Evening Dress Styles From Maison Worth

For Maison Worth, 1900-1903 was an interesting period for evening dresses- while their silhouettes were pretty much the same, their was a great variety in fabrics and decorative elements. Design motifs varied but were drawn from the natural world and the multi-gored skirts gave great scope to this. We first start with this example from circa 1901:

Worth, Evening Dress, c. 1901; Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum

This example is fascinating both because of the color of the fashion fabric and the design as well as the design motif itself. First, the mint-green decoration set against a pale gray-green is a combination of analogous colors that harmonizes well. Second, the design itself is floral with a ribbon running through it and is suggestive of a vine. Unfortunately, there aren’t any other pictures so it’s hard to get a complete idea of the how the decorative design was created although we’d venture that it’s some sort of velvet applique. Also, we’re unable to view the dress from either the side or rear to get an idea of its reach but nevertheless, it’s an imaginative design that draws focus to the wearer.

Next, there’s this example from circa 1902:

Worth, Evening Dress, c. 1902; Museum of Fine Arts Boston (2003.289.1-2)

The side and rear profiles show the floral design very nicely and there’s complete symmetry between left and right sides.

With this design, there’s a lace-covered underskirt combined with a silk satin overskirt and bodice. What’s interesting here is that the overskirt is shorter than the underskirt and it decorated with embroidered floral appliques that provide pops of color to a peach-ivory background. The whole effect is suggestive of layers of vegetation, especially with the bottom flower appliques overhanging the hem of the overskirt.

Flowers were a key part in many of Maison Worth’s dress styles and here we see the flower them taken to more of an extreme with another circa 1902 evening dress:

Worth, Evening Dress, 1902; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.2009a, b)

As with the prior example, this dress consists of a lace-covered underskirt combined with a silk satin overskirt. However, unlike the prior example, the front of the overskirt opens up revealing the lace underskirt with the edges of the overskirt cut in the shape of two rows of flowers, one on each side, curling upwards. The floral design on the overskirt appears to have been painted on. The overall effect in the front is three-dimensional and the eye is drawn upwards towards the wearer’s face. The bodice is similarly cut, enhancing the whole effect. Here’s a close-up of the bodice:

The train below provides a large canvas for the floral design and almost looks as if the train was actually completely made of flowers… 🙂

This is just a small sample of Maison Worth’s output and what’s interesting to note is that in each example, the decorative floral design was either painted or applique. We hope to unearth some more stunning examples in future posts. 🙂



Butterflies, Ballgowns And Now Chrysanthemums

It’s a truism in fashion that the natural world has always been a source of inspiration for artists and fashion designers and the late 19th Century was no exception. Examples of natural inspiration in fashion abound and in particular have often been a source of inspiration for many of Maison Worth’s designs. In a previous post, we discussed two examples of Worth’s use of the natural world theme in the form of wheat stalks and butterflies. Today, we look at another example, this time Chrysanthemums with this circa 1895-1900 evening dress:

Worth, Evening Dress, c. 1898-1900; Metropolitan Museum of Art (976.258.5a–c)

With a multi-gored trained skirt and minimally sleeved bodice, the dress silhouette reads late 1890s and more specifically in the 1898-1900 time frame. This dress is constructed of a salmon-colored silk satin and features a Chrysanthemum floral motif pattern. With the exception of the upper bodice, there is no trim on this dress and the Chrysanthemum design speaks for itself. Below is a close-up of the bodice:

The bodice features a semi-wrap style and continues the Chrysanthemum floral pattern with a jeweled net backed with salmon-colored tulle at the bustline. The sleeves are minimal, consisting of two strips of silk satin, some white chiffon and trimmed with gold fringe. Below is a close-up of the design motif:

As it can be seen in the picture above, the decorative design is composed of embroidered appliques that give the appearance of a velvet. It’s an amazing contrast to the silk satin skirt and bodice. Finally, not only does this dress have the Worth label, but also a label with a unique dress number which was likely to have been to a specific client. It would be interesting to know more about this… :-).

