The very fabric of fashion

On 31 January 2020, by Anne Doridou-Heim

With a pre-emption for a dress from Worth design house and prices well above the estimates, couture opened the Drouot bidding ball with a bang.

Worth, ca. 1900-1905, ball gown no. 84920 in pink silk lampas with foliage and rose decoration, veiled with chestnut silk tulle.
Result: €14,168

The programme started with documents on fashion and fabrics, then presented various wallpapers before moving on to fashion of the past and antique textiles (all from private collections), providing rich pickings for enthusiasts. This was confirmed by the fine bids obtained for rare pieces, such as a pair of 18th century shoes and a dalmatic, and acclaim from institutions with the first pre-emption of the year at Drouot. This came from the Musée des Arts Decoratifs, which paid €14,168 for a Worth ball gown. In pink silk lampas with a foliage and rose pattern, this is a model that shapes the figure. With its pointed whalebone bodice laced and fastened at the back, short ruffled sleeves, neckline emphasised with lines of rhinestones and tulle, and skirt with a long, curved train sporting four layers of ruffled flounces, this dress encapsulates Worth's creative genius. The catalogue tells us that it came from the "wardrobe of an exceptionally elegant Parisian women; one of the company's top customers in around 1900". The preferred supplier of Empress Eugenie, who provided keen support, Charles Frederic Worth (1825-1895) arrived in Paris in the spring of 1846 with 117 francs in his pocket, unable to speak a word of French –  and changed the fashion world forever through a powerful innovation: marking every creation with his name, like an official artist. Though this seems totally normal today, it was a small revolution at the time. This ravishing outfit was designed in around 1900-1905 when the company was run by his two sons, Gaston (1853-1924) and Jean Philippe (1856-1926). It joins a rich collection of forty duly signed dresses, but many of them are too fragile for exhibition. This one is in good condition, so could go on show very soon.   

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