Worth, Charles Frederick

views updated May 18 2018


Four generations of Worths are associated with perhaps the most enduring name in fashion history. Indeed, without the house's contributions to fashion, the French Second Empire would not be remembered as an unending parade of luxurious confections in women's dress, and the Gilded Age would not seem so golden.

Charles Frederick Worth (1825–1895) was the founder of a fashion house usually credited with establishing the highest level of fashion creativity: haute couture. Originally the French phrase meant the highest level of sewing. Later it was employed to identify that portion of fashion—particularly French fashion—that both exemplified the pinnacle of dressmaking techniques and produced new styles. Unfortunately, the phrase haute couture has lost its original meaning through overuse.

Early Career

Charles Frederick Worth was uncommonly astute in recognizing that his talents were better directed toward artistic creativity rather than managing a business. Following a period of working in London dry-goods shops, Worth set out for Paris. In 1846 he found a position at the prominent dry-goods and dressmaking firm of Gagelin et Opigez. This position gave Worth the experience that later enabled him to build his own business. At Gagelin he was exposed to the best resources for fabrics and trims, and allowed to develop his design skills. He also learned the value of live models and met his future business partner, a Swede named Otto Bobergh (1821–1881). What eventually became the House of Worth was established in late 1856 or early 1857 as Worth and Bobergh at 7, rue de la Paix, with Worth as the artistic head and Bobergh as the financial director. The partnership dissolved in 1870–1871, when Bobergh decided to retire due to major political unrest in France.

Worth's wife, née Marie Vernet (1825–1898), was a former Gagelin model. Mme. Worth easily attracted the attention of the ladies of the French court and then the Empress Eugénie herself, by wearing Worth's creations. Taken with promoting French industries, including the once-dying silk industry of Lyon, the empress thrived on lavish gatherings and equally lavish dress at these events. The empress appointed Worth the court couturier in 1860. To make sure his house could keep up with the growing demand for his dresses, Worth introduced a new way of creating an outfit. Instead of designing a complete dress, he pioneered the concept of mixing and matching skirts

and bodices, which insured that ladies did not appear at a function in look-alike attire. Worth also developed inter-changeable pattern pieces in constructing these garments, further insuring the uniqueness of a completed ensemble.

At the House, clients could preview evening attire in rooms illuminated by various forms of light—natural light, candlelight, gas lamps, and later, electric bulbs. While the House maintained the usual fitting and modeling rooms, it also offered rooms for fabric selection that were distinguished by color. An understanding of the play of colors and textures was one of the enduring achievements of the House, and was successfully passed from generation to generation. Charles Worth's sense of color was particularly noteworthy—he preferred nuanced hues to bold primary colors.

Merchandising Innovations

Throughout the House of Worth's existence, it catered to the rich and titled, although it also served those of more limited means. Garments could be ordered from afar with no personal fittings required. The client supplied a comfortably fitted garment from which appropriate measurements were taken. Worth's models also could be made from commercial paper patterns. The House initially advertised its creations in obscure but aesthetically interesting nineteenth-century publications before entering the mainstream at the end of the century with full-page images in Harper's Bazaar and The Queen as well as their French counterpart La mode illustrée. In the twentieth century, the House's models were advertised in such selective fashion publications as the Gazette du bon ton, and such newer entries as Vogue. The former type of publication carried on the centuries-old tradition of hand-drawn and hand-colored illustrations, while the latter featured modern photographs.

