Looking Underneath The Dress- La Maison Worth

Haute couture has always been an extremely personal experience for the client and this was especially true during the late 19th Century. Garments were designed to precisely fit the individual and constructed of the finest fabrics and trim; one could not help think that the garment in question had been exclusively designed for the client from the ground up. However, the reality was quite different: underneath all the exquisite fabrics and glittery trim were the garment’s basic structure- a structure that gave a particular garment its shape and that structure was based on common pattern pieces. The fabrics and trim might change from garment to garment but their basic structure utilized the same slopers or basic pattern blocks that could be modified as needed for a particular client and style.1(De Marly, Diana. Worth: The Father of Haute Couture. Holmes & Meier, 1990)

The House of Worth was generally acknowledged as the leading couture houses in Paris (and by extension, the world) and as such, its designs reflected this. However, underneath all the exquisite fabrics and trims, the dresses made by Charles Worth often used the same basic pattern blocks (albeit modified for the individual client). It’s often all too easy to get lost in all the exquisite details found on Worth dresses and especially with ball and evening gowns. For example, let’s take a look at these two ball gowns:

Ball Gown Worth c. 1895 - 1900

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

Worth Ballgown 1898

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

Both of the above gowns were made during the late 1890s and both have the same silhouette and share identical lines. Only the fabrics and trim change. Here’s another pair of evening dresses made during the mid 1890s:

Worth Evening Dress Ball Gown

Worth, Ballgown, c. 1894; Kyoto Costume Institute (AC4799 84-9-2AB)

Evening Dress Worth c. 1895 - 1896

Worth, Evening Dress, c. 1895 – 1896; Metropolitan Museum of Art (35.134.2a, b)

Similarities could also be found in a variety of dress styles:

worth_dinner-dress_1897_1

Worth, Dinner Dress, 1897; Costume Museum of Canada

Worth Evening Dress c. 1897

Worth, Evening Dress, c. 1897; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.638a, b)

Day Dress Worth c. 1875

Worth Day Dress, c. 1875; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.1100a, b)

Day Dress Worth c. 1875

Side Profile

Worth Dinner Dress c. 1877

Worth, Dinner Dress, c. 1877; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.69.33.3a, b)

Worth Dinner Dress c. 1877

Side Profile

Surface treatments might differ (i.e. smooth fabric versus ruched fabric) and trains an sleeve lengths and trim can vary but at the root, these dresses share many of the same internal structural components. When one thinks about it, it only makes sense- while haute couture may have only been worn by a narrow segment of the market, within that specific market segment there was a heavy demand and it could only be met by utilizing various industrial production practices. Of course, the client was blissfully unaware of this, their only concern was getting the desired garment. In short, one could term it “mass production luxury goods” which is almost a contradiction in terms.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this little insight into what was going on underneath the dress, so to say, and we hope to be making more posts about this in the future.



Seaside Fashion…

During the late 19th Century, there was an increase of interest in outdoor activities and in particular going to the beach. At the same time, there was a corresponding interest in having the right look for such occasions. For beachgoing, yachting, or simply spending time at the seashore, designers were quick to respond and by the 1890s, there was a plethora of styles available to women.

Beach 1890s

Sometimes bathing costume was not available…

It could probably be argued that the first seaside fashions per se where those created for yachting, an activity that was decidedly limited to the upper classes. John Redfern was one of the first to popularize Yachting costume in the 1870s, being conveniently located on the Island of Cowes, the site of the Cowes Regatta which was one of the largest yachting events in Europe. Yachting costume pretty much followed regular day fashions with the only difference being an incorporation of nautical themes derived from naval uniforms, both officer and enlisted (i.e. sailors). Because of the nature of sailing, fabrics tended towards wool, cotton, and linen and trim and ornamentation tended towards the more minimal (although there were always exceptions).

Redfern Yachting Fashion Queen 1887

Some of Redfern’s “boating” or yachting fashions in the July 16, 1887 issue of The Queen.

Here is one example of yachting dress that’s possibly attributed to Redfern (according to the auction website) from c. 1895:

Yachting Dress c. 1895

Yachting Dress, c. 1895 (originally made in 1890, sleeves have been modified); Kerry Taylor Auctions Website.

Yachting Dress c. 1895

Full Front View

Yachting Dress c. 1895

Another Close-Up Of Bodice

Yachting Dress c. 1895

Close-Up Of Bodice

Yachting Dress c. 1895

Side Profile

Yachting Dress c. 1895

Rear View

This dress is constructed from a cream-color wool with matching upper sleeves made from a silk “grosgrain”- we suspect that it might be a silk bengaline or faille but the picture quality is not good so it’s hard to determine. It would be interesting to know how it looked in its original configuration before the leg-of-mutton sleeves were installed but we can only assume that the sleeves would have been fairly close to the shoulders with perhaps a small “kick-out” at the top.

Here’s another example from 1897 constructed of a cream-colored linen:

Yachting Fashion c. 1897

Yachting Dress, c. 1897; Preservation Society of Newport County

This yachting dress was part of the wedding trousseau for Mrs. John Nicholas Brown (née Natalie Bayard Dresser) who had the dress embroidered with the insignia of the New York Yacht Club in 1897.

