Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Worth, you devil

The House of Worth, founded by papa Worth, Charles Frederick, basically invented Haute couture and rose to prestige in the second half of the 19th century and into the 20th. The thing to have was a Worth gown, queens and empresses flocked for Worth gowns and many of the best known gowns from this period are Worths. I could go on and on about Worth, but any costume historian worth their salt already knows it all, and non-historians should Wikipedia Worth for a good read.

Worth succeeded through innovative designs, but also, as all designers do, from drawing from the past. He was a leader in the historicism that was rampant at the time. Historical decades in general parallel others (entry to come), but Worth was great at basically stealing past gowns and updating them. This isn't a malicious accusation, it's a fact and it's a tactic used by costume and fashion designers to this day.

Here we have an 18th century robe a la polonaise in red and white and a Worth gown from one hundred years later with the same bold stripes, bustling and color family, hmm...
Bustles in general in the 70s and 80s were very reminiscent of the polonaise.
robe a la polonaise 1780, KCI
Worth 1888, Met Museum

Next we have a robe a'langlaise from the KCI. The Worth doesn't so overtly take from this gown specifically, but Worth's is obviously a 19th century anglaise down to the fichu.
robe a'langlaise 1780, KCI
Worth 1900, Met Museum

 There is a cape of Worth's that is a direct copy of a 16th century Spanish cape that he had access to at one time, and I once came upon a portrait of the 16th century owner wearing the cape (one of those things where you'd been flipping through Worth books the day before you happen upon this painting), but I can't find the portrait online and no longer have access to the reference I found it in originally. I know, this is all a tease, but I don't want to post it until I find the painting.

BAHAHAHA! Found it! I kept thinking it was of Robert Dudley, but nope, it was the other Elizabethan favorite, Walter Raleigh. Ok, so here you go, a painting of Walter Raleigh wearing a cape very similar to the Worth cape, then the fashion illustration of Worth's cape that was the cover of Harper's that season, then the cape itself. Click on the caption of the cape to go to the Met's explanation of the origins of the cape. The original apparently ended up in the Nuremberg Museum in 1903, which if you Google is very Nazi heavy, but I'll keep looking. Something similar here, in Dresden.

I'm not saying the Raleigh cape is the cape, but isn't it fun to have the portrait be so similar? Goes to show that it was either a popular style so he owned one, or it was a popular style so the portrait artist painted it in (as was often the case).

Sir Walter Raleigh, 1588
Worth 1895, Met

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