People: Worth ©2008 R.J.PENHEY
Latest edit 14 Aug 2012
The Bourne Archive
Bourne People: Charles Frederick Worth.
Bourne Civic Society
has mounted a permanent exhibition concerning the work of Charles Worth in its
heritage centre in Baldock’s Mill, South
Street. Since it opened, there have been among the
visitors, people who have come seeking information to help their research at
one level or another. Since I am not particularly well informed on the subject,
I have not been able to help them as much as I should have liked. This page is
intended to help fill the gap both for them and for me. It is based on a free
translation of the French Wikipedia article, ‘Charles Frederick Worth’, which
at the time, was more ample than the English one
but now the position is reversed. Some information is added from other sources.
Charles Frederick Worth
Charles Frederick Worth, born in Bourne, Lincolnshire
on the 13 October 1825 (according to Jean-Philippe’s book,
13th November 1826) and died in Paris on the 10 March
1895, was the creator of the concept of couturier and
of the haute couture house. In 1857, he set up his
business in Paris.
His idea of how best to create and sell fashion was a clear departure from the
earlier trade and from this was born the fashion house.
Before Worth made himself
noticed, the dressmaker responded to the wishes of the customer: the client
asked for what she wanted and the dressmaker supplied it; hers was a craft,
like making baskets; with Worth, his personality, ideas and artistic sense came
first. Worth created the designs: he presented himself first and foremost, as
an artist. His were original designs, prepared beforehand and changed
frequently. They were presented in luxurious surroundings one at a time. This
type of show improved his competitive position in the market and added value to
Worth was an Englishman
of middle class background, who had fallen upon hard times before he had
completed his education. He learned his trade; first, by selling the materials,
then by developing his interest in creative design. He set up business on his
own account and found success which was launched when he was taken up by ladies
prominent in the high society of Paris
and by the aristocracy, notably the Princess de Metternich
who drew him to the attention of the Empress, Eugénie.
By 1895, France
was a republic but Worth was still the fashionable couturier. He was able to
launch his own collections. The rôle of the client was limited to the choice of
colours and type of fabric; Worth said what the design should be. Worth is
famous in the evolution of clothing for having replaced the crinoline by the
bustle but it was one of the few structural innovations he brought to garments.
Worth’s innovations lay
in the field of commercialization and of communication: before him, the
dressmaker had communicated through fashion magazines or by sending dressed
dolls by post. Worth invented the living mannequin whom he called ‘le sosie’ (the double or
look-alike). His own wife, Marie (Vernet) Worth, played
a significant part in the development of the business by acting in this
capacity. As a woman, she might represent the firm in ladies’ boudoirs. However,
once the firm was established, the ladies came to Worth. He organized fashion
parades to stage his creations. Worth was creative all through the fashion
year. He created a theme, derived several models from it, then
personalized it for each client.
He invented the
personality of the fashion designer and had connection with numerous artists.
It was this emphasis on the artist as opposed to the artisan, which led him to
dress himself as he did.
From his years of
apprenticeship with the draper, Swan and Edgar, in London,
followed by experience with the top flight drapers, Lewis and Allenby in London and Gagelin, in Paris, Worth had a profound understanding of
the technicalities of the clothing textile industry: textiles, colours, methods
of assembly and stylistic effects. He had links with other craftspeople for the
supply of shoes, bags and hats. Once he had shown the way, ten or a dozen other
fashion houses grew up in the same mould.
Obituary Notice Fenland Notes and
Bourne Civic Society
Library Image Search Worth
descriptions of Nineteenth century fashion
Simone Wyn, L’Evolution du Costume. Hodder & Stoughton (1976) [French language].
Worth material on pp 26-30.
MacAndrew, Donald. Monsieur Chiffon: or, the lad from Lincolnshire: concerning
the musical comedy Empire of Napoleon III which was ....
dressed by an Englishman, Charles Frederick Worth,
pp. 159-74 in The Saturday Book: 9th annual issue: Hutchinson, (1949).
de Marly, Diana. Worth
Father of Haute Couture. Elm Tree Books.
