19th century, The first Fashion Show

19th century, The first Fashion Show -Charles Frederick Worth. Story by Guillaumette Duplaix. Photo Courtesy: GettyImages

The history of fashion begins in the 19th century. The evolution of fashion took a significant leap forward with the pioneering efforts of Charles Frederick Worth, an English fashion designer who established the House of Worth in Paris in 1858. Worth’s visionary approach transformed the fashion landscape, earning him the moniker of the “father of haute couture.” He introduced the concept of seasons and orchestrated the very first fashion shows.

This momentous shift marked the birth of the fashion industry as we know it today.

Charles Frederick Worth (13 October 1825 – 10 March 1895), left an indelible mark on the world of fashion. As an English fashion designer, he rose to prominence as the founder of the House of Worth, an establishment that would become synonymous with the height of 19th and early 20th-century fashion. To this day, Worth is revered as the father of haute couture, a visionary who revolutionized the fashion industry in more ways than one.

In 1858, Worth established his fashion salon in the heart of Paris. Little did he know that this would become the epicenter of sartorial elegance, attracting European royalty and high society like a magnet. His innovative approach to design, marked by adaptations to 19th-century fashion to make it more practical for everyday life, caught the attention of none other than Empress Eugénie, one of his most prestigious clients. In fact, some changes in his designs were said to be at her specific request, a testament to his ability to understand and cater to the needs of his clientele.

Worth was not content with merely designing exquisite garments; he was a trailblazer in the world of fashion marketing. He introduced live models to replace fashion dolls, providing a captivating and tangible way for clients to envision themselves in his creations. Additionally, he was the first to sew branded labels into his clothing, a practice that has since become standard in the industry. Worth’s salon was not just a place for purchasing clothing; it evolved into a society meeting point, where clients came not only for fashion but also for a sense of belonging to an exclusive world of elegance.

The impact of the House of Worth on fashion was profound. By the time Worth concluded his illustrious career, he employed a staggering 1,200 people, a testament to the craftsmanship and attention to detail that went into every garment bearing his name. His influence extended beyond the confines of court circles, reaching the pages of women’s magazines that were read by society at large.

Worth’s contributions transcended mere design; he elevated the status of dressmaking by becoming the arbiter of women’s fashion. His name became synonymous with what women should be wearing, and his designs were sought after internationally. Even before his fame reached its zenith, Worth’s creations were featured in fashion magazines that reached a wider audience.

Notably, Worth altered the dynamics of the relationship between customers and clothing makers. Unlike the traditional approach where dressmakers visited clients for consultations, Worth’s salon on rue de la Paix became the preferred destination for consultations and social gatherings among society figures. His pioneering use of live mannequins to showcase his gowns to clients set a new standard in marketing.

The House of Worth, which started with a modest 50 staff members, expanded over time to employ over 1,200 artisans. Their painstaking attention to detail and craftsmanship, often involving intricate handwork, ensured that each Worth creation was a masterpiece. Worth’s dedication to quality was such that a single bodice could consist of up to 17 pieces of material, all carefully assembled to ensure a perfect fit.

Charles Frederick Worth was not just a fashion designer; he was a visionary who shaped the course of fashion history. His name remains synonymous with elegance, innovation, and the enduring allure of haute couture. Worth’s legacy lives on in the meticulous craftsmanship and artistry that continue to define the world of high fashion today.

father-haute-couture-worth-history-runway-magazine The first Fashion Show

Charles Frédéric Worth father of haute couture and organizer of first fashion show
Charles Frédéric Worth father of haute couture and organizer of first fashion show

Charles Frederick Worth’s influence extended far beyond the drawing rooms of Paris. His exceptional talent and innovative approach to fashion design attracted a clientele that spanned the highest echelons of society, including European royalty and wealthy, socially ambitious women.

Empress Eugénie, the consort of Emperor Napoleon III of France, became Worth’s most prominent and loyal client. He held the esteemed title of her official dressmaker, and his creations adorned her for extravagant evening events, court functions, and even masquerade parties. Worth’s dedication to Eugénie was such that he was constantly on call to create dresses for the many events she attended. To illustrate the scale of their collaboration, for the grand opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, Empress Eugénie commissioned a staggering 250 dresses from Worth. Their partnership epitomized the grandeur and extravagance of the era.

But Worth’s clientele extended beyond Empress Eugénie. He also counted Empress Elisabeth of Austria among his royal clients. Wealthy and socially ambitious women from various corners of the world were drawn to Worth’s showpiece creations. American clients, in particular, held a special place in Worth’s heart. Despite his limited fluency in the English language, he cherished working with American women for a simple reason: they had “faith, figures, and francs.” American clients believed in his artistic vision, had figures that he could shape into stunning garments, and had the financial means to pay for his exquisite creations.

Many affluent Americans traveled to Paris explicitly to have their entire wardrobes crafted by Worth. This encompassed morning, afternoon, and evening dresses, as well as what were then termed ‘undress’ items like nightgowns and tea gowns. Worth’s mastery extended to special occasion garments, including wedding dresses, making him a sought-after designer for life’s most significant moments.

While Worth was renowned for his royal and aristocratic clientele, he also dressed popular stars of the time. Renowned figures such as Sarah Bernhardt, Lillie Langtry, and Jenny Lind frequented the House of Worth for both their performance and private attire. Worth’s garments graced stages and soirées alike, showcasing his versatility and ability to cater to diverse tastes.

It is worth noting that the exclusivity and quality of Worth’s creations came at a price. The House of Worth was known for its premium pricing, with bills reaching dizzying heights for the era. For instance, the final bill issued to Princess de Metternich, who had earlier lamented the end of the 300 franc dress era when Worth gained royal patronage, amounted to a significant 2,247 francs for a single lilac velvet dress. Worth’s clients willingly paid such sums for the privilege of wearing his masterpieces, an investment in timeless elegance and sophistication.

Charles Frederick Worth’s ability to capture the essence of each client’s style and translate it into exquisite garments cemented his reputation as the arbiter of fashion for the elite and ensured his enduring legacy in the world of haute couture.

worth-salon-fashion-show-history-runway-magazine The first Fashion Show

worth-label-history-runway-magazine The first Fashion Show

Installation of trimmings in the workshop of Worth, Paris, 1907.
worth-history-fashion-runway-magazine The first Fashion Show
Actress Carol McComas wearing a dress with ruched sleeves, a lace sweeping skirt and bustier, circa 1900.
Photograph : London Stereoscopic Company/Getty Images
Dresses of Charles Frédéric Worth father of haute couture and organizer of first fashion show 2

Dresses of Charles Frédéric Worth father of haute couture and organizer of first fashion show

1865 pink tulle ballgown created for Empress Elisabeth of Austria, as painted by Franz Xaver Winterhalter
1865 pink tulle ballgown created for Empress Elisabeth of Austria, as painted by Franz Xaver Winterhalter
Empress Eugénie wearing a gown designed by Worth Winterhalter, Musee d'Orsay
Empress Eugénie wearing a gown designed by Worth Winterhalter, Musee d’Orsay

Posted from Paris, 4th Arrondissement, France.