Archival August: Charles Frederick Worth

I know it is still July, but I will be gone next week for vacation. Therefore, I figured I would write next week’s post today. With the new month comes the new theme. And August is Archival August, 5 Early Influential Designers that You Should Know. Today I will featured English designer Charles Frederick Worth as known as the Father of Haute Couture.

Charles Frederick Worth was a 19th century English designer who found success in Paris and eventually was dubbed the “father of haute couture.” Born in Bourne, Lincolnshire, England, Worth was forced into working at a young age because of his father’s bad habit of gambling. Because his family was usually broke, Worth started working at department stores and textile manufactures in England. Eventually, Worth became a textile clerk, yet he had dreams of becoming a dress designer. Worth frequently visited the National Gallery to study the historical portraits. Later, these paintings became a large part of his inspiration for dress design.

Evening/Reception Gown

In 1846, he moved to Paris to work for Gagelin and Opigez, a retailer that specialized in making shawls and cloaks. Worth urged his partners to design and manufacture dresses as well, but no one was interested since dress-making was considered a lower class job. However, a rich Swede, Otto Bobergh, found Worth’s ideas intriguing and sponsored his efforts. In 1858, Worth & Bobergh was born.

Worth designed gowns based on two main aspects: his imagination and women’s needs. Drawing on the historical portraits he loved, Worth defined the female silhouette and removed excess ruffles and frills. He created simple outlines, but with rich fabrics. Quickly, his dresses caught the eyes of the royalty and he produced gowns for the royal courts of Russia, Spain, Italy, and Austria. Even rich Americans like the Vanderbuilts and Astors ordered customs dresses from him.

Worth's Clothing Labels

To promote his designs, Worth innovated ways of marketing and showcasing fashion that are still used today. For example, he was the first designer to put labels on his work. More importantly, Worth displayed his work with models. He put on fashion shows to advertise his collection as well as selling his designs to dress-makers, manufactures, and department stores. This made his luxurious designs available to the public, instead of just the elite and rich. His idea was later termed as the “ready-to-wear” collection.

Worth's Shop in Paris

Unfortunately, his company was shut down during the Franco-Prussian war. After the conclusion of the war, he opened his company, this time without Bobergh. He also renamed his company to The House of Worth, since his two sons, Gaston and Jean-Philippe, worked for him as well. In 1952, the House of Worth came to a close with the passing of his great-grandson.

Charles Frederick Worth is one of the most important designers of the fashion world because his ideas laid the ground work for all future designers. He is accredited to making the designer label, using models and fashion shows, and creating the ready-to-wear collections. Without his motivation and dedication to his dreams, the fashion realm would be a completely different place.

Worth Gown

View a slideshow of Worth’s gowns.

Fashion Encyclopedia

One response

  1. A new viewer to your site and a retired fashion designer, I am delighted with this new form of fashion broadcasting. Perhaps your efforts will wake up the general public and restore an awareness to more elegant fashion for the American woman.

    Continue to shake and stir the waters …

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