I love fashion, but I have to admit I don’t really like to shop. Thank God for the internet. When I hear the name Haute Couture, I think of names like Valentino, Coco Channel and Christian Dior. The road to present day haute couture has taken a winding road through history that spans empires and revolutions. Many believe that the father of Haute Couture is Charles Frederick Worth who was the first modern couturier to open the first Haute Couture house, House of Worth, in the mid nineteenth century.
Worth began his career as draper in England. He relocated to Paris in 1845 at the age of 19. He worked for the firm of Gagelin selling fabrics, shawls, and accessories. Gagelin hired young women to model the shawls. One of the models, Marie Vernet, soon became Worth’s wife. Worth made beautiful dresses for his wife to wear under her shawls. The customers loved the lovely dresses and began asking Worth to make dresses for them. Worth’s reputation as a talented designer spread and he opened his own house of Haute Couture, The House of Worth.
Worth opened his fashion house at the same time the Second Empire in France was established. The new Emperor, Napolean III, once again made Paris an imperial capital and revitalized the economy. Paris became the epicenter of Europe and the demand for fashionable clothing soared. When Napoleon III married Empress Eugénie, her taste as a fashion trendsetter fueled the demand for High fashion. Worth became one of Eugenie’s dressmakers and the ladies of nobility followed suit and made Worth their designer of choice.
Charles Frederick Worth not only clothed Empress Eugenie but also czarinas, queens and princesses, Rothschilds and Vanderbilts. He has been credited with inventing crinoline, or the hoop skirt. Worth has also been credited for the invention of the fashion show. It was his idea to show his dresses on live mannequins to his customers.
Worth died in 1895 and his two sons Gaston and Jean-Philippe Worth took over running the house. In turn Gaston’s sons Jean-Charles and Jacques joined the company in around 1910. In 1922, Jean-Philippe’s son Jacques Worth introduced perfumes. The perfume ‘Je Reviens’ is still now one of the most famous French perfumes in history. The great fashion dynasty finally came to an end in 1952 when Charles Frederick Worth’s great-grandson, Jean-Charles, retired from the family business.