What’s also striking about this dress is that the design is not a singular occurrence but rather as part of a family of ball/evening gowns Maison Worth produced around the same time:

Worth, Ball Gown, 1899; Metropolitan Museum of Art (26.381a-b_front 0004)

Worth, Ball Gown, c. 1895 – 1900; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.1290a, b)

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

Worth, Ballgown, 1900; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.1250a, b)

The above garments are all masterpieces in their own right, all featuring a large design with a natural theme. Also, judging from the silhouettes and styles, it’s clear that these garments share many of the same pattern blocks.1Although they produced haute couture, Maison Worth was still a business and early on adopted many mass production techniques although they’d never publicly admit it.  Ultimately, while each of these dresses was a unique work, they all had common characteristics that made them part of a collection. Either way, they’re all artworks to be enjoyed in their own right. 🙂



And For Some Gustave Beer…

Gustave Beer was a successful Parisian couturier who operated during the later 19th and early 20th Centuries. Although not a lot is known about him, it is known that he was born in Germany sometime in 1855 and was residing in Paris by 1876. Originally established in the artificial flower business, he branched out into clothing, first establishing a lingerie shop in in 1886 and later expanding into a complete couture establishment by 1893. Although Beer himself died sometime between 1910 to 1915, Maison Beer continued in operation until 1930 when it merged with Maison Drecoll.1The only book-length study of Gustave Beer is in French by Mathilde Héliot, La maison de couture Beer, 2 tomes, thèse en Sorbonne, 2016. Beer was noted for a middle-of-the road style with an emphasis on “classical elegance” that attracted a conservative clientele. Below are a few examples of Beer’s designs, starting with this circa 1898 ballgown:

Gustave Beer, Ball Gown, c. 1898; Whittaker Auctions

Side Profile

The staging of this dress is not at its best but one can see the classic late 1890s silhouette, especially with the skirt and train. Construction is an ivory-colored silk satin with minimal chiffon trim around the neck and shoulders. The entire dress is decorated with crystals and metallic spangles arranged in a floral motif pattern which is shown to its best advantage on the skirt and bodice. It could be said that the bodice and skirt are just a canvas for the floral design-work. Below are some detail pictures of the design:

Close-uo of bodice.

Close-up of hem.

Close-up of decorative motif.

Label

Next, we have a circa 1905 evening dress:

Gustave Beer, Evening Dress, 1905; The Frick, Pittsburgh (1985.523)

This garment reads as the evening version of a lingerie dress and is constructed from ivory-colored silk chiffon with an ivory-colored silk satin underlayer and is decorated with a gold metallic floral motif both on the bodice and the skirt. The bodice is styled so it resembles the waist/jacket combination that was popular at this time and emphasizes the silhouette created by the S-bend corset. The metallic trim pattern on the skirt is artfully arranged so as to mimic vines climbing up a tree. The front of skirt opens up to reveal a chiffon underskirt, framed by the metallic decorative motif running up the edges of the open overskirt. This dress is definitely in keeping with Beer’s emphasis on classical elegance and it’s too bad that there are no close-up pictures of the metallic decorative design.

To carry the lingerie dress style further, we conclude with this afternoon dress:

Gustave Beer, Afternoon Dress, c. 1900; Drexel University Historic Costume Collection

This dress is constructed black lace and chiffon over a green-colored silk velvet underlayer and represents a highly refined take on the lingerie dress idea. What’s interesting here is that the lace panels are not only arranged in circular rows, but the middle ones criss-cross as they move about the dress. On the bodice, we also see the lace panels shaped so that they form a large eye. The arrangement of the lace panels definitely sets this dress apart from many of its peers. We hope you’ve enjoyed this little excursion through the dress designs of Maison Beer and we hope to be able to have more to show in the future.



Paul Poiret And Fashion Trends: 1907-1908

By 1907, a seismic shift was happening in the fashion world that saw a repudiation of the tightly controlled architectural styles defined by tight corseting to styles that were seemingly unstructured and free-flowing (although undergarments still played a key role, albeit more subdued) a more freer. One manifestation of this new fashion trend was a return to the Directoire and Neo-Classical styles of the early 1800s, styles that were incorporated by Paul Poiret in his couture collections such as with his iconic “Josephine” evening dress that he created in 1907:

Poiret, Evening Dress (aka “Josephine Dress”), c. 1907; Musee de les Arts Décoratifs (UF 70-38-10)

This dress was constructed from an ivory silk satin and cut in an empress silhouette, a silhouette characterized by a fitted bodice with a high waist that ended just below the bust line combined with a loosely fitted skirt that flowed over the body. The dress is trimmed with a fitted black net shawl, trimmed in gold braid along the edges and hem. Finally, on the bodice front is a large silk fabric rose that draws the eye. Here’s another view:

Here’s a comparison between the dress and concept illustration that was published in 1908:

And here’s a close-up of the dress front. Note the black net covering:

