Designs From Maison Worth

charles-frederick-worth-english-fashion-designer-active-in-paris

The Master Himself

Today we take you across the ocean to Paris, the capital of fashion in the late 19th Century for a brief look at one (of many) creation by Frederick Charles Worth. Worth was one of the first “name” fashion designers who pioneered what ultimately was to become the Haute Couture system that ruled the fashion world for almost a century.

Along with creating his own dress designs, Worth also commissioned his own custom fabrics and in particular he patronized the French silk industry centered in Lyon1Unfortunately, the silk industry in Lyon has diminished since the late 19th Century and today, Prelle et Cie is one of the few silk weavers that remain. Prelle’s silks have been used to restore a wide variety of historic sites worldwide and they even recreated many of the silk fabrics used in 2006 film Marie Antoinette.. One such creation that Worth commissioned from the firm of Morel, Poeckès & Paumlin in 1889 was the Tulipes Hollandaises (“Holland Tulips). The design was intended to push the silk weaver’s art to its limits, the design has a three-foot repeat in the pattern which made it difficult to weave.

Below are two pictures of the textile’s design:

Worth Evening Cape 1889_3

Worth Evening Cape 1889_4

The tulips are depicted in bright colors set against a black background and some commentators have characterized it as an “aggressive” design intended to make a bold statement, especially given the size of the design repeat.

As part of the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris, the products of French industry were exhibited and naturally the textile and couture industries were part of it. The above textile was put on display and it ultimately was awarded a grand prize.

Paris_1889_plakatThe above fabric was ultimately made into an evening cape that was designed to show off the tulip design to its maximum advantage:

Worth_Evening Cape 1889_1

Front View- Evening Cape, House of Worth, 1889; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.1708)

Worth_Evening Cape 1889_2

Rear View- Evening Cape, House of Worth, 1889; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.1708)

Worth_Evening Cape 1889_5

Here’s a view that’s a bit less sterile than what is normally encountered in a museum setting.

The above evening cape shows off the silk textile to its maximum advantage. Some could argue that it’s excessive and perhaps even gauche but that was the nature of Haute Couture in the late 19th Century and given the spirit of the time, anything less would have been dismissed as banal. Less was definitely not more during the Belle Epoch. 🙂



Some Mid-1880s Day Dress Style

When it comes to later 19th Century fashion, certain dresses are remarkable either because of their cut and silhouette, colors, or fabrics. Today we present this circa 1885 day dress that combines all of these elements:

Day Dress, c. 1885; Five Colleges and Historic Deerfield Museum Consortium (HD V.114)

In terms of silhouette, this dress follows a fairly typical mid-1880s style and there’s no surprises there but when we turn to the fashion fabric itself, it’s a completely different matter with wide vertical stripes combined with narrow stripes, all in the same  shade of purple.

The fashion fabric consists of a combination of wide vertical and narrow horizontal purple stripes over a dark ivory background.

And just for comparison, here’s are two examples of what was more the norm for striped dresses of the period:

Day Dress, c. 1880; The Museum at FIT (P92.21.1)

Day Dress, c. 1880s; From the collection of Alexandre Vassiliev

In contrast to the purple striped day dress, the above examples are all constructed of striped fashion fabrics, the stripes of different colors. While combining horizontal and vertical stripes was not unknown during the late 19th Century fabrics, it usually involved combinations of different colors. Let’s take a closer look at the dress details:

Upon closer examination, we see that the fashion fabric appears to be a faille- Bengaline, or perhaps a Fouillard, and that the the light areas between the stripes is a variegated ivory and black. Also, it’s interesting to note that the horizontal purple stripes are of a slightly darker shade of purple and that each “stripe” is actually three rows of pin-striping. When viewed at a distance, these pin-stripes merge in one strip.

And here’s a very tight close-up of the dress fabric. Note the cross-wise horizontal rib characteristic of a faille/Bengaline. Judging from the luster and drape, we estimate that this is a silk Bengaline or perhaps cotton and silk- it’s hard to say without further analysis. It’s also interesting that the horizontal stripes are not all one color but rather appear to have rows of a lighter ivory (?) alternating with the purple rows.

