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This design was possibly created as a fancy dress costume for Charles Frederick Worth, or as a theatre or ballet costume. Such costumes could be cryptic, with the theme of this one particularly open to interpretation. The design includes dials around the hem of the skirt, alternating with a layered conical motif which is repeated throughout the design, both as a trimming to the skirt and a design for the sleeves, hat and overskirt. The dials, which are numbered one to eighteen, may represent gauges for measuring air pressure, whilst the conical devices could represent early wind gauges, meaning that the costume could well represent weather forecasting. An alternative interpretation is that it represents firemen and firefighting, especialy as the model carries a red enamelled fire pail, although this could also be for collecting rainwater. However, it is not known for certain what this costume represents. The artist is probably Léon Sault, who was a fashion and theatre designer and illustrator who later became a magazine editor, publishing some of his fancy dress costume designs as part of a series titled "L'Art du Travestissment" (The Art of Fancy Dress). His designs included characters such as Mephistopheles and embodiments of concepts such as Astronomy.

During the 1860s, Empress Eugenie of France threw a number of extravagant masquerade balls which required the guests to wear elaborate and inventive costumes that were made up by Worth and other Paris dressmakers. Worth, a relative newcomer, became the Empress's favoured couturier at the end of the 1850s. This made him extremely fashionable, and the rest of the ladies of Eugenie's court also bought gowns from him - and so too did their husbands' mistresses, and anyone wealthy enough to afford Worth's very high prices. As a result, Worth was under great pressure to produce vast numbers of unique, one of a kind costumes and gowns, often at very short notice. This is one of a large number of similar designs and sketches that were given to the V&A as part of the archive and reference collection of the House of Worth, making it likely that it was originally designed for a guest to wear to one of the Empress's magnificent balls.

Details

  • Title: Design for a fancy-dress costume
  • Creator: Sault, Léon
  • Date Created: 1860/1869
  • Location: Paris
  • Provenance: Given by the House of Worth
  • Medium: watercolour and pencil drawing

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