Charles Frederick Worth & Early Haute Couture


Costume College was busy for me this year. Besides delving into the world of Paul Poiret, I also delved into the world of haute couture during the later 19th and early 20th Centuries, an ambitious topic to say the least- one could easily go on for days and barely scratch the surface. 🙂 Fashion  history has always been fascinating and even more so when one makes little discoveries that link the world of the past with today and the research process never fails to disclose tiny nuggets of useful information.

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In many respects, the world of haute couture, as we know it today, got it’s start in Paris largely through the efforts of one man- Charles Frederick Worth. Moreover, he was able to capitalize on a series of trends that had been developing for quite some time. Specifically, going back to reign of Louis XIV, royal patronage driven by the consolidation of the monarchy as the supreme ruling power in France combined with France’s growth as an economic, military, and cultural power served as a catalyst for the development of the textile industry and the needle trades. All the right elements were in place and over the next 300 years a thriving garment began to develop, spurred by patronage both by the Crown and nobility (as they sought to remain in good graces with the King).


By the mid-19th Century, industrialization served to further spur the growth of the textile and needle trades (can you say sewing machine?) and the ground was fertile for a man like Charles Worth. Worth transformed a relatively decentralized industry composed of many individual dressmakers working in small establishments into a large-scale industry employing hundreds, if not thousands. Worth consolidated fabric procurement with production (before this, it was customary for clients to bring their own fabrics to the dressmaker). Also, for marketing, he employed the technique of having his clients choose from a series of sample models, modeled by an army of pretty young women; the client would make a selection and a custom garment would be created. The model was intended to give the client an idea of the final product- often, the fabrics and trim would vary to the individual client.

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What also makes Worth unique is that in 1860 he was able to secure the patronage of the Empress Eugénie and this cemented his reputation; as the center of the French court, the Empress set the styles and naturally everyone of importance wanted to emulate her.

With the demise of the Napoleon III and the Second Empire, Worth was forced to seek expanded markets- no longer did he have a guaranteed client base founded on royal patronage- so he was forced to seek a wider client base. Worth was ultimately successful in this endeavor and by the time he died in 1895, he had clients on all seven continents.

In many ways, the demise of the Empress’s patronage was the best thing for both Worth and haute couture in general in that it pushed couture out to a wider audience and stimulated greater design/style creativity- styles were not determined by the whim of a few people but rather transferred the power to the designers (and ultimately their clients). It also helped couture to reach a wider audience and facilitate the diffusion of fashion.

Worth Ballgown 1898

House of Worth, Ballgown,, 1898; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.1324a, b)


Of course, Worth wasn’t the only couturier- there were many others. Some of Worth’s leading contemporaries were Jacques Doucet, Emile Pingat, John Redfern, and Jeanne Paquin- all fascinating as designers. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of information out there on many of these designers and they’ve become almost forgotten.


Jacques Doucet

John Redfern

John Redfern

Emile  Pingat

An early portrait of Emile Pingat; Courtesy of Jacques Noel


Jeanne Paquin

The above is only a very broad sketch of the topics that I covered in my presentation and I felt that it went pretty well. For the future, I may narrow my focus a bit but nevertheless, it wasn’t bad for a first outing. Stay tuned for more… 🙂

Almost Ready For Costume College…

Isincerely apologize for things being quiet here but I have been in hibernation for the past few weeks furiously working on a series of presentations that I will be giving at Costume College. Why the last minute rush? Well, unfortunately life has a habit of getting in the way and with our relocation and all, time has been at a premium. Costume College is an annual three-day costuming arts convention sponsored by the Costumer’s Guild West and it covers all periods and genres.