Late-nineteenth-century publicity images of Charles Frederick Worth depict a man who saw himself as an artist, wearing a bow at the neck or a beret. Many of the images of his son Jean-Philippe also show someone intent on conveying an impression of creativity. Like many classically trained painters and sculptors of their day, the Worths drew on historical prototypes. The House's designs included references to garments in historical paintings gleaned from museum visits, published descriptions of works of art, and personal familiarity with historic costume. Large numbers of Worth garments from the period of Charles and Jean-Philippe referenced seventeenth-and eighteenth-century styles, but none of them will ever be confused with their prototypes, thanks to construction detail and fabric choice. The Worths employed several distinguishing features in their garments beyond the waistband label that they first introduced in the mid-1860s. Although often credited with the innovation, Worth was not the first dressmaker to use a label. The earliest Worth examples were stamped in gold, but they became a woven signature in the late 1870s. This signature label would last the duration of the House. Attempts to defraud the public with spurious labels were made, especially in the United States in the early twentieth century.

Dress Construction and Materials

Contrary to Worth family mythology, the vast majority of the House's garments were trimmed with machine-made rather than handmade lace. Many Worth clients had collections of lace that had been acquired as investments. Sometimes such lace was used on a garment but almost always removed later and returned to the client. The same procedure was followed if gemstones were incorporated into a garment's design. An additional feature employed by the House was the use of selvage as a decorative touch as well as functional finishing.

Perhaps the House's most important contribution was the type of fabrics that it employed. Following the collapse of the Second Empire in 1870, Worth became an even more important client for the textile and trim producers of Lyon and its environs. There is evidence that Worth both used preexisting yard goods and worked with manufacturers to come up with patterns for new materials.

Charles Worth had begun his designing career by following the expansion of women's skirts in the 1850s, when they were supported by layer upon layer of petticoats. In the later 1850s Worth draped yards of fabric over the skirts' increasing width, as the newly devised crinoline cage, or hoop, permitted expansion without increased bulk. Many Worth dresses from this period, sadly, were frothy, cloudlike confections in silk tulle that have now melted into oblivion. An impression of their impact, however, can be seen in portraits by such artists as Franz Xaver Winterhalter.

Worth introduced hooped dresses with flatter fronts in the early 1860s. It is evident, however, that he was careful not to diminish the amount of material needed; he merely pushed the fabric to the back of the dress. During this decade Worth is also credited with developing the princess-cut dress. These less expansive styles posed an economic challenge. Having been trained in dry-goods shops, Worth recognized the danger of weakening trades that contributed to the success of his own business. Therefore he had to either incorporate large quantities of material into his garments or support the production of costlier luxury goods. In order to maintain a high level of consumption, the House moved material throughout much of the 1870s and 1880s from draped overskirts to trains, bustled backs, and a variety of combinations of these styles. Just as the Empress Eugénie's patronage of the French textile industries had been crucial before 1870, so also was Worth's business vital for the looms of Lyon and Paris that created spectacular luxury materials afterward.

Many of the House's early garments had been constructed of unpatterned silks—tulles, taffetas, reps, and satins—or nominally patterned fabrics featuring stripes and small floral sprays—in other words, typical dress goods. Beginning in the 1870s, almost as a move to fill the void left by the departed French court, the house increasingly employed more expensive textiles usually associated with household furnishing in its garments. Worth boldly utilized grand-scale floral motifs designed for wall coverings in garments whose skirts were often not long enough to include a full repeat of the pattern. Such luxury fabrics, exhibiting astonishing richness of material and the highest level of technical skill, were a feature of the House's models into the first years of the twentieth century. With the exception of machine-made laces, Worth's trims and embroideries matched the ground fabric to which they were applied. The consensus among Worth's clients was that these costly toilettes were worth the price.

Charles Worth and his house did not merely purchase materials; they are also known to have worked closely with textile manufacturers. From such concerns as A. Gourd et Cie, J. Bachelard et Cie, and Tassinari et Chatel, the Worths either commissioned specific designs or ordered preexisting patterns. Often the fabrics they chose had been displayed at important international exhibitions. Many of the fabrics found in late-nineteenth-or early-twentieth-century Worth garments feature subjects that were especially popular with the House: feathers, stalks of grain, stars, butterflies, carnations, iris, tulips, chestnut and oak leaves, scallops and scales, and bowers of roses.

