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. 🙂


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Charles Worth – The Father of Haute Couture

Want to know more about Charles Worth? This is THE definitive biographical work the life and work of Charles Frederick Worth! Originally published in 1990, this book has been out of print for years and very hard to find. We’re fortunate to have been able to obtain a copy and we’re offering it for sale to some lucky person at our Etsy online store, Atelier Lily Absinthe. We’ve read this book many times over from cover to cover and we highly recommend it- the depth of information is simply amazing! Check it out at our Etsy store: 😁


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Patterns From Maison Worth

One fascinating aspect about Charles Worth was that although he positioned himself as an exclusive couturier, he also licensed printed paper patterns of some of his designs. Worth himself didn’t publicize this to any great extent and you have look hard for the evidence but it’s true. One example of this is this Redingote style was offered for sale for as a printed pattern in the 1882 edition of The Ladies Treasury:

And here’s the accompanying commentary:

Redingcotes are most popular in Paris. M. Worth makes them for summer dresses instead of polonaises. They are made in grenadines, over contrasting colours, for evening dresses. A mauve grenadine, on which are moons of black satin, two inches in diameter is made plain, over a lining of maize yellow satin. The grenadine is turned off in the front, to the sides, and is outlined in jet embroidery, black. A full frill of thread lace goes round the neck, and continues down the centre of the bodice. The petticoat of black satin has a pleated flounce of satin, and a front breadth of yellow satin, which is nearly hidden in jet embroidery, and bows of moire ribbons.

This style is M. Worth’s protest against the bunched-up paniers at the back, which it is said he detests.

Worth’s licensing of patterns is an interesting aspect of his business and is an area that’s not well documented. Of course, it would be interesting to locate the actual pattern but so far, our efforts to do so haven’t been successful. What’s also interesting is that even though Maison Worth was doing very well financially, it’s interesting that he would even bother with such pattern licensing- the revenue from pattern licensing could not have been much when compared to sales of his haute couture. Unfortunately, details about business side of Maison Worth are thin and we may never know the precise answer but it’s interesting to speculate on. As we find out more, we’ll be posting it here. Enjoy!


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And Trending From Maison Worth For March 1894

When it came to the media, Charles Worth was very reticent about discussing the details of his highly successful couture business. However, with his sons Gaston and Jean increasingly taking over the daily operations of Maison Worth, this attitude began to change and during the 1890s, one increasingly sees Worth designs being featured in the fashion press. One example of this can be found with the March 17, 1894 issue of Harper’s Bazar where a Worth evening dress is featured:

This dress is described in Harper’s thusly:

This superb gown is of very light ciel-blue satin bordered with black fur. It is further enriched with bead embroidery in iris dc~igns. The pointed waist is draped across the bust. and has a jabot falling between branches of embroidery done on the satin. Fur shoulder-straps complete the square décolleté. Short puffed sleeves of dotted mousseline de soie are under a ruffle of beaded satin. The graceful skirt falls in godet pleats, and is trimmed with embroidery and fur. The coiffure is without any ornament, a looped tress at the back extending above the top of the head giving a pretty profile. The fan is of black lace figures appliqued on tulle.

The silhouette is standard mid-1890s and interesting enough, the skirt gores are referred to as godets.1In modern usage, godets refer to triangular panels set into a skirt to make the skirt flare out more. The only different is that these panels are more inset into the skirt as opposed to being full panels.  In terms of skirt style, they are very similar to other Worth dresses of the the 1890s and early 1900s- all employed a graceful train and were constructed of solid silk satin with some sort of long flowing decorative motif, often floral or “sheaf of wheat.” Here’s a few well-known examples that follow in the same vein:

Worth, Ball Gown, 1893 – 1894; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.68.53.10a–c)

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

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)

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

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

While the skirts are similar, the bodices exhibit a wide range of variation different trim, fabrics, and decorative effects. Also, sleeves for the most part tend to be minimal except for examples from the mid 1890s, which comes as no surprise. 😉 As for the color, ciel blue, here’s an approximation:

The one interesting, and subtle, twist with this dress design is the use of fur as trimming on the skirt hem and shoulders. We wonder if this design was ever actually made or simply was a concept that Jean Worth fed to the fashion press. Someday, we may know the answer.


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Another 1893 Ensemble Dress From Maison Worth

Here’s another ensemble dress from Maison Worth, also from circa 1893. Style-wise, it’s similar to the example that we presented in a previous post but perhaps a little more restrained. Here are a few views:

Worth 1893 Day Reception Afternoon Dress

Worth, Ensemble Dress, c. 1893; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.620a–e)

To us, this bodice reads visiting/afternoon dress, more of a formal day-oriented garment. Below, the bodice reads more of a reception dress or possibly evening dress- although that’s probably stretching things a bit.

Worth 1893 Day Reception Afternoon Dress

The Alternate Bodice

Once again, we see a jacket style for the day bodice with a filler of tulle. The skirt and jacket bodice are a pea-green silk brocade with black lace trim and accents. The night bodice with its light cinnamon colored silk velvet provides a pleasant contrast to the pea green. Compared to yesterday’s example, this dress is a bit more restrained but it’s still a nice design. The silk brocade fabric is interesting and we only wish that there were some close-up pictures of the fabric detail. It’s evident that both the dress and the one in yesterday’s post used identical or fairly similar pattern pieces. Finally, here’s an interesting part of the ensemble- matching shoes:

Worth 1893 Shoes

Matching shoes to outfit.

Stay tuned for more posts on this subject. 🙂

 


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