Another Look At The Countess Grefuhlle…

This video discusses the Countess Grefuhlle and her legacy and was part of an exhibition about her that was staged at the Palais Gallieria in Paris and the FIT Museum in New York back in 2016. We would have loved to have seen the exhibition in person.

Fashion & Celebrity: The Countess Greffulhe

During the 19th Century, the connection between celebrity and fashion became increasingly intertwined. One of the first designers to exploit this connection was Charles Frederick Worth and assisted by the growth of the fashion press, Worth developed into an arbiter of fashion (while at the same time increasing his sales).

One such celebrity connection was Marie Anatole Louise Élisabeth, Countess Greffulhe née de Riquet de Caraman-Chimay (July 11, 1860 – August 21, 1952). Born to Belgian nobility and cousin of the poet and dandy Robert de Montesquiou, Comtesse de Greffulhe was the acknowledged leader of Parisian society by the 1880s and was noted for her association with various artists and writers and was even immortalized by Marcel Proust as the Duchess of Guermantes in his novel In Search of Lost Time. Some of her achievements as a patron are described here:

She was an early adept of ‘fundraising’. As founding president of the Société des Grandes Auditions Musicales, she turned charity work into public relations. With tremendous practical acumen, she raised funds and produced and promoted operas and shows, which included Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde and Twilight of the Gods, Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, and Isadora Duncan. In addition to this, she was a political animal – a fierce supporter, for example, of Captain Dreyfus, Leon Blum, and the Popular Front’. She was also a passionate sponsor of science: she helped Marie Curie to finance the Institute of Radium, and Edouard Branly pursue his research into wireless telegraphy (Palais Galliera).

The Comtesse was also celebrated for her beauty and taste in clothing:

Countess Greffulhe was the epitome of elegance, with glorious outfits to match. Her public appearances were highly theatrical, with a sense of their being rare, fleeting and incomparably fascinating, in a cloud of tulle, gauze, chiffon and feathers, or in her kimono jackets, her velvet coats, with her oriental patterns, her shades of gold and silver, pink and green. The outfits were carefully chosen to emphasize her slim waist and her slender figure (Palais Galliera).


Countess Greffulhe


Much of the Countess Greffulhe’s wardrobe survives to this day and in fact, is the subject of an exhibition at the Palais Galliera in Paris and will be coming to this country later this year in September 2016 at the Museum at FIT, New York. Below are both pictures of one of the dresses along with the Countess wearing it:


Evening Dress, Worth, 1896; Palais Galliera, musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris (GAL1978.20.1)

The dress itself is made from a black silk velvet decorated in white satin appliques embroidered with metal cannetilles and old sequins. The collar/bertha could be turned up like a pair of bat’s wings. Below are two pictures of the Countess wearing the dress:



When compared against the original dress, it is evident that that the collar/bertha has been altered. Also, it appears that the dress originally had a white embroidered panel running down the front that appears to have been removed.

Another Worth dress that belonged to the Countess is this iconic green tea dress:

Tea Dress by Designer Charles Frederick Worth circa 1895

Tea Dress, Worth c. 1895; Palais Galliera (GAL1964.20.4)


Three Quarter Frontal View


Three Quarter Rear View

This tea dress was constructed from a dark blue-black cut velvet on an silk satin emerald background.


Illustration Of The Tea Dress – Specific Details Unknown

Finally, we’ll wrap up with this double portrait of the Countess that was taken in 1899 by the photographer Otto Wegener in which she’s seen to be embracing herself, the figures dressed in contrasting white and black dresses. This photo was achieved by the superimposing of two negatives onto each other and it’s an interesting portrayal. The exact motive for her having this picture taken is lost to posterity but some theorize that it was meant to be a musing on the fragile nature of beauty over time. We leave to the reader to draw their own conclusions… 🙂

Otto Wegener, The Countess Greffulhe, 1899; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2005.100.622)

The Countess Greffulhe was a dynamic woman who was an influential force in Parisian society during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries and as such embodied the idea of “patron of the arts” and from the looks of it, fashion was no exception. In the end, fashion exists as part of society, not apart from it. 🙂

P.S. On our first trip to Paris, we discovered that the hotel we were staying at is located across the street from where the Countess’ mansion was located. Unfortunately, it’s now the site of an ugly office building.

