Charles Frederick Worth tapped into something, a desire for both the familiar and the extraordinary. The desire to own something unique, but that would be approved and make an impact on others.
Multiple views of the Sunburst gown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Worth Copies out of House
It is this desire that appears to have driven the market for unlicensed as well as licensed copies of his designs.
In America especially there are examples of this, Lord and Taylor being a license holder. There were also innumerable dressmakers who made copies of gowns as presented in fashion plates or copied- possibly from the second hand market.
The case of the two gowns with striking sunburst embroidery seems to have not been a case of copies outside the Maison but from within.
Certainly the gown at the metropolitan Museum bears a waist label that is appropriate to the era and also appears to have not been replaced. It also has good provenance as a gift to the museum by the wearers descendants. Caroline Astor appears to have worn many Worth garments, and was unlikely to have worn copies.
So what then of the gown at the Kyoto Costume Institute? The central embroidered motif is worked in a very similar manner, and the fabrics used match, though the colours do not. The more striking changes are in the bodices and choice of materials used to work the embroidery.
The KCI gown does not have a label, the details date the garment to several years later, and the bodice reflects those fashion changes. The lines that were softened in the 1887 garment are again harsh, while softness is directed to the front of the bodice.
It is possible the KCI gown is a licensed copy or unlicensed however there is very little documentation for the garment available to the public and so the assumption is that the museum has correctly identified the maker. This can be ascertained by examination of the construction and comparison to known examples. The garment is beautifully created and so does support the attribution.
In House copies
Aside from licensing copies or allowing designs to be shared by fashion journals, Worth used an in house system of creating variations on a design. Ladies of a court could wear matching garments differentiated only by colour, he also displayed the same design in different fabrics. It also allowed the same design to be sold to clients otherwise unconnected. It has been suggested that once a design was sold to royalty it was then withdrawn so as to not have any other copies made. However a letter exists of a client who order a duplicate of the ‘Grand Duchess of Wurtemberg’ (quotation marks original to the letter as presented in in Worth Father of Haute Couture page 216.)
Like much of what has been discovered or known about Worth there seem to be inconsistencies.
While royal courts could allow the same dress to be copied in different hues alone there are many examples of a design realised in different fabric or with different bodice and sleeve variations. This variation may be what allowed Maison Worth to copy designs otherwise retired.
Sunburst and cloud motif used in Worth designs
As discussed in Fashion by the Kyoto Costume Institute there was quite a desire for Japanese patterns in Western fashion during the last quarter of the 19thC. There are a large number of Worth designs and extant garments that use floral motifs, particularly chrysanthemums, there are several garments that used this cloud and ray design, though differently worked.
These do appear to be the earliest uses of the cloud pattern, though stars were in use even from the days of Empress Sisi in her famous portrait.
1865,Winterhalter, Portrait of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, wikicommons.
Left:ca. 1887, 49.3.28a, b, Metropolitan Museum of Art. Silk Satin with cut work and beaded sunburst design.
Centre: 1894, AC4799 84-9-2AB, Kyoto Costume Institute. Silk Satin with cut work and beaded sunburst design.
Right: 1897 Two piece ballgown consisting of a bodice and skirt of beige gold lame embroidered with gold thread and sequins and diamente in a motif of lightening bolts and light blue satin appliqued with dark beige chiffon and chenille threads in a cloud pattern. The boned bodice is trimmed with silk illusion at the neckline and under the sleeves. Wired clouds form the small sleeves which are supported underneath by tulle. A wraparound diagonal blue satin wedge conceals part of the hook and tie closure. The front and sides of the skirt consist of the same lightening motif as the bodice. Inserted into the back of the skirt from the waist is an enormous blue satin train appliqued with beige chiffon clouds outlined with tulle. The dress is dated in the waistband 1897. This is one of the grandest ballgowns ever made by Worth for one of the enormously wealthy Americans who married an English title, Miss Goelet who became the Duchess of Marlborough? During this period, fancy dress balls were popular. This dress symbolizes a storm with clouds and lightening. Stylistically the surface pattern is inspired by Art Nouveau and Japonism. The Kyoto Costume Institute ballgown probably 1894-96 dating by the sleeve shape and it’ s proportions is a comparable masterpiece resembling this one in terms of concept, a weather pattern, and Japanese inspired design style, Japonism. The design of the KCI example is stylized naturalistic based on brilliant ¾ composition out of the Chinese and Japanese scholar meditational landscape paintings whereas in this later example of the same development the image has further abstracted in the straight line geometry of the lightening bolts and the loosely formed circles of the clouds.
Left: 1888, 2009.300.664a, b Faille background with sunburst motif woven in satin
left: 1898-1900, 1976.258.6a, b, velvet Star motif woven on satin ground, cloud motifs appliqued and couched around flouce.
Centre: 1905 2009.300.2979a, b (both Metropolitan Museum of Art) velvet stars on faille ground.