And as an aside, we have always wondered just how women managed to get on or off of a yacht, given the somewhat confining nature of late 19th Century fashion… 🙂

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But it wasn’t all about yachting dress, the nautical theme was carried over into dresses intended simply to be worn at the seashore, whether on the beach or close by:

Day Dress 1900 Linen Nautical Theme

Day Dress, American, c. 1900; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1980.171.3a–c)

Day Dress 1900 Linen Nautical Theme

Close-Up Of Front

Day Dress 1900 Linen Nautical Theme

Front Three-Quarter Profile

Day Dress 1900 Linen Nautical Theme

Rear View

This dress is made of a mocha or dark khaki-colored linen and was made around 1900; based on the full blouse silhouette (suggestive of the pigeon-breast style), we believe it dates from the early 1900s. With its free-flowing lines, this dress allowed freedom of movement and the linen material was the perfect choice for wear in warm weather.

Taking the nautical theme further, here’s a similar dress from c. 1895:

Day Dress 1895 Linen Nautical Theme

Day Dress, c. 1895; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1986.150a–e)

Day Dress 1895 Linen Nautical Theme

Side Profile

Day Dress 1895 Linen Nautical Theme

Rear View

Like the first dress, this one is also constructed of linen, also in a shade of khaki. This dress is a little more fitted than the first with a slightly longer, narrow skirt and a more fitted blouse but is still practical for wear on the beach on hot summer days. 🙂

Finally, here’s another dress from 1895 that employs a different color combination:

Day Dress 1895

Day Dress, American, c. 1895; The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York ( P84.25.2)

The above dress is made from a white cotton pique with salmon-colored cotton trim that’s utilized on the hem, cuffs, belt, and collar. In contrast with the first two dresses, this one is a more structured and definitely has a typical 1890s silhouette (of course, the difference between the dresses may be simply be a matter of staging).

Beach 1890s

And sometimes one had to improvise at the beach…

Whether or not people wore the right look, the seashore never failed to attract people and especially on a hot summer day. Enjoy your summer! 🙂

 



Some More 1890s Style…

Saturated colors and jewel tones have always been a favorite with us but they’re something that we have to use somewhat judiciously here in Southern California. Here’s an interesting circa 1894-1895 day dress that definitely embodies the idea of saturated jewel tones, enhanced by the use of silk velvet:

Visiting Dress, c. 1894-1895; August Auctions

The bodice is designed to mimic an open jacket with an inset waist, a style that was very popular during the 1890s and would be carried forward into the early 1900s.

With it’s narrow waist, multi-gored skirt, and gigot sleeves, this has the silhouette characteristic of mid-1890s dress styles. The lines are clean and there’s a minimum of trim except for ivory-colored lace on the bodice front and sleeve cuffs. What is striking about this design is that it combines jewel tone wine/burgundy-colored velvet sleeves and bodice front with a lighter jewel tone wine-colored silk taffeta (at least that’s what it looks like from the picture). Further enhancing the bodice is the use of tapered velvet stripes on the bodice back. The overall effect is rich but not overwhelming. Here’s some close-ups:

Details of the rear upper bodice. Note the use of guipure lace trim.

Upper bodice front trimmed in guipure lace and net.

Here’s an excellent close-up of the silk velvet juxtaposed to the silk taffeta. Overall, this is an interesting dress in that it nicely combines a number of style elements that neatly define mid-1890s style in an aesthetically pleasing way.



Something New…

Renaissance Revival style of bodice in our collection, circa 1880, with a hand smocked center front inset, silk covered tasseled wrist lacing cords and a surprise scarlet lining for the rear tails with heavy lead weights. She’s a beauty, should we lift a pattern?  🙂

Interior view- the seam finishing is a fascinating study in itself.



Inspiration Doesn’t Punch A Time Clock

We are often asked about how we get our inspiration for our designs. Well, there’s no easy answer there but there is one thing that can be definitely be said: inspiration doesn’t punch a time clock and neither do we here at Lily Absinthe! 🙂 Often inspiration can arrive at the oddest of moments- whether we’re driving to an appointment, drinking coffee in the backyard and watching the dogs, or simply thumbing through a magazine. 🙂 One just never knows but the one element that’s constant is that it’s a nonstop process.

John Singer Sargent, Carmencita, 1890, Musée d’Orsay, Paris

At Lily Absinthe, we constantly strive to explore new colors and new style elements, working them in various combinations. Some don’t feel right and are quickly discarded, others get filed away for awhile and perhaps re-worked at a future date, and some we immediately act on- there are those moments when the design exerts such a power influence that it simply can’t be ignored.

Many of our designs focus on the creation of three-dimensional effects in the fabric, something that’s achieved through combinations of fabrics of different textures and the use of complementary and contrasting colors, aesthetics that were commonly used in the 19th Century and are very relevant even in more modern designs.

With that said, let’s take a closer look at just one of our many projects:

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Here we have silk velvet (the ONLY kind of velvet we use, by the way) revers and beribboned silk organza flutings for a beautiful Lily Absinthe bride. <3

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And here’s another view of the hem- that’s a lot of knife pleating going on there. 😉

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And a little late night silk velvet piping for one of the dresses… In this design, the whole objective to present something that’s unified yet unique in its elements. Fabrics of varying luster, weight, and texture are combined to create a dress that has a life of its own. We hope you’ve enjoyed this one example of our designs here at Lily Absinthe.