A Musing Fashion History

May 10, 2009 • Magazine

A Musing Fashion History

A Musing Fashion History

Sun, 2009-05-10 11:00

Bonnie J Brown

If you’ve got a passion for fashion like I do, you’ve probably already poured over the pics from last week’s Gala Benefit for the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute. You‚ have more than likely oohed, aahed and possibly even cringed (see the Chanel Haute Couture number) at what the celebrities wore. And if you’re anything like me, you’ve already dreamt up an elaborate design that you would have worn if you were lucky enough to attend. But let’s face it, if you or I would have attended, we wouldn’t have designed a dress for ourselves but a well-know and fabulous designer (preferably Alexander McQueen for me) would have. And maybe he would have even designed a dress especially for me, since the spring 2009 Costume Institute’s exhibition is entitled: The Model as Muse: Embodying Fashion. The Met’s Web site describes it as exploring “the reciprocal relationship between high fashion and the evolving ideals of beauty, focusing on iconic fashion models in the latter half of the 20th century.” A model I am not, however there is a possibility (albeit slim) that I could be a designer’s muse (a girl can dream, can’t she?). For almost every designer needs a point of inspiration for their creation and probably has an individual in mind when coming up with their latest collection. Even the first known fashion designer, Charles Frederick Worth had his muse, and wouldn’t you know it, he married her.

Worth, also known as the Father of Haute Couture, originally worked in a drapery shop in London and then Paris. At this time all clothing was made to order, where the patron would order fabrics and then work with a dressmaker and the garment would be made to their specifications. Eventually Worth would make dresses for his wife, a model for the drapery, and women would then order those designs for themselves. Wealthy women, including actresses and royalty alike, would travel as far as New York to Paris to have a dress made for them by the House of Worth and instead of women telling him what they wanted Worth would design a dress for them. This completely changed the role of dressmaker/artisan into designer/artist. Worth was able to do this for the simple fact that his gowns were of the utmost style. He only used the finest materials and added minute detail and embroidery work to his garments. His dresses were noticeable because of the lack of ruffles, frills and other excessive materials that adorned many of the other gowns during the mid 19th century. The limited adornments drastically changed the shape of gowns to a simple flattering silhouette.

Along with being the father of Haute Couture, Worth is known to be the first to put labels into his clothing. Worth dresses were all the rage and to make them even more desirable he was known to turn away clients. The effect Worth had on the fashion industry can not be expressed except by saying that before Charles Frederick Worth there was no fashion, history names Worth as the first fashion designer and everything before him is considered pure costume. So while the fashionable elite celebrate the costumes of the past let’s thank Worth for the way we receive fashion today.

1. Charles Frederick Worth
2. Fabiola Beracasa, in Chanel Haute Couture.
3. Charles Frederick Worth Dress for Elisabeth of Austria
4. Frederick Worth evening gowns 1887 and 1892
5. Charles Frederick Worth 1883

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