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The House of Worth: Fashion Sketches, 1916-1918

The House of Worth: Fashion Sketches, 1916-1918

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The House of Worth: Fashion Sketches, 1916-1918

4/5 (5 peringkat)
304 pages
2 hours
Aug 24, 2015


"In-depth research on the House of Worth, with many fabulous photographs of the drawings from the designers, with hand-written notations and fabric swatches." — Jefferson-Madison Regional Library System
"Beautiful. A must for any clothing lover or historian." — The Walters Art Museum
This stylish compilation features 125 watercolor and ink renderings of designs from the house of Worth, the first couturier establishment and founder of the modern fashion industry. Sent to one of their clients, a seasonal resident in Litchfield, Connecticut, the sketches include fabric swatches, design names, detailed price information, and personalized notes.
The catalog includes two substantial essays that address the cultural and social significance of both the house of Worth sketches and the town of Litchfield. The first item introduces the town during the early twentieth century and the residents associated with the sketches, Julia Chester Wells and Mary Perkins Quincy. The second essay profiles the house of Worth in the 1910s, focusing on the sketches and their place within the broader history of fashion and noting social shifts and changes in fashion consumption. The final segment includes images of all 125 sketches, accompanied by twenty annotations that offer in-depth explorations of common themes such as historic design influences and ethnic inspiration. Published in conjunction with an exhibition at the Litchfield Historical Society, this volume is a source of interest and inspiration to individuals from fashion historians to costume designers.
"I've read more books on historical fashions over the years than I could ever count, and can honestly say that this is one of the most unique and appealing approaches to profiling the history of a company, its customers, and its products alike that I've ever had the pleasure of encountering." — Chronically Vintage

Aug 24, 2015

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  • Houses often kept a strict eye on who was and was not admitted to the shows in an attempt to keep away fashion pirates more interested in memo- rizing the styles than purchasing the models.

  • One of the crucial steps in establishing Paris as the city of fashion became its ability to get fashion from the couture houses into the hands of women.

  • Audiences quite simply want their own stories told with some distance and objectivity, and a unique artifact from history can help to do exactly that.

  • When I work, I begin by trying to understand the desires and circumstances of a character that first exists only as words on a page.

  • Her careful tracking of garments allowed her to avoid the unfortunate social misstep of wearing a gown to the same event this year as last.

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The House of Worth - Litchfield Historical Society



Litchfield Historical Society

With essays by

Karen M. DePauw and Jessica D. Jenkins

Introduction by

Michael Krass


Mineola, New York

Frontispiece: Chrysanthème 8950, House of Worth,

Watercolor and Ink on paper, 1918, 1950-01-86-48

Copyright © 2015 by The Litchfield Historical Society

All rights reserved.

The House of Worth: Fashion Sketches, 1916 • 1918 is a new work, first published by Dover Publications, Inc., in 2015.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

The House of Worth : fashion sketches, 1916 • 1918 / Litchfield Historical Society with essays by Karen M. DePauw and Jessica D. Jenkins; introduction by Michael Krass.

pages cm

Includes bibliographical references.

ISBN-13: 978-0-486-79924-7 — ISBN-10: 0-486-79924-7

1. House of Worth (Firm)—History. 2. Fashion design—France—History—20th century. 3. Fashion drawing—France—History—20th century. I. DePauw, Karen M. II. Jenkins, Jessica D. III. House of Worth (Firm). IV. Litchfield Historical Society (Litchfield, Conn.)

TT505.W6H68 2015



Book design by Jason Snyder

Manufactured in the United States by RR Donnelley

79924701 2015




















THE HOUSE OF WORTH FASHION SKETCHES featured in this book are one of the hidden treasures often found in small historical societies and museums. The collection was donated to the Litchfield Historical Society in 1921, and although they have been loved by the staff and occasional researcher, they have never been exhibited or published, and so are not widely known. The Historical Society is proud to partner with Dover Publications to bring this stunning collection to you. This publication is presented in conjunction with an exhibition at the Litchfield History Museum, featuring a selection of the drawings and related costume pieces.

The house of Worth project would not have been possible without the hard work and dedication of many individuals. Jessica D. Jenkins, the Litchfield Historical Society curator of collections, made the idea a reality. She conceived the exhibition and book and then ably managed the myriad of details that go into a project of this scope—from supervising photography, to negotiating loans, to production of exhibition text and graphics. Jessica researched and wrote one of the key essays in the book, coordinated the work of the other authors, and was the main contact with the Dover staff. Her good humor, organizational skills, and dedication to the project were ever-present.

Karen M. DePauw, the exhibition guest curator, was a key member of the team. Karen helped develop the framework for the project, wrote the second main essay and the annotations that accompany a selection of the illustrations in the book, and the exhibition text. She brought her deep knowledge of costume history to the endeavor, and the project would not have been possible without her.

My good friend, costume designer Michael Krass, realized the potential of the collection the first time he saw it. It was years before he was able to use his research for a show, but the result was a Tony Award nomination for The Constant Wife. Michael brings his thoughts on the collection to his introduction.

Photographer David Stansbury’s magic touch is seen in the high-quality images that beautifully reproduce the extraordinary sketches.

The Litchfield Historical Society staff, Linda Hocking, curator of library and archives; Elizabeth O’Grady, curator of education; and Megan Olver, education assistant and visitor services manager; read and edited the text, assisted with research, developed programs to accompany the exhibition, and organized publicity and promotion. Everything we do is a team effort and their work helped the project move forward smoothly and on time.

