The Museum of the City of New York Launches Magnificent On-Line Exhibition of Haute Couture Superstars

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Innovative Web Presentation Gives Users First-Ever Opportunity to Closely Examine Details of Fashion Masters’ Work from the Outside-In

Afternoon Dress by Maison Worth

The Museum of the City of New York is launching an innovative on-line exhibition focused on the groundbreaking and elegant work of two of the fashion world’s most important and intriguing designers, Charles Frederick Worth and Main Rousseau Bocher (who was also known as Mainbocher).

“Worth/Mainbocher: Demystifying the Haute Couture” (link: explores the work of the two trendsetting masters of their times. The exhibition presents 57 Worths and 62 Mainbochers judged to be the most significant examples on the basis of design and workmanship. Although separated by 70 years, the two men shared much in common – both enjoyed an A-List clientele and reputations as the fashion arbiters of their day.

The designers’ creations, captured in the Museum’s online exhibition, are beautiful to observe and awe-inspiring in their fine detail and nuances. The web presentation will allow participants to view and examine these great works from the outside-in, providing detailed technical observations on the fine points of their construction and internal finishing techniques. The images are high-resolution, allowing viewers to zoom in and see individual threads and stitches.

The exhibition will also present comprehensive catalogue entries with social histories, to give a sense of the designers’ time and place, as well as the genius of their art and craft, and insighful biographical essays written by acclaimed fashion writers Hamish Bowles and Caroline Rennolds Milbank.

“To truly understand New York’s obsession with fashion, one needs to know the work of Worth and Mainbocher and understand the role they played in high fashion and high society. We’re thrilled to bring this information – in exquisite detail – for all New Yorkers and people across the world to see,” said Susan Henshaw Jones, Ronay Menschel Director of the Museum of the City of New York. The exhibition was curated by Phyllis Magidson, the Museum’s Curator of Costumes and Textiles. Claire Schaeffer consulted on couture techniques.

Featuring the photography of David Arky, the exhibition is the brilliant result of a long term project to analyze, digitize, and make accessible these important garments and provide an inside look at the artistry and technical virtuosity of the two defining figures of the haute couture.

The exhibition is part of a major digitization project, begun in 2008, which enables Web visitors to discover ever-larger portions of the Museum's collections. The Museum’s Costume and Textile Collection holds 23,000 garments that chronicle New York's evolution as an international fashion capital, and provide insights into its social history. The collection spans more than three hundred years, and includes 131 garments bearing the Worth label, and 103 with that of Mainbocher, more than any other designer or manufacturer. This can be explained by the enduring appeal of their garments to trendsetting New Yorkers.

“Worth/Mainbocher: Demystifying the Haute Couture” is made possible by The Coby Foundation, Ltd.


Wearing Worth or Mainbocher guaranteed social standing to status seekers, especially given their astronomical costs and the opulent and exotic fabrics and trim, the use of which became the hallmark of both men.

Englishman Charles Frederick Worth (1826-1925) founded a Parisian atelier in 1858 that defined the luxurious standards of the haute couture and set the course for high fashion for the balance of the 19th century. Almost seven decades years later, Chicago-born Mainbocher (1891-1976) perfected those standards while designing in Paris and later transported his Parisian-based skills across the Atlantic to New York. In so doing he modernized the language of the couture, streamlining it to suit the lifestyle of the socially prominent 20th century New York woman.

Worth essentially introduced the concept of haute couture as an art form. Prior to his ascendancy, the idea of a dress being recognized as the work of a specific creator simply didn’t exist. He considered himself an artist and his garments works of art; and he was the first designer to sign his work—with a label.

Mainbocher's designs built upon Worth's artistic principles, modernizing them to apply to a more practical, American lifestyle. His salons attracted the absolute elite of international café society, who were drawn to the deft sophistication and impeccable workmanship of his garments. He dressed the most elegant American women of the day, the Duchess of Windsor (the former Wallis Warfield Simpson), Babe Paley, C. Z. Guest, Millicent Rogers, and Gloria Vanderbilt among them.

The designation Haute Couture is one reserved for an elite classification of designers whose high creative standards have earned them formal recognition by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, a division of the French Ministry of Industry, established by Charles Frederick Worth himself in 1868. Only two Americans - Mainbocher and Ralph Rucci – were classified as haute couturiers by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture.


Founded in 1923 as a private, nonprofit corporation, the Museum of the City of New York celebrates and interprets the city, educating the public about its distinctive character, especially its heritage of diversity, opportunity, and perpetual transformation. The Museum connects the past, present, and future of New York City, and serves the people of the city as well as visitors from around the world through exhibitions, school and public programs, publications, and collections.

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