Adam 1918

Last year, I gave a presentation on American military uniforms entitled “US Army Uniforms, 1915 – 1918” and I had such a fun time with it that I decided to give an expanded version this year and this is scheduled for Friday July 28. But wait, there’s more…


On Saturday July 29, I will also be giving presentations on Paul Poiret, entitled “The King of Fashion: The World of Paul Poiret” which will give an overview of his early career. Also, I will be presenting “Haute Couture: The Early Years” where I give an overview on the rise of haute couture during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries (1870 through roughly 1905) both in terms of designers and the various styles.

Stay tuned for more!

Lily Absinthe At The FIDM Museum

As part of the A Graceful Gift: Fans from the Mona Lee Nesseth Collection Exhibit that we viewed at the FIDM Museum last week, we were struck by some of the dresses that were used to accompany the exhibition. Of course, while the fans are works of beauty in their own right, it was the dresses that really stole the show (sorry 🙂 )

First, we start with a design from 1903 by Jeanne Paquin:

Paquin Bacchante Gown 1903

Afternoon Dress, Jeanne Paquin, 1903; FIDM Museum (2012.5.12AB)(Photo: Alex Berliner)


Close-up view of the bodice (Photo: Alex Berliner)

In terms of style, this dress is very typical of the early 1900s with its s-bend/pigeon breast silhouette. The bodice and skirt are an ivory/cream silk satin overlaid with ivory/cream lave on the skirt and black chiffon on the bodice and sleeves. The bodice is further trimmed along the neckline with a double row of ivory/cream satin to include a line of flowers. The skirt is also trimmed in rows of ivory/cream satin ribbons and flowers over layers of black chiffon. Finally, at the waist is a wide belt of black satin ribbon. What is especially remarkable about this dress is the deft use of black- and this was NOT a mourning dress. During the 1890s and on into the 20th Century, there had been a trend taking black away from its traditional association with mourning and Paquin was one of those instrumental in this movement.

Below are some views that I was able to get. Unfortunately, because the dress was set far back from the railing, it was difficult to get good pictures so we had to rely on some from the FIDM Museum above in order to present a clear overview.





Close-up of skirt trim.

The fan was also a nice addition but unfortunately it was impossible to get a good picture, especially since the right was reflecting off it it, making the image blurry. Also, at the same time, the fan was a bit of a hinderance in that it was so large that it tended to screen the dress, making it difficult to get good pictures. In terms of overall aesthetics, it’s our opinion that the fan is simply detracts detracts from the dress.

Finally, as an interesting follow-up, here is what is believed to be the original design sketch for this dress:


Fashion Design Sketch Entitled “Bricette” For Paquin, c. 1903; V&A Museum (E.764-1967)

The relationship between the design sketch and the actual dress is discussed in the FIDM Museum blog and it’s an interesting account.

The next dress of interest was this circa 1904 design from the House of Pingat-Wallès (in 1896, Emile Pingat sold his fashion house to another house, A. Wallès who merged his name with Pingat’s and conducted business under that name). Here is the dress itself:

Pingat 1906

Day Dress, House of Pingat-Wallès, c. 1904; FIDM Museum

As with the Paquin design, style-wise this dress also reflects the s-bend/pigeon breast silhouette characteristic of the early 1900s (although it must be noted that the silhouette is nowhere as extreme as some others of the period that we have seen). Instead of chiffon and lace, Pingat-Wallès utilizes a black and white floral ivory silk satin skirt covered in larger black floral appliques. The bodice utilizes the same floral silk satin styled with wide lapels/revers with the same black floral appliques as the skirt. The upper bodice front is also trimmed with velvet lattice-work framing a sheer waist.

