Charles Frederick Worth (1826-1895)

Charles Frederick Worth, the father of haute couture, dominated Parisian fashion in the latter half of the 19th century. He was born in Bourne, Lincolnshire, England, on October 13, 1825. As a young man, Worth worked as an apprentice and clerk for two London textile merchants where he gained a thorough knowledge of fabrics and the business of supplying dressmakers. During his apprenticeship, Worth visited the National Gallery where elements of the sitters' dresses in historic portraits provided inspiration for fashion, ensembles and masquerade costumes.

Worth relocated to Paris in 1845 and worked for Gagelin, a firm that sold textiles, shawls and some garments. Worth became a successful salesman and went on to open a dressmaking department for the company.  He contributed to the reputation of the firm with prize-winning designs displayed in the Great Exhibition in London (1851) and the Exposition Universelle in Paris (1855). He opened his own firm in 1858. 

Worth's career coincided with the establishment of the Second Empire in France. The restoration of a royal house in 1852 with Emperor Napoleon III (1808-1873), again made Paris an imperial capital and the setting for numerous state occasions. Napoleon III initiated modernizations that revitalized the French economy. The demand for luxury goods, including textiles and fashionable dress, reached levels that had not been seen since before the French Revolution (1789-99).

With his talent for design and promotion, Worth built his design house into a huge business from 1875 onward.  His sons, Gaston-Lucien (1853-1924) and Jean-Philippe (1856-1926), took over their father's business following his death in 1895. The house flourished under the sons' management and into the 1920s. The great fashion dynasty finally ended when Worth's great-grandson, Jean-Charles (1881-1962), retired in 1952.

Worth's designs are notable for their use of lavish fabrics and trimmings, the incorporation of elements of historic dress, and a superb tention to fit. Worth is especially known for preparing a variety of designs shown on live models from which clients made selections that were later tailor-made in Worth's workshop.