(1980). ISBN 0-241-10204-5
Saunders, Edith. The Age of Worth: couturier to the Empress
Eugenie. Publisher: Longmans, Green, (1954).
Worth, Jean-Philippe. A Century of
Fashion. Translated by Ruth Scott Miller. Little, Brown & Co., Boston,
The quality of the following linked
sites varies widely.
An appendix in Diana de Marly’s book lists
dresses in the collections of :
Musée des Arts Décoratifs. Velvet, satin, muslin and lace evening dress ca. 1896 :
satin evening dress ca. 1890 another view :
d’Enseignement et de Documentation de Costume
Worth Boutique, 50 Grosvenor Street. A Worth
Boutique evening dress
(1950s), held by Leicestershire County
Council Heritage Services.
In Edinburgh (Charles Stewart
Collection now at Shambellie House, New Abbey, Dumfries,
Scottish Museum. Charles
Stewart Collection : One male and one female
masquerade costume slashed
in sixteenth-century style,
c. 1893 (de Marley) .
In St Petersburg
Hermitage Museum. See also the Google list of its Worth
In New York
In Boston, Massachusetts
A museum not mentioned by Diana de Marley is :
New South Wales
Illustrating Social and Commercial Comment.
With thanks to Wikimedia Commons.
The later designs are by the House of Worth after CFW’s death. Click on the
image for enlargement.
Elizabeth of Austria dressed by Worth
Portrait by Franz Xavier Winterhalter,
‘When I tell you it’s a dress by Worth, I recognise the
Drawing by Bertall appeared in La Comédie de notre temps
Court gown designed by Charles Frederick Worth for
Esther Maria (Lily) Lewis Chapin to be
worn for her presentation at court.
From collection of the William Doyle
Gallery. (Enlargement no longer available)
Dress created by House of Worth.
Moyse's Hall Museum,
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
Moyse's Hall Museum,
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.
‘At the polo match. Afternoon dress by Worth.’
La Gazette du bon ton.
‘A Wolf in a Cage’ Masquerade costume. 2
Gazette du Bon Ton no.4 (Feb 1913), plate VII
‘In the Paddock.
Afternoon Dress by Worth.’
Gazette du Bon Ton no.9 (June
1913), plate IX
Elegant suit by
Gazette du Bon Ton
no.11 (Sep 1913),
1. A pun on the French word touche. In creative dressmaking, this means the appearance of the
garment, distinctive of the designer. In painting, it refers to the artist’s
touch. That is the way he puts paint onto canvas. (PLI) The ladies are looking at
the painting but seeing the dress it depicts.
2. The French caption of the
‘Wolf in a Cage’ print is ‘Un Loup en Cage.
Costume de “Maya” par Worth.’ Maya
is a Sanskrit word meaning illusion. According to Hindu tradition, it is an
illusory apparition which hides reality and induces unawareness or ignorance. (PLI) see Wikipedia. Though ‘loup’ means ‘wolf’, here it
refers to the black satin or velvet mask worn at the species of masquerade
known as a bal masqué. (DM p 73) ‘En cage’ means ‘cooped up’. So there is
a pun on the meanings of loup,
expressing the latent sexuality of the masquerade. ‘Voir le loup’ means to lose one’s virginity. (PLI and Collins-Robert) In a
short space, the caption implies much but this is not all. Long before 1913,
the steel-hooped frame under the skirt of one of the more extreme ‘crinoline’
dresses of the 1850s was known as une (jupe-) cage
so a woman wearing one was en cage – caged.
Une jupe is a skirt. (DM p 76) The dress in the
picture is a cheeky, short echo of this way out of date style. In 1913, it was
suited only to fancy dress. In 1855, it would have got the wearer thrown out of
polite society. The reader could take what she wished from the caption.