We had a chance to observe this dress up close and we noted the quality of the workmanship. For example, the spaces in the velvet lattice-work are cut out towards where they meet the waist- this sort of operation is very labor-intensive. Also, the floral appliques are neatly stitched to the skirt and bodice with dozens of tiny stitches. We shudder to think of the time that this must have taken but such is the nature of haute couture. 🙂

Below are some more views:



And finally, here are some more detail views:

The next dress is by a lesser-known couturier by the name of Christoph von Drecoll who originally got his start in Vienna in 1896 and later opened a branch in Paris in 1902:

Drecoll 1

Afternoon Dress, Drecoll, c. 1898; FIDM Museum

Drecoll 1b

Drecoll 1a

The circa 1898 date on the this dress places it a bit earlier than the previous two but its silhouette is similar (we would venture to guess that the date given by the museum might be a bit too early). The skirt and bodice are a matching ivory/cream silk satin with floral appliques. Although it’s hard to make out from the angle of the pictures and the the black ribbon covering the bodice front, the bodice is of a cutaway design that tapers back to reveal a pleated faux-waist, also in ivory/cream silk satin. The skirt hem consists of a row of contrasting dull and shiny silk strips that harmonizes with the floral designs on the skirt. At the waist is a wide black silk ribbon belt separating the skirt from the bodice and a silk chiffon ribbon tie in front.

We have purposely omitted any discussion of the collar/neck treatment until now…in a word, it’s dreadful. The collar is completely incongruous with the rest of the neck and strikes a discordant note in what would otherwise be a smart, elegant design. The collar is thick and reads like a cervical collar and tends to draw the eye away from the rest of the dress. In some respects it reminds us of the collar/ruff on the Lucy wedding dress in Dracula. Hideous, to be sure.

Just to be fair, here are some more views of the dress:

Three different dresses from three different couturiers, all in similar ivory/cream and black and all representing three different approaches to style in the early 1900s (if we ignore the date on the Drecoll dress). Although these dresses were intended as a backdrop for the fan exhibition, we would argue that it’s really the reverse: the fans were simply an accessory to the dresses. 🙂 To be honest, if the goal was to display fans, there should have been a greater focus on that elements, perhaps sans dresses. But that’s just our opinion and in any event, it was all a work of art and sheer beauty and to be able to see these dresses “in the flesh” was a treat. 🙂

1914 Fashions – A Brief Overview


1914 marked a violent transition between worlds which saw the unleashing of forces that ultimately saw the end of the stable and orderly political, social, and economic European-dominated world order. The events of the First World War ultimately led to a near-complete reordering of political, social, economic and cultural institutions that saw the elimination of the certainties of the prewar world and more importantly, it shattered people’s belief in a world that was constantly improving and becoming a better place for all.

As with other institutions, fashion was deeply affected by the war and the evidence can be readily seen in the shift in silhouettes away from the structured forms that had dominated fashions since the 19th Century. More profoundly, the war saw the introduction of more utilitarian designs in response to women’s changing role in society. Women were now increasingly working outside of the home, primarily in response to labor shortages due to men going off to war, women were increasingly working outside of the home and fashions evolved in response. At the same time, fashions changed in response to outside forces such as materials shortages and changing social attitudes. Finally, it must be noted that many fashion trends that occurred during the First World War did not represent a complete break with the past; many fashion trends we see during the war were a continuation of trends which had been developing from about 1908 on.

So what were some of the basic style details trending in 1914? First, the most obvious is that hemlines were significantly higher than anything previously. Since the early 1900s, hemlines (mostly in daywear) had been steadily moving up, starting with the ankle and moving up to the lower leg. Second, clothing had evolved towards a less structured silhouette with the introduction (or rather re-introduction) of the empire line/Directoire style. Also, this trend towards a more flowing, looser look was also inspired by Oriental fashions and the draped clothing of Classic Greece.