The First Couturier

Worth was not the first man to be an acclaimed creator of fashion. LeRoy had been held in similar esteem as a milliner and dressmaker to the Empress Josephine. Worth was, however, the first clothing designer to be called a couturier. Nevertheless, Worth had the good fortune to be a man entering a field that had become dominated by women, a position that automatically made him a curiosity in the 1850s. During the heady days of the Second Empire, the magic of the "man milliner" called Worth drew the fashion-conscious to the rue de la Paix. Worth's clients were decried as slaves to this dictatorial monarch. Nor was it lost on the House that the theater was an active agent for the propagation of fashion. Even when dressing actresses of the stature of Sarah Bernhardt, however, Worth would insist on full payment for garments. British actress Lillie Langtry was a faithful client, as were such other grandes horizontales (courtesans), actresses, and opera stars as Cora Pearl, Eleanora Duse, and Nellie Melba. Such Bostonians as Lillie Moulton, Isabella Stewart Gardner, and Mrs. J. P. Morgan were dressed by the House, as were their counterparts of the Vanderbilt, Astor, Hewitt, Palmer, McCormick, and Stanford families in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. The House dressed members of the royal families of Russia, Italy, Spain, and Portugal as well as the noblewomen of numerous German principalities.

The first challenge to the house's primacy came with the founding of the House of Paquin in 1891. During the 1890s Worth began to lose clients to this concern. An analysis of the order numbers found in late nineteenth-and early twentieth-century garments reveals not only the year of manufacture but also the fact that orders were declining during this period. But for nearly fifty years, however, a Worth garment had been the most coveted of all apparel, particularly among American women. Perhaps this popularity developed because women from the United States felt at ease discussing their dressmaking needs with a man who could speak English. In return, Charles Worth appreciated his American clients because they had faith in him, figures that displayed his creations to advantage, and perhaps most importantly—francs to pay his bills.

Worth's Successors

Charles Frederick Worth was officially succeeded on his death by his sons Jean-Philippe and Gaston, who had established important roles within the House in the 1870s. Jean-Philippe (1856–1926) worked as a designer alongside his father, and Gaston (1853–1924) functioned as business manager. Throughout the years and over the span of four generations, the Worths never lost sight of the need for astute financial as well as artistic direction.

During the period when Charles and Jean-Philippe worked together as designers within the House it is impossible to separate their designs. Even though later house labels carry the signature of the elder Worth, others may have been responsible for the garment's inspiration.

World War I and the subsequent devaluations of European currencies were particularly devastating to the Worths, because the house had dressed so many female members of the royal families of Europe. In addition, many of the House's older clients died during this period, while fashions were making the transition from Edwardian modes to jazz age styles. When Jean-Philippe and Gaston retired in the early 1920s, they were succeeded by Gaston's sons; Jean-Charles Worth became the new designer, and his brother Jacques the financial director. Jean-Charles easily moved the House's designs from the more staid yet elaborate models of the prewar period into the simpler and more practical styles of the 1920s. In the process, however, fewer and fewer of the characteristics that had been exclusively associated with the House's production can be discerned in the garments that survive from this period.

Worth's grandsons were followed in the 1930s by his great-grandsons Maurice and Roger, the latter assuming the couturier role. They attempted to breathe new life into the House; in 1936 they moved the Paris store to 120, rue du Faubourg St.-Honoré. At the end of World War II, however, both the London and Paris branches of the house merged with Worth's old rival Paquin. The London branches, the first established in 1911, survived the Paris branch by eight years. Worth's heirs also shut-tered the branches of the House that had been established in Cannes and Biarritz.

As of the early 2000s, the Worth name survived in perfume, although the company has long been out of direct family control.

See alsoCrinoline; Fancy Dress; Fashion Marketing and Merchandising; Haute Couture; Paquin, Jeanne; Paris Fashion; Perfume; Royal and Aristocratic Dress .


