of fabrics (form Gagelin’s)and an expertise in tailoring.

In 1858, Worth’s name was recognizable and he decided to open his own business. He sought a financial partner, Otto Gustaf Bobergh, and "Worth et Bobergh" opened on 7 rue de la Paix. Worth's clientele was astonished by his beautiful creations. His clientele widened and he, most notably, gained the admiration of Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III. With the support of Empress Eugenie, he fully launched his universal career, from New York to Wales.

Constantly looking to innovate couture, Worth set the edge for popular trends by initiating the various silhouettes, lengths, and designs of skirts, hats, shawls, and capes. Worth’s dresses were worn at a variety of occasions, from aristocratic royal events to masquerades. Lavish dresses and costumes were created using precious stones and colorful fabrics to complement various themes and events.  


In 1864, at the full height of his success, Worth reformed the highly popular trend, the crinoline, due to its absurdity in the everyday world. The crinoline was growing increasingly larger in size, making it difficult for women to do even the most basic activities, such as walking through doors, sitting, caring for their children, or holding hands.

Worth wanted to design a narrower and more practical silhouette for women, so he made the crinoline more narrow and gravitated the largest part to the back, freeing up a woman’s front and sides. Worth’s new crinoline was a wide success.

Eventually, Worth abandoned the crinoline altogether, creating a straight skirt. After thirteen years of the cage crinoline trend, Worth had finally abolished its impractical absurdity in the everyday world, giving women a sensible option of dress.
Additionally, Worth adopted a shorter hemline as suggested by Empress Eugenie, who enjoyed long walks but hated the long skirts. Worth shortened hemlines, at first causing upset, but people began to see the practicality of this design.

Ballgown bodice detail

Gagelin supplied fabrics to the most esteemed women in Paris, including Empress Eugéniede Montijo de Guzman, the wife of Louis Napoleon Bonaparte; providing Worth with extremely prominent clients. Later, Worth became the Empress’ official dressmaker and ensured the majority of her orders for grandes toilettes; extravagant evening wear, court dresses, and masquerade costumes. Worth’s Maison de Couture was full of formality, wealth, elegance, and aristocracy.

Socially ambitious women from all over the world were drawn to the wealth that was displayed by Worth's showpiece creations .Worth loved working with American clients because his French language skills never reached fluency. He explained that American women “have faith, figures, and francs--faith to believe in me, figures that I can put into shape, francs to pay my bills.” His most notable royal patrons were Empress Eugénie; Elizabeth, Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary; Louisa, Queen of Sweden; Margherita, Princess of Usedom; Maria Cristina, Queen of Spain; and Ranavlona, Queen of Madagascar.

Tulle ballgown created for Elisabeth of Austria
 Empress Eugenie highly valued Worth’s creations; and constantly had him on call in order to make a dress for every event. With Worth's help, she unspokenly creating the rule that no woman should wear the same thing twice. Often seen and important in society, Empress Eugenie became a model for Worth’s dresses, leading women around the world to purchase Worth’s designs, fully launching his career.

Ballgown beading and embroidery detail

Worth changed dressmaking forever; it was no longer a trade, but an art and took a great deal of talent. His legacy and impact on the world of haute couture are still relevant, as some of his revolutionary changes in the fashion world still remain.

Worth completely reinvented the production and sales of women's clothing. Worth regarded clothing as an art, and for the first time, designed clothing, not for a client’s taste, but based on his impression of what women should wear. He presented finished designs to clients and dress buyers in similar fashion to the modern-day haute couture market (copying and copyrighting).

 He presented his designs on young women, inventing the profession of the fashion model. This afforded him the opportunity to shape women’s views on dress and style of the time.

Worth was the first designer to label his clothing, sewing his name into each garment he produced. This made him the first person to develop a brand logo on clothing.

 Silk and Metal. "Tulipes Hollandaises" (textile)

In 1874, Worth's sons Gaston and Jean-Philippe joined him, helping with management, finance, and design. As his sons became accustomed to the business, Worth was free to take more time off, focusing on health problems and migraines.

On March 10, 1895, Charles Frederick Worth died after a serious case of pneumonia at the age of sixty-nine. His death racked the fashion world, causing a great deal of sadness to his family and devoted followers.

Ballgown by Worth, 1896 (modified in 1900).
Here are two fashion shots of the dress, 
and then a picture of the original dress 
at Musee Galliera, Paris.
via "The Secret Life of Anna Blanc - Mystery, Murder and Romance in 1900's L.A" on Facebook.

... now go make something beautiful!

¸.•´¸.•*´¨) ¸.•*´¨)
(¸.•´ (¸.•´♥ Tristan
A design by current Worth designer, Giovanni Bedin, presented at Paris Haute Couture


Anonymous said...

The true art of fashion. ~Jill

Cindy R. said...

Amazing work.

Edith Schmidt said...

Absolutely beautiful!!

Barbara Rankin said...

It has always amazed me how, even before sewing machines, such beautiful clothing was made, all by hand. TFS this wonderful article.

Cynthia said...

Oh my gosh. . .these are all gorgeous! How amazing the House of Worth is still in business (I did not know that)! Thank you for the informative article and the beautiful images. . .

Carol Q said...

fabulous eye candy and all so different. so clever.

ImagiMeri said...

He was definitley ahead of his time. Having seen one or two pieces in London, at the Victoria and Albert museum, I can verify that the work was magical, perfect and unbelievable in it's details. Thank you for sharing this.

Leslie said...

I adore your costume posts. xo