To begin, here are some typical day dresses from various sources. First, we start with some fashion plates:

1914 Pattern2


And for some extant examples:

Below is a day dress from 1910:

Day Dress 1910

Day Dress, 1910; Glenbow Museum

And another day dress from c. 1914 – 1915:

Day Dress 1914

Day Dress, Anne Talbot, c. 1914 – 1915; Victorian & Albert Museum (T.166 to B-1967)

And finally, one from c. 1915:

For evening/formal wear, one can see a variety of new designs to include the return of the empire/Directoire style:

The influence of Orientalism can be seen here:

Probably one of the most dramatic designs were those by Mariano Fortuny and in particular, his Delphos Dress which was reminiscent of Classical Greece:


Delphos Dress – Mariano Fortuny, c. 1910

So by 1914 the perfectly sculpted, corseted figure created by the s-bend corset had disappeared and while clothes still retained some structure, that structure came from the clothes themselves, rather than from the undergarments. However, to be sure, structured undergarments were still worn but the effect tended to be more subtle and not so obvious.

One other significant trend was the movement away from the hobble skirt. Originally developed by Paul Poiret around 1908, the hobble skirt with it’s narrow skirt was visually appealing but severely inhibited the wearer’s movement. Below is just one example of the controversial hobble skirt style from 1910:

Later, the more extreme features of the style were somewhat mitigated by various designers by including hidden gussets and various other contrivances in an effort to restore practical movement yet maintain the style. Jeanne Paquin was noted for including incorporating hidden pleats at the bottom of her dresses to allow for more fuller movement, such as with this dress:

Jeanne Paquin - Hobble Skirt

Finally, to conclude, here are a couple of humorous views of the hobble skirt trend:


Punch, 1910

Hobble Skirt Postcard

For the fashion world in France, the outbreak of the war in 1914 was a catastrophe. With the country mobilizing for war and Paris under threat from the advancing German armies, there was mass economic disruption and the bottom fell out of the luxury goods markets resulting in mass layoffs and many of the great fashion houses either closing or scaling back their business. With the Battle of the Marne eliminating the threat German to Paris, the war settled into a long-term affair and the fashion industry was able to recover by by contracts for the production of uniforms for an expanding French Army.

The preceding survey is just a small has been a brief one and we are admittedly painting with an extremely large brush. However, we want to emphasize that fashion never exists in isolation from the rest of society and that it is subject to the influence of world events. For the fashion world, the First World War marked a definite and final break with the past. In future blog posts, we’ll further explore these themes so stay tuned.

A Look At Jeanne Paquin – Part I

When one thinks of 19th century couture, the names of Doucet, Worth, Pingat, and Redfern readily come to mind. For the early 1900s, the name of Poiret seems to dominate any discussion of couture. However, there were many other notable couturiers whose names are less known and many of these “unknowns” were women. One such couturière was Jeanne Paquin, the first woman to open her own fashion house.


Jeanne Paquin, 1915

Jeanne Paquin was born Jeanne Marie Charlotte Beckers in 1869 in Saint-Denis (just north of Paris). Initially apprenticing as a dressmaker, Jeanne later went to work as a dressmaker for Maison Rouff (not to be confused with the designer Maggy Rouff). In January 1891, Jeanne opened her own fashion house with the assistance of Isidore Rene Jacob dit Paquin ( his last name was legally changed to Paquin in 1899), a former businessman and banker; she subsequently married him in February 1891. Mme. Paquin and her husband operated Maison Paquin at 3, rue de la Paix, where for two years prior he was a partner in a couture business under the name of Paquin Lalanne et Cie. Essentially, Mme. Paquin functioned as head designer while her husband acted as her business manager.

In conjunction with her husband, Mme. Paquin introduced a number of innovations that were later to become standard in the couture industry to include opening branch locations in London, Madrid, and Buenos Aires. Also, Paquin introduced innovations such as organizing fashion shows that employed various theatrics. Also, she was one of the first to send models wearing her latest styles to public events such as the opera and the horse races at Longchamps, especially where newspaper reporters and photographers were sure to be present (today we would consider it creating buzz). Finally, Mme. Paquin marketed on an international scale and to supplement her branch locations, she also organized travelling shows that would tour major cities, most notably in the United States.

In a short time, Mme. Paquin’s stature in the fashion world had grown to the point where she was elected President of the fashion section of the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris.