I cannot say enough about the staff at Dover Publications. Dover president Frank Fontana has been a friend of the Litchfield Historical Society for many years and it has been a great pleasure to work with him on this book. It took one quick conversation for Frank to see the potential in the Worth collection and to envision the book. He brought the concept to his able team, headed by editor-in-chief M.C. Waldrep, who approached the book with unbounded enthusiasm. M.C. guided us through the process with advice and help at every phase.

As always I would like to thank the Litchfield Historical Society Board of Trustees. President Michael Reardon and the entire board continually provide the support and encouragement that makes our work a pleasure.



AS A COSTUME DESIGNER FOR THE THEATRE, I GO shopping through history for my present-day needs. I tell stories to live contemporary audiences; and my work and reverence is to them, not to a garment, a piece of research, or a moment in history. I employ history to speak to the eye of my audience, who may or may not be trained in the silhouette of 1917, but who surely know what is in today’s windows of Macy’s and Saks Fifth Avenue. They want only to understand who they are meeting, what she values, why she got dressed that morning, and in what ways she is like them.

When, in the 1990s, I first viewed the house of Worth sketches this book contains, I thought immediately of how I might employ them. I had never seen a set of images like these, and knew they were unique, complex, and valuable to me and my future audiences.


First, they were made at a moment in time when all social structures were shifting around the world. As we now know, women would soon be showing the legs, arms, and backs they had never publicly exposed in all of history. And in this moment—1916 and 1918—the clothing that may look awkwardly proportioned to our modern eye reflects the rarely seen marker of a transformation that changed history.

Secondly, as a collective group, the images represent the output of a single design house. The portfolio was aimed at upper-class European and American clients for their comparatively conservative consumption. Seeing the images as a grouping is highly unique. While today we may easily see from runway shows what Calvin Klein’s vision is for his customers in a certain season, it is rarer to understand this kind of vision from a hundred years ago, and these sketches provide that opportunity.

When I work, I begin by trying to understand the desires and circumstances of a character that first exists only as words on a page. Suddenly, with the house of Worth sketches available as a resource, I had a tool that fully documented and created a visualized representation (complete with fabric samples in some instances) of the story of a woman of a certain class and taste.

Sometime after I first became aware of these sketches, I was asked to design Somerset Maugham’s The Constant Wife for Broadway. The play takes place in London in the mid-1920s. Its characters live within an upper-middle-class existence: some very fashionable, some showy, some neither of these things. And there is a conservative mother of a certain age: Mrs. Culver. As I read the play, my mind leapt to the Worth research, sensing that a woman of her age and status would not have bobbed her hair, shown her legs, or, just as today, ventured into the mad fashion of the moment. Like today’s Bill Blass or Oscar de la Renta customer, she would find comfort in beautiful clothing of a style with which she was familiar.

Mrs. Culver was to be played by the late and great Lynn Redgrave, and I approached her with copies of the house of Worth sketches shown in this book. And so, with sketches in hand, we went shopping through the portfolio together—Lynn, her character, and I. Through this hilarious and joyous opportunity, together we were able to replicate almost exactly what her character did in choosing her look—and perhaps what the original recipients of the Worth portfolio might have done. And then, adding in Lynn’s own sense of self and having my eye on what contemporary store windows told us were chic proportions and color, we made our choices.

With the work of a phalanx of drapers, crafts people, and milliners, we collaborated to create a clothed person who was introduced to our audience—a self-aware character who knew what her sartorial choices had been. Then beyond the Worth-inspired clothes we added telling hair, jewelry, and other accessories. These additions took Lynn’s character out of the sketches and turned her into a human being that our audience could relate to. Do any of us look exactly like a fashion sketch or photograph? No, we reveal our divine individuality in our own small choices beyond any designer’s intent. Lynn wore Worth and our additions with confident and deeply individual pride.

Did that audience care about the research we had done, about our shopping trip? Likely, they did not. But I believe that they understood and valued the specificity of our choices, the truth and thoroughness of the detail, and the contrast with other characters that set the status within the world of the play. An audience senses truth like a detective does.

The production was a great success; the costume design was rewarded with a Tony Award nomination. And the truth of these fantastically unique, hundred-year-old artifacts was felt by living audiences who wanted to envision themselves on a stage and in a setting other than their own contemporary world. Audiences quite simply want their own stories told with some distance and objectivity, and a unique artifact from history can help to do exactly that.

Constance Middleton (Kate Burton), and Mrs. Culver (Lynn Redgrave) in the 2005 production of The Constant Wife.



IN THE 2 010 DOCUMENTARY BILL CUNNINGHAM New York, famed fashion photographer Bill Cunningham stated, Fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life. To do away with fashion would be like doing away with civilization.¹ While this quote may have been uttered in the twenty-first century, it can easily be applied to the mentality of many Americans in the early years of the one prior. The house of Worth fashion sketches highlighted in the pages of this book display the beauty, care, and artistry put into designing garments for upper-class women with expensive taste. To them these frocks were the epitome of civilization and something worth striving to own. While the watercolor renderings may communicate soft and supple fabrics, in life these materials served as the wearer’s figurative chain mail in the face of global war and worldwide societal changes. It may be easy to lose one’s self in the exquisite compositions, or to see only as deep as the pigment that once transferred from the artist’s brush to the paper, but a closer look can unlock a complex place in time highlighted by beauty, nostalgia, conflict, and great transformations. When these fashion sketches were given to the Litchfield Historical Society in 1920, the donor, Mary Perkins Quincy, described them as valuable. The designs had been created only a few years prior in 1916 and

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  • (4/5)
    A fascinating source book of designs from one of the most elegant couture houses in the 20th. century.
    I was given a digital copy of this book by the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest unbiased review.
  • (5/5)
    A beautiful and very useful source of inspiration, if you seek ideas about what this maison, meant to fashion industry.