With Couture week in full swing and the forthcoming relaunch of the House of Schiaparelli (kicked off with a tribute collection from Christian Lacroix), we felt it would be an opportune moment to inject a bit of fashion history into all the show coverage.
Remembered as the “Father of Haute Couture,” Charles Frederick Worth was an Englishman in Paris, outfitting the court of the Second Empire of France. Although he was not the first couturier or the most superior dressmaker, Worth’s aggressive self-promotion along with his royal patrons helped to establish the House of Worth as a recognized and highly coveted label in the second half of the nineteenth century.
The status of his clientele, which included the French court and members of the nouveau riche, proved instrumental to the success of the House of Worth. Today, celebrities on red carpets can make or break a designer, however in the nineteenth century, it was society and official court portraits that provided a designer with a literal royal stamp of approval. To celebrate the career and enduring legacy of Worth, here are seven of the most recognized portraits featuring his designs
In 1865, Franz Xaver Winterhalter painted the most well-known portrait of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, notorious for her vanity and tight-lacing. Titled Empress Elisabeth of Austria in Courtly Gala Dress with Diamond Stars, the Winterhalter portrait depicts the Empress, nicknamed Sisi, in an exquisite court dress by the House of Worth, constructed with layers of white tulle and embellished with gold paillettes.
Shortly after her marriage in 1853 to Napoleon III, Emperor of France, the Empress Eugénie was painted in 18th-century fancy dress (a.k.a a Marie Antoinette costume) designed by Charles Frederick Worth. The Empress would become Worth’s most important patron and would propel Worth from a position of obscurity into a highly sought after dressmaker.
Married to the influential publisher, Georges Charpentier, Marguérite-Louise Lemonnier represented the expanding bourgeoisie and nouveau riche of the nineteenth century who were growing patrons of couture. In 1878, Madame Georges Charpentier, along with her children (can you tell which one is a boy??) in a modern black gown designed by Worth. The intimate family portrait was painted by Auguste Renoir and received great acclaim.
In 1880, Frances Fairchild, wife of Wisconsin Governor and diplomat Lucius Fairchild relocated from Wisconsin to Spain, and required an ensemble appropriate for her presentation at the Spanish court upon her arrival. Fairchild turned to none other than the House of Worth for a court dress in deep purple velvet and lavender satin.
High society outside of Europe would also clamor for designs by the House of Worth. In 1896, Emily Warren Roebling, wife of Washington Augustus Roebling, architect of the Brooklyn Bridge, commissioned her portrait by Carolus-Duran. In her portrait, the New Yorker would wear a gown by the House of Worth, however, it was not designed by Charles Frederick. In 1895, sons Gaston-Lucien and Jean-Philippe Worth took over their father’s business and continued to run the couturier with Jean-Philippe heading design.
A social fixture of the belle époque, Italian Baroness Franca Florio was nicknamed the Queen of Sicily. Married to industrialist Ignazio Florio, the Baroness would often dress in Parisian fineries including those by the House of Worth. Around 1900, the Italian socialite was photographed in a Worth cloak and dress ensemble following the fashionable S-curve (think pigeon bust) silhouette of the period.
In 1909, Baroness Mary Curzon would sit for a portrait dressed in an extraordinary evening gown by the House of Worth. Commissioned for the Delhi Durbar of 1903, the Jean-Philippe-designed gown, known as the Peacock Dress, was constructed with cloth of gold which was woven into a peacock pattern. The most remarkable design element was found in the eye of each peacock feather motif, which was embellished with the iridescent green wings of the scarab beetle—yes, you read that right!