Some may find this dress to be visually jarring and that we our initial reaction. However, upon closer examination, we found that it contained some subtle nuances such as with the variegated ivory/black background and the three pin-striped horizontal stripes. Also, the fabric weave further enhances the stripe style.  This dress is certainly an interesting style that amply demonstrates that style is found in the details. 🙂



At The Atelier- Design Creation, Part 6

In out last post, we assembled the pieces for both the exterior fashion layer and the interior lining/facing layers for the Eton jacket.

In full disclosure, we’d like to say that this project has been an interesting learning experience in that it’s demonstrated to us that there is a lot more involved to drafting a pattern than simply drawing lines on paper following some formula, cutting out the pieces, and putting it together. A lot more. The one thing that nobody really ever discussed in pattern drafting and overall development is that once a pattern is constructed and tested out with one or more toilles, there’s still the matter of working out just how exactly the garment is going to be constructed. Of course, it’s assumed that one just knows all the relevant techniques and that bears little or nor discussion but the reality is with historical garments, there’s a lot that’s become obscure or even lost over the years. Fortunately, there are a number of references out there so it’s not an impossible task but it’s one that’s going require a lot of practice and work to master. So with that said, let’s proceed to the next steps…🙂


We now arrive at one of the most crucial stages- assembling the jacket body.

A lot more pressing is in order but overall we’re pleased with how it came together.

And now onto constructing the cuffs:

The decision to utilize turn-back cuffs was purely an aesthetic one and we could have just as easily used a number of different styles… 🙂 Here’s  the  cuffs pinned to the sleeves:

 

And voila, sleeves!

And finally, the sleeves are attached and set in the proper position. All that remains is some final touch-ups.

(To be continued…)



Another Evening Dress From Maison Worth, Circa 1894

Today we feature another evening dress from Maison Worth, in this case one from circa 1894:

Worth, Evening Dress, c. 1894; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.1095a, b)

Unfortunately, the pictures haven’t been updated in awhile but from what we can determine, the construction appears to be an ivory or champagne-colored silk brocade or jacquard with a curl motif that runs in vertical stripes up the skirt and then diffuses on the bodice. The upper bodice/neckline and sleeves appear to be a gold/champagne-colored silk velvet decorated with lace. For the silhouette, it definitely reads mid-1890s although it doesn’t precisely follow the typical gigot style of the period; rather, it’s more of puffed sleeves covered with large flaps. It’s an interesting effect and in many ways reminiscent of renaissance style and especially in the way the silk bodice front meets up with the upper velvet neckline.

A big no-no by today’s curatorial standards but it’s nice seeing a Worth dress being worn by a live model (although the dress appears to be somewhat oversized for the model and there’s probably no proper corset on underneath):  🙂

To us, this is one of Worth’s more understated/restrained designs and while it’s by no means a show-stopper, it is elegant and demonstrates an interesting take on mid-1890s style.



Back To The 70s At Maison Worth

Today we take a trip back to the 70s…the 1870s, that is, and more specifically circa 1874 with this afternoon dress from Worth:

Worth, Afternoon Dress, c. 1874; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1975.259.2a, b)

This afternoon dress utilizes the two-color combination style that was typical of early to mid-1870s dresses, consisting of black silk taffeta bodice and outer skirt combined with a pale green/mint green silk taffeta underskirt. What is interesting here is that the bodice and skirts have been cut so as to give the effect of a long robe that opens wide to dramatically reveal the green underskirt. Also, while it’s not easy to make out, the bodice is designed with an underlayer of the same green color- it’s hard to say if it’s a faux vest or simply an inset underlayer. Finally, the neck and front outer bodice edges and cuffs are trimmed with ivory lace. Below is a close-up of the bodice:

The silhouette is fairly standard for the early to mid-1870s and its lines are pretty clean, especially when compared to many 1870s day/afternoon dresses. Note that both sides of the outer skirt are piped with the light green fabric.

The bodice back has a set of carefully sculpted tails that serve to emphasize the train and each tail is emphasized with an outline of the green fabric (which also appears to be the lining color for the tails). Below is a close-up:

Below are some more detailed views of the skirts. It’s interesting that the “outer” and “inner” skirts are really one unit:

Finally, below is a view of the detail where the outer and inner skirts meet:

Compared to many of Worth’s designs, this one is relatively simple emphasizing clean lines with a minimum of trim. In many respects it almost reads “tea gown” although it’s far more substantial and was clearly intended for wear out in public. We’ll have some more interesting 1870s dress styles to show you in the near future so stay tuned! 🙂