This dress definitely looks back to an earlier time and it could be argued that the style completely repudiates the tightly structured styles that had dominated fashion for over half a century. To draw a further parallel, the Directoire and Neo-Classical fashions of the late 18th Century and early 19th Century was also a repudiation of the earlier tightly structured styles that were characteristic of most of the 18th Century up until the 1790s. Just for comparison, here’s just two examples from the early 1800s that are very similar to Poiret’s design:

Merry-Joseph Blondel, Felicite-Louise-Julie-Constance de_Durfort, 1808

And here’s the concept illustration that appeared in Les Robes de Paul Poiret which was a design album illustrated by Paul Iribe that served to promote his fashion concepts1Les Robes de Paul Poiret was a limited edition book- only some 250 copies were printed and almost impossible to find on the used book market. But you can download an electronic version for free from https://archive.org/details/lesrobesdepaulpo00irib[/mfn]:

Poiret’s Josephine dress is a perfect illustration of the basic fashion cycle of action and reaction and it pointed the way forward for fashion into the 20th Century.



The Philosophy Of Paul Poiret – Principles Of Correct Dress

Poiret_Studio

Paul Poiret was one of the most influential designers during the early 20th Century and he played a major role in shaping haute couture and the fashion industry as we know it today. Most notably, Poiret helped ensure the demise of the corset, and especially it’s most recent incarnation in the form of the s-bend corset, and introduced new designs that moved fashion away from highly structured silhouettes to more loose ones based on draping rather than tailoring. Also, Poiret was noted for the development of the hobble skirt and the “lampshade dress” as well as incorporating oriental elements in his designs. Here we see just one example of the “lampshade” dress style from 1912:

Poiret, Evening Dress, 1912; Victoria & Albert Museum (T.385&A-1976)

Poiret, Evening Dress, 1912; Victoria & Albert Museum (T.385&A-1976)

However, lost in all of Poiret’s achievements is consideration of his ideas, or “philosophy” were about dress itself. One charge that is often laid on haute couture and their designers is that wealth automatically equates to good or “correct” dress. To Poiret:

This art has little in common with money. The woman whose resources are limited has no more cause for being dowdily dressed than the woman who is rich has reason to believe that she is beautifully gowned. Except in so far as money can procure the services of a good dressmaker, of an artist who can judge his customer’s style and garb her accordingly, the wealthy woman stands no better chance of being correctly dressed than the woman who must turn every penny before spending it. [1]

While the above is almost a truism when it comes to fashion, at least today, it’s still revealing coming from the man who had crowned himself the “King of Fashion.” Poiret further expands on this theme, stating that dressing is:

…not an easy art to acquire. It demands a certain amount of intelligence, certain gifts, some of them among the rarest, perhaps—it requires a real appreciation of harmony, of colors, ingenious ideas, absolute tact, and, above all, a love of the beautiful and clear perception of values. It may be resumed in two words, good taste. [2]

So, what is “good taste” to Poiret?

Taste is by no means developed by riches; on the contrary, the increasing demands of luxury are killing the art of dressing. Luxury and good taste are in inverse proportion to each other. The one will kill the other as machinery is crowding out handwork. In fact, it has come so far that many persons confuse the two terms. Because a material is expensive they find it beautiful; because it is cheap they think it must be ugly. [3]

The above is as true today as it was back then and we see it in the fashion nearly every day. Naturally, “good taste” can be somewhat subjective, depending on time and place but it still gets to the idea that one cannot simply buy their way into good taste, or by extension, good fashion.

Here we see a sample of the fashion illustrations that Poiret commissioned by various avant garde artists such as Paul Iribe. Here we see a definite revival of the simple vertical lines of the empire dress style:

Paul Iribe, Les Robes de Paul Poiret, Plate I (1908)

Paul Iribe, Les Robes de Paul Poiret, Plate III (1908)

Poiret also notes that:

In order not to appear entirely at odds with her surroundings and the place where she lives, a woman is obliged to follow fashions to a certain extent. But let that be within certain bounds. What does it matter if tight skirts be the fashion if your figure demands a wide one? Is it not important to dress so as to bring out your good points rather than to reveal the bad? Can any idea of being fashionable make up for the fact of being ridiculous? [4]

And there it it- Poiret gets to the heart of the matter by pointing out that fashion is about emphasizing one’s good points rather than the bad, something that holds true today as it did then. The above has been only a small sample of the depth of Poiret’s fashion “philosophy” but it’s interesting to see that his ideas still hold true today in many ways and as such, they represent a distinct break with the 19th Century.

1. Principles of Correct Dress, Florence Hull Winterburn, New York: Harper & Brothers, 1914, p. 237.
2. Ibid., pp. 237-238
3. Ibid., p. 239
4. Ibid., pp. 240-241