Exhibition Universelle 1900 Paquin

The Palace of Textiles and Garments, the Exposition Universelle in 1900 in Paris.

In terms of style, Paquin appealed to a more youthful, fashion-forward clientele and she was noted for he attention to detail and the creative use of colors and fabrics in her designs. Although she got her start in the 1890s, there is not much in the way of extant garments and it’s not until the early 1900s that we see her designs in full development. To start things off, below are some examples from the 1890s:

Paquin Front

Evening Suit, Jeanne Paquin, c. late 1890s; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.48.70.1a, b)

Paquin Side

Side Profile

Paquin Rear

Rear View

Paquin Rear2

Full Rear View

Paquin Detail

Detail Of Design

The above example is an evening dress from the late 1890s. Although the dress is labeled as an “evening suit” by the Met Museum, I would be inclined to argue that perhaps this is more of an afternoon/visiting dress for daytime wear and especially since it consists of a skirt, jacket, and waist. The fashion fabric appears to be a dark plum-colored silk velvet with the design in a mauveine/purple silk satin fabric; the mauveine almost appears to radiate. 🙂

But lest one thinks that all of Paquin’s designs were all dark, below is a day dress from the late 1890s:

Paquin Day Dress - Front

Day Dress, Paquin, c. 1890s; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.40.106.42a, b)

Paquin Day Dress - Side

Side Profile

Paquin Day Dress - Three-Quarter Rear

Three-Quarter Rear View

Paquin Day Dress - Rear

Rear View

The fashion fabric of the skirt and part of the bodice appear to be a champagne-colored silk satin (no description was provided by the Met website). Interestingly enough, the sleeves and upper part of the bodice of a darker, more golden colored silk satin. Unfortunately, the pictures do not allow a closer examination. The bodice front and sleeves are draped with a layer of thickly woven lace, forming a peplum of sorts on the bodice front. The collar and neck have a more delicate lace. Decoration and trim are fairly minimal but what there is there is very detailed.

Overall, what we see is a dress with fairly clean lines both with the skirt and bodice. While the lace peplum adds an interesting element to an otherwise simple bodice, it does not obscure the bodice’s lines nor does it overwhelm. Although the Met website does not give a specific date, we would be inclined to date this dress from the late 1890s, especially since the sleeves are a bit restrained but still retain the leg-of-mutton silhouette. Finally, the lace peplum seems to be a precursor to the lace and net-covered pigeon-breast bodices that were to come into vogue in the early 1900s.

Finally, just to show Mme. Paquin’s range, below is a ball gown from 1895:

Paquin Three- Quarter Front View

Jeanne Paquin, Ball Gown, 1895; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.2115a, b)

Paquin Three Quarter Rear View

Three Quarter Rear View

As ball gowns go, this one definitely reads mid-1890s with its hourglass-shaped silhouette. The fashion fabric of the skirt appears to be an ivory and pastel salmon silk print (although a closer examination in person might change that assessment) and the bodice appears to be a salmon-colored chiffon. Trim and decoration are fairly minimal with the neckline and shoulders are trimmed in ecru-colored lace and fabric flowers decorating the bodice front. In some ways this dress seems to be a precursor to the floral print dresses that Dior and Yves Saint Laurent were to design in the 1950s:

Evening Dress, 1956- Designed by Yves Saint Laurent for the Dior.

The above has only been a small sampling of Mme. Paquin’s range and unfortunately, there just are not a lot of examples that are still extant. However, it’s obvious that in comparison with Worth, Doucet, and Pingat, Paquin’s designs seemed to emphasis the base fashion fabrics and their color rather than obscuring them with a lot of excess decoration. Of course, we’re working with a small example here but it’s clear that she was moving in her own direction. However, it wasn’t until the early 1900s that she would really stand out as a designer and in our next installment, we’ll take a look her Paquin’s work during the early 1900s. Say tuned!