Birth of couture in 8 facts.
- How did it all start?
Charles Frederick Worth, born in 1825 in England, ran away from home in the age of 21, only to find his fortune at luxury textile merchants, Maison Gagelin in Paris. He met Marie Vernet, a colleague, who he later got married with and together they built a success story. He would make stylish clothes for her, which the customers at Maison Gagelin took notice of and started demanding the same.
- Launch of the first fashion label
Knowing where his talent lay, he was more keen to become a dressmaker than a tailor. Worth bought many accolades and had his own dress department in Maison Gagelin, which was noticed by many customers. After a few years he ended his time at Gagelin to start his own business. He partnered with another colleague, Otto Bobergh, to enter a world dominated by women, a fashion business, “Worth & Bobergh” in Paris.
- The first celebrity client
“And so…Worth was made and I was lost, for from that moment there were no more dresses at 300 francs each”,
– said Empress Eugenie, who could not get over ‘Worth’ for his beautiful designs and surprising requirement of single fitting rather than the standard 6 fittings to make a dress. He was passionate for a finely cut and sewn piece with luxurious fabrics and a perfect fit.
- First fashion label had a knock off too.
Before Worth, dressmakers were put into much lower strata than artists and architects, but he raised the standard and proved the importance of fashion as he was flooded with the orders from royals and nobles. He knew that the rich and famous are an effective tool as brand promoters. The first label had a knock off too; hence the patterns of the dresses were sold to legally copy his designs.
- First label hosting the first fashion show
Worth was the first person to sign his work, and Marie being the first live mannequin and face for “Worth & Bobergh”. He managed to invite customers to his salon where over 1,000 seamstresses worked for him. He had a private room exclusively for royals to enjoy and order for his new designs showcased by live mannequins, now popularised with models and runway shows.
- Change is important
Worth understood the sensibility in fashion and formed a new crinoline for women that were hassle free. Eventually he also dropped the idea of corsets, to make a straighter fitted dress with a defined waist and a cropped hem. This idea was accepted hesitantly but soon people realised how comfortable it was.
- End of the pioneer
The label faced ups and downs due to the Prussian War. Bobergh left the partnership and it became the “House of Worth”. Worth managed to bring the business on track, but he died of pneumonia in 1895 at the age of 70. The business was then running by his sons and Marie, but it was never the same. The business was depreciating and was faced by newcomers like Jeanne Lanvin, Coco Chanel and many others in the early 20th century.
- House of Worth 21st century
The sons turned the business into a successful perfume brand “Je Revines”, and eventually Martin McCarthy and Dilesh Mehta took over in 2010. The new entrepreneurs bought in a new designer Giovanni Bedin, who has worked with Karl Lagerfield previously and is now making pieces inspired from Worth’s.
“House of Worth” is set to get back into its shoes soon, thanks to the new clients! But will it survive or does everything good come to an end someday? Let us know what you think in the comment section below!
Text: Pinanki Shah
Photographs: Met Museum, Vogue, Independent