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Charles Frederick Worth

Charles Frederick Worth (October 13, 1825March 10, 1895), widely considered the Father of Haute Couture, was an English-born fashion designer of the 19th century.

Career

Born in Bourne, Lincolnshire, England, Worth made his mark in the French fashion industry. He worked at several prosperous London drapery shops before moving to Paris in 1846. He was hired by Gagelin and Opigez, well-known Parisian drapers. While working in their shop, he married one of the firm's models, Marie Vernet. Marie would model shawls and bonnets for prospective customers. Worth made a few simple dresses for his wife and customers started to ask for copies of the dresses as well.

Worth, by now a junior partner in the firm, urged his partners to expand into dressmaking, but they hesitated to risk their reputation in a business as low-class as dressmaking. Worth found a wealthy Swede, Otto Bobergh, who was willing to bankroll the venture and opened the dressmaking establishment of Worth and Bobergh in 1858. Worth was soon patronized by the French Empress Eugénie, and after that by many titled, rich, and otherwise notable women. Cora Pearl, the famous demimondaine, and Pauline de Metternich, an Austrian princess and musical patron, were Worth devotees. He also dressed actresses such as Sarah Bernhardt. Many of his customers travelled to Paris from other countries, coming from as far away as New York and Boston. Much of his work is associated with the movement to redefine the female fashionable shape, removing excessive ruffles and frills and using rich fabrics in simple but flattering outlines.He also was the first designer to put labels onto the clothing he manufactured.

Worth gave his customers luxurious materials and meticulous fit. Rather than let the customer dictate the design, as had previously been dressmaking practice, four times a year he displayed model dresses at fashion shows. His patronesses would pick a model, which would then be sewn in fabrics of their choice and tailored to their figure. Worth was sufficiently fashionable that he had to turn away customers. This only added to his éclat. He completely revolutionized the business of dressmaking. He was the first of the couturiers, dressmakers considered artists rather than mere artisans.

Worth and Bobergh shut down during the Franco-Prussian War and re-opened in 1871, without Bobergh, as the House of Worth. Worth took his sons, Gaston (founder of Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture) and Jean-Philippe, into his business and the couture house continued to flourish after his death in 1895.

Commemoration

The life and work of Charles Worth has been celebrated with the opening of the Charles Worth Gallery at the Heritage Centre at Bourne, in Lincolnshire, his birthplace.

Mrs Brenda Jones, chairman of Bourne Civic Society that administers the centre, and her husband Jim, decided to create the exhibition with one of his famous dresses as the centrepiece. The perfect solution would have been to purchase an original dress but they are virtually unobtainable and all surviving examples are scattered around museums in Europe and America. But photographs do exist and she recruited seamstresses to copy one of the costumes in minute detail, the materials, the sewing and the means of display, and the gallery was given a civic opening in April 2006. The dress that has been copied, using material from the period and specially bought from London, is a style known as Visite and made from off white silk with braid and bead trimming, originally designed by Worth in 1885 and bearing the label of his salon at No 7 Rue de la Paix in Paris. This is the centrepiece of the display with two additional dresses, together with other costumes and accessories loaned by members and friends including an original jacket bought from the House of Worth in Paris. Framed photographs and documents illustrating Worth’s life and career adorn the walls and a computer in the foyer has been specially programmed to play a continual pictorial record of his dress designs.

The ladies responsible for the project, namely Lesley Wade, Clare Hart and Debbie Hallam, have now completed a second replica Worth creation for the gallery, this time a magnificent reception dress in red velvet and silk that has enhanced the exhibition even further. The original of this dress was fashioned circa 1883 and was graced with his exclusive label "Worth 7, Rue de la Paix".

Court Presentation Dress

Court Presentation Dress by Charles Worth (see image in Gallery)

This magnificent presentation dress, c.1895, is from the House of Charles Frederick Worth. The House of Worth was in many ways a new departure, marking a shift from the old fashioned dressmaker to something much closer to the modern couturier or fashion designer.

The dress was designed specifically for presentation at court, worn by a Debutante . It is made from heavy pure silk satin, hand embroidered with metallic beads, sequins and diamante in a sumptuous floral design. It is trimmed with hand made lace and like all presentation dresses has a richly worked long train. Trains, which had always formed an important part of court dress, extended from three feet to eight feet by 1870 and even longer by the end of the century. Trains were fastened at this period from the waist and were often made of costly and ornate materials.

Presentation at court was an important milestone in the life of a young woman, marking her emergence into the adult world and providing her with a passport to the most exclusive social circles – and the chance of getting a rich husband. It is thought that Queen Charlotte, wife of George III, was the first queen to have young ladies presented to her at drawing rooms as an acknowledgement of their ‘coming out’ in society. From 1837 these young girls were known as debutantes.

This tradition drew to a close in the 1950s.

Gallery

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