Charles Frederick Worth was an English fashion designer and founder of the House of Worth, which was one of the leading fashion houses of 19th and early 20th centuries.
He is termed as the father of the haute culture or high fashion as well as is known for revolutionizing the business of fashion. He was the first to promote his garments by using live models.
Charles Frederick Worth was born on 13th October 1825 in England. Charles’s father was a solicitor who died in 1836, leaving his mother impoverished, having no access to financial support.
Young Charles was forced to work at an early age in a printer’s shop. After a year he went to London as an apprentice at a departmental store and seven years later a British textile store, Lewis & Allenby employed Worth.
In 1846 Worth moved to Paris and he had only £5 with him and he even did not know French. His mother died in 1852 and he was a sales assistant at a prestigious Parisian company that sold silk fabrics to the court dressmakers. He married Marie Vernet in 1851.
Worth started sewing dresses, which were simple initially, but his expert tailoring paved the way to eye-catching designs. The firm gave Worth the permission to open a dress department and this was the first official entrance of Worth into the dressmaking world.
He helped in building the company’s international reputation by exhibiting prize-winning designs in “The Great Exhibition” of London in 1851 and “The Exposition Universelle” in Paris in 1855. In the latter exhibition, he designed, created and displayed a white court of silk embroidered in gold.
Charles Frederick Worth Facts
In 1858, he acquired a young business partner and established his business at rue de la Paix. He named it Worth and Bobergh. His wife also played a major role in selling the clothes as well as in bringing in new customers.
In 1860 Worth designed a ball dress for Princess de Metternich and this impressed Empress Eugenie. After this Worth brought in a new approach to creating couture dresses. He used varieties of fabrics and expertise in tailoring.
Within a decade his designs were in high demand and he got international recognition. Worth changed the relationship between the client and the dressmaker. Before Worth’s salon, dressmakers used to visit a client’s home and had the one-to-one consultation.
But Worth’s salon became a social meeting point where society figures used to meet. Worth was the first to use live models to promote his gowns to clients. His wife was his model in early 1850s and is also known as world’s first professional model.
Later in Life
The fashion house started with 50 staff but eventually reached to 1200. Most of the Worth’s sewing was with hands. Starting with Empress Eugenie, wealthy and socially ambitious women were drawn to the showpiece creations of Worth. Worth’s dresses were known for lavish fabrics and trimmings.
Worth’s sons also joined the business in 1874 and helped in management, design, and finance. By this time Worth was suffering from many health problems and he died of pneumonia on 10th March 1895 when he was 69.
Although the founder of the House of Worth was gone, it was by now an established entity. It was flourishing in 1900 as women ordered 20 – 30 gowns at a time during those days. The company’s annual turnover was five million francs at the turn of the century.
People had also started placing orders on phone and through emails. Worth was the first person to give a distinct brand logo to clothing. An archive of Worth’s designed gowns is at Victoria and Albert Museum, London. The Metropolitan Museum of Art also holds an archive of his work.