1890s Style- A Quick Overview

Probably one of the the most iconic fashion styles is 1890s style with its leg-of-mutton sleeves and the wasp waist. One of the basic rules of fashion is that fashion will emphasize a particular body part until it reaches a point of excess and a reaction sets in and the emphasis then shifting to another body part. For 1890s style, we see it developing in reaction to the excesses of the bustle era and in particular, its last flowering in the mid to late 1880s with the “shelf” bustle:

Evening Dress, American, c. 1884 – 1886; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.63.23.3a, b)

And, invariably, a reaction set in and the bustle silhouette with its emphasis on the derriere (ok, buttocks, let’s just get it out there 🙂 ) now shifted towards a more slender, upright silhouette with emphasis on the shoulders and waist in the form of the leg-of-mutton sleeves combined with an extremely narrow waist (i.e., the wasp waist).

Le Moniteur de la Mode. September 1895

Naturally, these changes do not occur overnight (at least back then) and during the early 1890s, we a see a gradual fashion shift towards the new look (which we discussed previously). By 1895, more extreme versions of the new silhouette were developing with the sleeves and waist. Below are a few examples of this “new look” in fashion plates, as interpreted by the French:

La Grande Dame_1895

La Grande Dame: Revue de l’Élégance et des Arts 32, 1895

La Grande Dame_1895_2

La Grande Dame: Revue de l’Élégance et des Arts 32, 1895

La Grande Dame_1895_5

La Grande Dame: Revue de l’Élégance et des Arts 31, 1895

In the above examples, we see the classic hourglass figure which is created by an A-line skirt combined with a seemingly unstructured bodice that balloons out at the shoulders. The bodice front seemingly gives an impression of a billowy blouse/shirt-waist (another style that began to take hold during this period).

Compared to 1880s and some early 1890s styles, the lines dresses depicted have much softer lines and everything appears to be very free-floating. However, it must be noted that this silhouette is in reality a structured design that relies on a corset to achieve that ideal hourglass figure.


Assorted Corset Styles, c. 1880s & 1890s

Now that you have seen the basic silhouette as depicted in fashion plates, let’s take it a bit further with some extant originals:

Day Dress, c. 1890s; Museu del Disseney de Barcelona (MTIB 88108-0)


Day Dress, c. 1895; Augusta Auctions; Black Cotton with raised red and yellow pin stripes.

Maison Felix, Day Dress, c. 1893-1895; FIDM Museum (2008.5.51AB)

Worth, Day Dress, c. 1890 – 1893; Kerry Taylor Auctions

The above are only a small sample of what was out there- while the silhouette for each of the above dresses is the same, each differs in the materials, trim, and design elements thus creating unique dresses that are still part of a specific style. What is also interesting is that bodices could be open or closed and the open ones continue trends of the 1880s and early 1890s in creating a jacket bodice/skirt combination used with a waist and/or vest.

Day Dress, c. 1895, French;

Day Dress, c. 1895; Fashion Museum Antwerp


Day Dress, c. 1894 – 1895; Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM; 2006.870.19AB)

The above examples vary in materials and trim but they all embody the basic 1890s design aesthetic. The Jacket/bodice dress style was also embodied in the more informal waking suit, a practical garment for daytime wear in public.  Below are a few extant examples:

Walking Suit, 1892; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.53.72.9a–c)

Walking Suit, c. 1892; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1982.82.6a, b)

Doucet, Walking Suit, c. 1895; Victoria & Albert Museum (T.15&A-1979)

Constructed of wool, linen, or cotton, these suits incorporate the hourglass figure but in a muted form with an A-line skirt and a tailored coat with the characteristic leg-of-mutton sleeves, although the sleeves are somewhat muted in the earlier examples.

In conclusion, it is clear that there was no lack of variety in dress styles during the mid-1890s. With daywear, the hourglass silhouette was kept somewhat within limits but as we will see in future posts, this was not always the case with evening wear and the finer forms of daywear and we will see examples of this in future posts. 🙂

And Now For Some 1888 Court Style…

In a previous post, we discussed the ensemble sub-style that was popularized by Charles Worth and consisted of a combination day and evening dress composed of a base skirt and two separate bodices for day and night wear. To continue this theme, we feature another ensemble dress but this time, it’s a combination court presentation/reception dress. Let’s start with this court presentation dress from circa 1888:

And here’s a close-up of the bodice:

Being presented at court marked a young woman’s introduction to society.1And signifying that they were now suitable for marriage. No matter which royal court in Europe, was an extremely ceremonial occasion and the presentation was governed by a strict set of protocols covering everything about the ceremony itself as well as what sort of dress was to be worn; all the major couturiers including Worth were knowledgeable in every nuance of court dress protocols which in turn guided their designs.2Most of what we know (at least in English) about presentation at court protocol derives from English practice. As part of the court dress protocol, feathers were an important element (at least in the English court) and below are the feathers that accompanied the dress:

In the case of the English court, the court protocol decreed that women were to wear three feathers in the style of the Prince of Wales crest with the center feather higher than the other two:

The Prince of Wales's feathers (With images) | Welsh tattoo, Welsh ...