Coleman, Elizabeth A. The Opulent Era: Fashions of Worth, Doucet and Pingat. New York: The Brooklyn Museum in association with Thames and Hudson, 1989.

De Marly, Diana. Worth: Father of Haute Couture. 2nd ed. New York: Holms and Meier, 1990.

Saunders, Edith. The Age of Worth. London and New York: Longmans, Green, 1954.

Internet Resources

Charles Frederick Worth Organization. Available from <http://www.charlesfrederickworth.org>.

House of Worth. Available from <http://www.houseofworth.co.uk>.

Elizabeth Ann Coleman

Charles Frederick Worth

views updated May 18 2018

Charles Frederick Worth

Credited with developing the bustle, Charles Frederick Worth (1825-1895) rose from humble beginnings to create the first fashion empire. He dictated his style preferences to the crowned heads of Europe during the mid-nineteenth century.

Charles Frederick Worth was the founder of Paris haute couture —high fashion. A talented designer with a savvy head for business, his fashion empire spanned the nineteenth century, growing amid the increasing opulence, wealth, and luxury of France's Second Empire, the reign of Britain's Queen Victoria, and America's Gilded Age. Raised in the Age of Reason, he used the technology of the industrial era to transform the decoration of women from a cottage-based craft into a major industry.

Family's Poverty Results in Unexpected Career

Worth was born October 13, 1825, in Bourne, Lincolnshire, England. While he was descended from several generations of attorneys and was raised to assume a life of affluence, his comfortable lifestyle was disrupted by his father's alcoholism when Worth was eleven. Losing everything, his mother, Mary Worth, was forced to clean houses to support her family, while Charles was also forced to go to work. Apprenticed to a printer but finding the work not to his taste, Worth left after one year and in 1838 went to work as a bookkeeper for the London yard goods firm of Swan and Edgar. Like many such firms, Swan and Edgar supplied ladies with fabric yardage that would be taken to a dressmaker to create one-of-a-kind gowns and other garments. Worth later moved to Lewis and Allenby, London silk merchants, where he stayed until 1845. At Lewis and Allenby Worth learned about textiles. He also observed the social intricacies of fashionable society, and vowed to be a part of it someday. During his time off from work, the young apprentice visited art galleries, where his study of the clothing of past eras would influence his later designs.

After moving to Paris in 1845, Worth found work with a fabric and dress accessories shop, Maison Gagelin. In his shop M. Gagelin employed young women to model shawls, cloaks, and other accessories for his clients. Worth fell in love with one of these models, Marie Vernet, and the two were eventually married. They would go on to have two sons, Gaston and Jean-Philippe.

Desiring that his wife look her best, Worth designed and constructed several simple yet elegant gowns for Marie to wear while modeling Gagelin's wares. Soon customers were asking Worth to make gowns for them as well. He proposed a scheme whereby he would design and construct several dresses from Gagelin silks that could be sold alongside the shop's dress goods, but Gagelin was skeptical, as purchasing ready-made garments was unheard of in the mid-nineteenth century. However, Worth's talent as a dressmaker and designer was soon the talk of Paris, and fashionable ladies flocked to view his latest creations. Denied a partnership by Gagelin, Worth eventually broke out on his own and started his own ladies' dress shop, Worth and Bobergh, in 1858. His financial partner was Otto Bobergh and the two men located their shop in Paris on the rue de la Paix.

Age of Conspicuous Consumption

The economic advances of the Second Empire (1852-1870), ruled over by Napoleon III and his wife, the Empress Eugenie, provided many in the French upper class the economic means to afford the luxury goods Worth produced. In the United States, as well, the mid-1800s saw the growth of industrial empires whose creators demanded luxurious, ostentatious surroundings. Mimicking the royal families of Europe, these "nouveau riche" worshiped all things European. Architecture of the period reflected this trend, and by the 1880s lavish Italianate "cottage" studded the residential neighborhoods of posh Newport, Rhode Island, their polished marble walls lined with gilt-framed works by the Old Masters.

