Fortune Teller

Sault, Léon1860/1869

The Victoria and Albert Museum

The Victoria and Albert Museum

This design was created by Léon Sault, possibly for Charles Frederick Worth. It represents either a fortune teller, or the general concept of fortune telling. The large crinoline skirt is trimmed with cards and a deep hem decorated with hieroglyphs, cabalistic and occult symbols, and the corsage features a Sacred Heart in the centre of the waist. Both dress and red skull-cap are trimmed with coins, which would have been paid to the fortune teller before having your fortune told. Léon Sault 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 extremely likely that it was originally designed for a guest to wear to one of the Empress's magnificent balls.

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  • Title: Fortune Teller
  • Creator: Sault, Léon
  • Date Created: 1860/1869
  • Location: Paris
  • Provenance: Given by the House of Worth
  • Medium: watercolour and pencil drawing