Wednesday, June 4, 2008

worth gowns

Elisabeth of Austria in a Worth gown, portrait painted by Franz Xaver Winterhalter

My piece of the week today is a little out of the ordinary for me. As I've said before, the program I begin in the fall is the history of decorative arts. My interest in decorative arts is almost solely furniture, glass, and metalwork, but that is far from everything that the program offers. In fact, the areas of wearable decorative art are prominent, and when I went in for my interview, I attended a class on the history of jewelry.

Honestly, it's not usually my bag. However, I make a gigantic exception for the work of Charles Frederick Worth. Known as the "father of haute couture," Worth lived in the 19th century, during the latter part of which he became known as the maker of the most fashionable gowns a woman could wear, largely thanks to the patronage of Empress Eugénie, the wife of Napoleon III.

The Costume Institute at the Met has a selection of his gowns. Granted, I'm not a huge fan of having my ribcage crushed by a corset, but I'd make an exception to wear one of these. Because really, how could you not feel genteel and dignified in a gown by Worth?

The House continued with his sons after Worth's death in 1895, but closed its door with his great-grandson's retirement is 1962.

For further reading, the Met recommends two texts. One is an exhibition catalogue (available for $205 or $700--take your pick), the other what appears to be a biography by Diana de Marly. Amazon appears to be a dead end, but I think I'll try some libraries.

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