While the male members of this new upper class attended to business, their wives and daughters spent their time calling on friends, attending parties, and planning shopping trips to Paris. In addition to embodying the era's conspicuous consumption, the less a woman appeared to be capable of performing any useful task, the more positively it reflected upon her husband's social standing. Restricted by a tightly laced, constricting corset that made breathing difficult since the age of eight, the average young lady of fashion was burdened as well by several layers of petticoats; a hairstyle that required painstaking attention; a crinoline constructed of watch-spring wire that prevented her from either sitting comfortably on a chair or passing through a narrow doorway; a tightly fitted bodice the sleeves of which often prevented her from raising her arms; and the necessity of changing her garments several times a day as required by the meal to be served, the company to be entertained, or the function to be attended.

Even more than today, the clothes a woman wore were crucial in retaining and even elevating her position in society. Every activity required a particular mode of dress, from the reception gown for greeting guests at home, to visiting dresses, to dinner dresses, lavish evening gowns, and fanciful gowns specially designed for costume balls. And there was also fashion's cardinal rule—never wear the same dress twice—which meant that the average woman of the upper classes donned a minimum of two new dresses each day.

Breaking the monotony of social outings and needlework for wealthy women was the arrival, each fashion season, of a new trunk full of clothes from Paris. Appearing in a gown made in Paris guaranteed that one would appear distinguished, and Paris fashions were commonly seen gracing everything from debutante balls to weddings. In addition to their stylish designs, ordering garments was simplified in France, and high-quality fabrics and trims, a good fit, good construction were available for far less than they were in New York City.

Courts Favor with European Royalty

Even before opening his shop, or atelier, Worth knew he needed to attract the patronage of women in court circles in order to become a success. He decided to earn the goodwill of the fashion-conscious Princess Pauline von Metternich, who was married to the Austrian ambassador to France. Gaining the princess as a client would allow Worth to gain the patronage of the equally fashionable Empress Eugenie. His plan proved successful, and by 1864 Worth had become couturier to the French court.

Among Paris dressmakers, Worth soon reigned supreme. The street in front of 7 rue de la Paix was lined with carriages from morning to night, and the shop itself buzzed with the gossip of fashionable women from around the world. Worth could often be found at the center of a rapt audience of these women, garbed as they were in colorful, rustling silks. He would often call certain women forward to critique their ensemble, finding favor or criticizing as was his whim. The Empress Eugenie joined her court in frequenting his shop, and other royal clients included Queen Victoria and the Empress Elizabeth, for whom he designed a dress for her coronation as Queen of Hungary. Among the American women who patronized his shop in later years were the Astors, Carnegies, Rockefellers, and Vanderbilts, who all made frequent appearances. While many of Worth's clients would spend upwards of $10,000 a year on their wardrobes, still others were willing to spend that same sum on a single ball gown.

From Designer to Innovator

In producing the 6,000 to 7,000 gowns and 4,000 outer garments he designed and sold each year, Worth used the most beautiful fabrics he could find. In an effort to support the textile industry in his own country, he often looked to French weavers. The famed silk mills of Lyon frequently submitted samples of their new patterns for Worth's approval, and his fabric orders would sometimes determine a weaver's production output for an entire year. Worth's attention to quality and detail was painstaking; the inside of his garments was often finished equally as well as the outside.

While much of Worth's success was due to the fact that he used the best fabrics and employed the best dressmakers in Paris, he also made use of his artistic genius. He is credited with popularizing the cage crinoline—a bell-shaped framework formed from a series of horizontal hoops and suspended with tapes from the waist to support the weight of overskirts—as well as for its demise in favor of a half-crinoline that pushed the skirt's fullness to the back. The half-crinoline eventually became the bustle, a fixture in women's dress during the 1870s and 1880s.