Here’s how the feathers looked being worn. This picture is circa 1900:

So, now that one has been presented at court, what was next for the dress? Well, conceivably the dress could be worn again in a return visit to court, but this time the wearer would have been accompanying someone else who was being presented. Otherwise, one now had a dress that was pretty unusable anywhere else, in much the same way as a modern wedding dress.3While the idea of the “one-shot” dress was not unknown during the late 19th Century, it was still considered a bit wasteful and extravagant. A practical solution was to be able to convert the dress to a reception dress or ballgown by substituting some key elements. First we see more of a reception dress created by removing the train and replacing the bodice:

Worth, Court Dress Ensemble, c. 1888; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2007.385a–l)

Or a ballgown with a sleeveless bodice:

In each instance above, the pink silk satin skirt and train remains the same. For the court presentation version, there’s a matching silk floral pattern bodice and full train (per court protocol). Below are some close-ups of the bodices:

The reception or day bodice. Constructed of pink silk satin, this was front lacing and trimmed with silk chiffon/netting with what appear to be metal spangles.

The ballgown bodice, also constructed of pink silk satin and trimmed in white silk chiffon/netting with metal spangles. Below are views of the back bow/upper train, also in pink silk satin:

Finally, below are the bodice laces and bows:

The above dress is fascinating from the perspective of utility that it can transform into three different outfits for a variety of social occasions. Worth is usually associated with sheer extravagance, catering for a wealthy clientele with seemingly endless amounts of money who could afford separate dresses for each function. However, there was also a practical side to Worth his ensemble outfits.4We seriously doubt if anyone got much of a price break by buying an ensemble dress but it fit the ideal of Victorian practicality very elegantly. In future posts, we’ll be posting some more interesting ensemble dresses for your enjoyment. 🙂


Afternoon Or Evening, Worth Has You Covered…

One interesting sub-styles popularized by Charles Worth was the combination day and evening dress consisting of a base skirt and two separate bodices for day and night wear. Here’s one example of this style that was created by Worth circa 1885-1890 in a combination afternoon and reception dress.1The terms “afternoon dress,” “day dress,” and “reception dress” were often used interchangeably by fashion commentators and museum curators. The important determiner was whether a dress was meant for daytime wear or evening wear. Also, the degree of formality of the occasion also played a role. First we see the dress withe the afternoon bodice:

Worth, Afternoon Dress (combination day/night), c. 1885-1890; Palais Galliera

And now the dress with the reception bodice:

Worth, Evening Dress (combination day/night), c. 1885-1890; Palais Galliera

Here’s a three-quarter rear view of the dress with the reception bodice:

Here’s a close frontal view of the reception bodice:

Essentially, dresses meant for evening wear tended to have bodices with lower necklines and minimal sleeves with more exposure of the arms.2Ball gowns were usually the most extreme in this regard. In terms of silhouette, this dress has a high probability of dating from the later 1880s, having a fuller train than what you would see in the early 1890s and it’s definitely outside of the earlier Mid-Bustle Era styles. Also, it’s highly likely that the original wearer of the dress would have been wearing a more pronounced bustle that what was used to stage this dress for museum display and the train would have been more fully extended.

Continuing on, the dress’ underskirt and bodice fronts are constructed from white colored silk satin or taffeta, and the overskirt and bodices of purple silk satin or taffeta. The bodice fronts are both decorated with silver metallic trim and spangles to create a vertical floral design that draws the eye to the center of the dress and up. The white underskirt also has the same trim pattern running along the sides and along the hem. In the middle of the underskirt appears to be a series of pleated insets, trimmed in a silver embroidery pattern. On the reception bodice, the sleeve tops are also trimmed in white silk chiffon with the same silver metallic trim as what is on the bodice front. On the afternoon bodice, the sleeves are in purple and the cuffs feature white chiffon and same metallic trim seen on the bodice front.

This is an interesting design in that the dress has been styles and decorated so that it’s suitable for both formal afternoon occasions as well as evening affairs while the bodices are different enough to suitably establish the dress for either time. The ensemble is a complete harmonious package that’s a testament to Worth as a designer.