I know I’ve missed the boat by a few days for this post to be topical, but London Fashion Week descended upon the capital this week, and with that in mind, I decided to join in with the spirit of it all, and present something in the way of fashion here – Victorian fashion that is.
The models who have been walking down those catwalks wearing all manner of garments can all be said to descend from one woman – known as the worlds first fashion model; Marie Augestine Vernet Worth. The fashion designers and show promoters, too, can all give thanks to one man who started the industry we know and recognise today; Charles Frederick Worth.
Marie was born on 23rd August 1825 in
Clermont-Ferrand in . As a young woman in the 1840’s she moved to France to find work. She was not the only one to do this; An Englishman by the name of Charles Frederick Worth, a former textile trader in Paris London, had also moved to where he found work with the prestigious upper class drapers Gagelin. This happened to be the same drapers in which one Marie Vernet Worth had recently found employment. Paris
Charles, originally from
, was a few months younger than Marie, and whilst working with her had become attracted to the pretty French girl. Lincolnshire
By 1850 he was using her as a ‘Human Mannequin’ to show off and model bonnets, shawls and other small items of clothing and accessories to the shop’s wealthy clientele. In June 1851 Charles and Marie were married, and Charles, who had always held an interest in the design of clothing, began to create simple but beautiful dresses for her, which she, with her handsome features and comely shape, modelled perfectly.
Before long, the Gagelin’s lady customers were requesting the new fashions for themselves.
With the restoration of Napoleon III in the late 1850s,
reclaimed its crown as the centre of European style and fashion. Charles was convinced that Gagelin should branch out into dress making but its conservative owners were not so sure. A compromise was reached whereby in 1858, Charles was able to “go solo” and set up his own shop on the Rue de la Paix with the backing of a rich Swede, Otto Bobergh. Paris
|The Shop 'Worth'|
With his own shop and ideas, Charles set about creating dresses that would change the way people thought about fashion. In the early days of the shop, Marie would visit potential clients at their homes and model clothes for them. Charles’ uncanny understanding of the female shape and his unfussy and simple dresses made with rich fabrics won him many fans, including Napoleon’s wife, Empress Eugenie.
With a clientele base soon established, Marie no longer had to go out touting for business. Instead, clients visited the shop and several times a year she and several other models would put on a themed fashion show of Charles’ latest creations. These are believed to have been the first ever fashion shows that loosely resembled what we know today.
Previously in the world of upper class dress shopping, a lady approached a tailor or dressmaker with her own idea for a dress, but now they picked from the garments being modelled, which were then altered to their particular requirements.
As well as being the first fashion designer to market and sell clothes in this way, he was also the first to label his clothes with the name ‘House of Worth’.
Before long Charles and Marie’s customer list included such stars of the day as Jenny Lind, Lily Langtry, Nelly Melba and Sarah Bernhardt.
A severe bout of bronchitis ended Marie’s career in 1865, and beyond this, very little seems to be known about her. Sadly, I was unable to even find out what year she died.
Charles died in March 1895 aged 69. After his death, his and Marie’s two sons, Gaston and Jean-Philippe Worth took over the business, and in around 1910, Gaston Worth’s sons Jean-Charles and Jacques joined the company.
In 1922, Jean-Philippe's son, Jacques Worth, introduced perfumes to the business to accompany the clothes. Their most popular perfume, 'Je Reviens' (French for 'I will return'), was launched in 1932, and is still to this day one of the most famous French perfumes in ever created.
Below is a painting of the rue de la Paix – the street in Paris where the Worth’s shop was, by Jean Georges Beraud. It was painted a little after Charles dies, in 1910. You can almost envisage the glamorous ladies arriving in their horse-drawn carriages with footmen and going in to look at the fine dresses, by then being sold by Charles sons and grandsons.