Crinolined ball gowns were among Worth's most popular creations. He is also credited with creating the first walking skirt by trimming enough length from the hem of a dress to allow the skirt to clear the ground and not drag in the mud. He favored jaunty hats over the bonnets that had been in favor for years, and designed several hats in his shop.

Some of Worth's innovations were technical in nature. He sped up the patternmaking process by creating a system of standardized, interchangeable components—from sleeves to collars to bodices—so that a single pattern piece could be used in numerous garments. He also used the newly invented sewing machine as much as possible, relying on hand sewing for only delicate finish work. Rather than shunning modernization, he willingly used the laces, ribbons, and other trims produced by machine instead of by hand and readily available in quantity.

Worth was also the first designer to organize and show an entire collection of clothes in advance. The first man to become prominent in the field of women's fashion, he was also the first to use young women as models for entire outfits. In addition to his private customers, Worth's clientele included American seamstresses who purchased garments to copy for ladies longing for the Worth look but unable to travel to Paris. In this way, Worth pioneered the technique of designing dresses for the purpose of being copied in French workrooms and then distributed throughout the world.

Practical as well as fanatical, Worth realized that women have as great a need for housecoats, maternity dresses, and mourning clothes as they had for fancy evening dresses, and he designed fashionable clothing for even these mundane uses. He also was sensitive to the likes and dislikes of his clients, creating designs based upon the individual woman rather than the prevailing trend. His clients included leading members of the Comedie Francais, whom Worth costumed based on the works of Titian, Rembrandt, and other artists.

Business Outlives French Empire

In 1870 the Second French Empire fell, forcing Empress Eugenie into exile in England. During France's attack by allied European forces, Maison Worth was transformed into a hospital for injured French soldiers. In January of 1871 France surrendered to the Prussian army, but during the civil unrest that followed many French symbols of the aristocracy were destroyed.

After the French government had been restored, the doors to luxurious Parisian shops bearing such names as Worth and Cartier once again opened their doors. As most of the ladies of the French court had long since departed, clients of Maison Worth now numbered chiefly British, American, Swedish, Italian, and Russian. Fortunately for Worth, the spending habits of these foreign women caused a boom in business. His prices became even more exorbitant, and his income of $80,000 a year was an enormous sum by nineteenth-century standards. Business flourished and by 1871 Worth had 1,200 people in his employ.

Talent Surpassed Only by Ego

Worth's sense of style and his head for business were enhanced by an unusually large ego. Probably the first dressmaker to sign his name to his work by using a label sewn into the garment, he nurtured the mystique that made him a legend to his fans, adopting autocratic mannerisms. He also affected a Bohemian style in his own wardrobe, often appearing in a black skullcap. Caricatures of Worth appear in many novels of the period, including works by Emile Zola, Henry James, and Edith Wharton.

In keeping with his desire for social status, Worth devised his own coat of arms, which he had worked into the iron gates of his home in Suresnes. The design featured a stylized cornflower of blue and a snail.

Worth's combination of genius and arrogance captured the imagination of his female clients, and he soon had absolute control over the world of Paris fashion. While his genius was lauded during his lifetime, some critics commented on his high prices—often higher still for Americans—and his dictatorial nature. In part as a reaction to his ornate fashions, advocates of a reformed "aesthetic" dress began to call for the abolition of the corset, crinoline, and other unnatural paddings. Instead they advocated the wearing of undecorated dresses sewn from modest fabrics and designed to drape loosely from the shoulders to the floor.

The Death of Worth

While his works continued to be featured in Harper's Bazaar, by the 1890s Worth had lost his monopoly on French fashion. Designers such as Paquin, Doucet, and Felix soon began to find favor with the wealthy set. Upon his death in Paris on March 10, 1895, Worth's shop was turned over to his sons. Jean-Philippe, in addition to being raised in atelier Worth, had studied painting, while Gaston, Worth's older son, competently handled the businesses finances.

