Ball gown

The House of Worth1886

Centraal Museum

Centraal Museum
Utrecht, Netherlands

The Englishman Charles Frederick Worth (1825-1895) is seen as the father of haute couture. Worth worked in Paris from 1845 on, first as a shop assistant, only later becoming an independent fashion designer. In 1858 he and his business partner Otto Bobergh opened the fashion warehouse Worth & Bobergh. He rapidly built up a circle of well-to-do customers, including actresses and members of royalty. He consequently focused mainly on evening dress, court dress and for instance masquerade costumes. Demand for his designs grew steadily. In 1867, Isaac Singer’s sewing machine was taken into service in his ateliers, which made it easier to satisfy the demand. Eventually Worth had an atelier employing some 1200 seamstresses. Worth was the first fashion designer to associate his name with a design by means of a label: before that time, the dressmaker was generally anonymous. Today the ‘labelling’ of clothing is an intrinsic part of the industry, where the valuation of a garment depends less on the design than on the label. Gifted to the Centraal Museum in 1984, this two-part gown was designed in 1886. Thanks to his background in the silk trade and drapery shops, Worth was very knowledgeable about materials, which shows in this gown. The highly detailed ball gown is made of ivory-coloured silk satin with multi-coloured in-woven flowers on the skirt. At the back there’s a queue that leads on to an ivory-coloured train. The bodice is reinforced on the front and back with bonings, and it closes at the front with a cord. The décolletage and the small sleeves are trimmed with ivory-coloured machine-made lace. A striking element is the sharply pointed dark-green velvet decoration around the waist. A label is attached to the inside of the waistband, reading ‘PARIS Worth PARIS’. Maison Worth continued after the couturier’s death, to finally close only in 1956.


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