The two brothers proved successful in continuing their father's success, albeit on a less intensive scale. Creating elegant gowns in the tradition of his father, Jean-Philippe was also responsible for costuming some of the era's most notable actresses, who still relied on private dressmakers rather than theatrical designers for the clothing they donned on stage.

At the turn of the century the reputation of Maison Worth declined in favor of such young, innovative designers as Paul Poiret, who discarded corsets in favor of the straight, waistless styles that would come to characterize women's fashions during the 1920s. Following World War II, Jean-Philippe confined himself to making gowns for state occasions attended by the few remaining members of the European nobility. He and his brother were patronized by an increasingly older clientele until, in 1956, the House of Worth closed its doors. Today Worth's gowns can be viewed at museums around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Costume Institute.


De Marly, Diana, The History of Haute Couture, 1850-1950, Holmes and Meier, 1980.

Ewing, Elizabeth, History of Twentieth Century Fashion, third edition, Costume and Fashion Press, 1992.

Paris Fashion, edited by Ruth Lynan, M. Joseph, 1972.

Saunders, Edith, The Age of Worth, Indiana University Press, 1955.

Worth: The Father of Haute Couture, [London], 1980.

Worth, Jean Philipe, A Century of Fashion, translated by Ruth Satl Miller, Little, Brown, 1928. □

Charles Frederick Worth Industrializes Fashion

views updated May 23 2018


Though born and raised in England, Charles Frederick Worth (18251895) became the first world famous French fashion designer. He was also the first to create and employ the principles of design and fashion that would be called "haute couture," or "high fashion." Worth not only designed clothes for much of Europe's nobility and many American millionaires, he also introduced many modern changes in the ways clothing was designed, made, and sold.

Worth was born in 1825 in Lincolnshire, in the east of England. His father was a lawyer who had lost most of his money gambling, so young Charles was forced to go out to work when he was only eleven. He worked for many years at a department store, then at a company that sold fabrics. Through his sales experience he learned about what women wanted and needed in clothing and fashion. He wished to become a dress designer, so at the age of twenty he took a job with a fabric firm in Paris, where he could study design while he worked. It was there that he introduced his first new idea of offering dress design to customers at the fabric company. For the first time, ladies could get the whole dress, design and fabric, at the same location.

Before Worth began his design career, dresses had been made by dressmakers, and designs had been created by the customer and the dressmaker, who got ideas from looking at pictures of popular dresses. Worth was one of the first designers to come up with his own ideas, based on his knowledge of women's needs. Soon he started his own company. The wife of the Austrian ambassador bought a dress from Worth that attracted the notice of the Empress of France. Worth became the court designer, and was soon making dresses for the royalty of Russia, Italy, Spain, and Austria. Famous and wealthy Americans such as the Vanderbilts and the Astors also came to the House of Worth for special gowns, making Worth the first celebrity fashion designer.

Worth used beautiful and luxurious fabrics for his dresses, and he trimmed them with rich decoration, such as fringe, lace, braid, and tassels made of pearls. His many important contributions to design included an ankle-length walking skirt, shockingly short for its time, and the princess gown, a waist-less dress that hung simple and straight in the front while draping in full pleats in the back.

However, more lasting have been Worth's contributions to fashion as an industry. He changed the way dresses were shown to customers by being the first designer to use living women as models, and the first to have fashion shows to reveal his new designs to customers. He also began to make high fashion more widely available, by selling his designs not only to individual customers but also to other dressmakers, clothing manufacturers, and to the newly invented department stores. Another introduction Worth made was the practice of mass-producing parts of a piece of clothing, then putting them together in different ways. For example, a certain type of sleeve could be produced in a bulk quantity, and then used on several different types of dresses to produce a different look each time.

Worth's ideas came at a time when clothing factories and department stores were new developments, and they combined well to create a new concept in fashion called ready-to-wear clothing. For the first time, people could simply go to a store and buy the latest fashions, and "haute couture" style was no longer only available to the rich. Charles Worth died in 1895, but his sons continued to operate his successful design house for many years.

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