Right: 1905, 44.158.1, Museum of the City of New York
Left: 1899-1900, AAD/1982/1/31. Skirt in white satin with white and yellow chiffon, overlaid with spangled black tulle and lace. From the Worth Archive (The House of Worth, Portrait of an Archive.)
Right: 1902-03, AAD/1982/1/46 white satin and spangled tulle with sequins and beads in a cloud and shower of rain design. From the Worth Archive (The House of Worth, Portrait of an Archive.)
Left: Sotie de Bal c.1901, AAD/1982/1/24, satin embroidered with stars and clouds
Right: Coat from the Worth Archive with cloud pattern and upside down wave motifs. From the Worth Archive (The House of Worth, Portrait of an Archive.)
Likely candidate for weavers of Worth textiles include Devaux et Bachelard who “wove nighttime skyscape with white to grey cumulus clouds, interspersed with silver thread stars set against a gray-blue satin ground.” “Skyscapes fascinated the house.” (Opulent Era page 78)
Materials used in the two ‘Sunburst’ gowns
Both gowns have been photographed and those photographs have been reproduced in digital and printed media. The colours as they appear in these forms differ slightly from the descriptions, as do some of the techniques and materials. Some of this is due to conditions of creating and reproducing a photograph, some may be due to the age of the garments respectively.
The MMFA gown appears very golden in the most easily accessible photo:
- Date: ca. 1887
Accession Number:49.3.28a, b
The Opulent Era describes the gown as
“an evening dress whose entire skirt front panel was appliqued and embroidered in gold and silver bugle beads with a sunburst radiating through small cumulus clouds. The burst is set against white satin and framed by a star-and-cloud beaded border and aqua tinted satin. Touches of layered rainbow-hued pink, blue, and yellow chiffons, including Henri II puffs on the hips.”
The website describes the gown as made from silk, glass, and metallic thread.
Worth Father of Haute Couture describes the gown as a
“ballgown, c.1887, in pale green and white satin, embroidered with sunburst pattern of silver and gold beads, trimmed with chiffon ruffles in pastel shades.”
The gown is not appliqued but does involve cut work. The beads are not bugle but rocaille (the same glass with foil lining but rounder in shape.) The metallic thread appears to be a heavy cord couched in the cloud pattern before the beads were sewn around the outer edge of each. The cord appears to be wrapped in now corroded metal.
The colour is slightly harder to determine. The gown shows several signs of age, especially shattering of the satin on the bodice and train- this may be due to the dye, or perhaps the sizing. The fabric is though most likely not the same as the skirt based on how untouched by age the latter appears to be. The website suggests the bodice and train are indeed green, but it also shows the skirt to be very mellow and golden. It may be that the bodice and train are likewise mellowed towards a more yellow tint.
It is likely that the sunburst would have called to mind the colours of a sunset and so aqua seems more likely as the original hue. Elizabeth Anne Coleman describes the mixtures of colours (aqua with peach and white or with crimson and white as appropriate to the era.
Silk tulles especially have aged badly, many have dissolved due to their sizing (The Opulent Era page 69.) Silk satin appears to have been known to be often treated with harsh chemicals by the time the gown was made (The Opulent Era, ditto.)
The cord can be easily seen in the last full circle cloud. The roundness of the rocailles can also be seen. Of not for the construction the skirt is two layered with a ruffle of the blue/green/aqua chiffon and an underlayer of white satin covered in a heavy white net. This ruffle and hem extend the length of the skirt somewhat and protects the beaded edge from brushing the ground.
The lining of both the skirt and bodice appear to be a muted toned light silk. So the rigitity of the silk satin may be in part due to sizing or starched book muslin (Worth Father of Haute couture, page 214.) The bodice interior offers a glimpse of the outerfabric layers unaffected by light, but mellowed with age. The yellow chiffon in particular is strinkingly vibrant.
The stitch marks indicate the upper centre part of the bodice is a separate material as suggested in exterior views.
The Kyoto Costume Institute, photo by Richard HaughtonEvening Dressc. 1894
Inventory Number(s)AC4799 84-9-2AB
The KCI gown is described in the book Fashion as
Ivory silk satin; silk chiffon bodice with gigot sleves; skirt with sunbeam and cloud pattern of bead embroidery. Inv. AC4799 84-9-2AB
The website details a little more describing the materials as
Ivory silk satin two-piece dress; gigot sleeves; pale pink silk chiffon decoration at neck and bodice; skirt with sunbeam and cloud asymmetry pattern of pale pink silk tulle insertion and bead embroidery.
The rays of light appear to be constructed the same as the MMFA gown with the satin cut to lie over a tulle underlay (close inspection of photos in Fasion suggest the tulle is a single piece of tulle as the direction of the tulle goes in one direction. The rays are outlined in gold rocails with sequins/spangles on the tulle proper on the straight rays, while the undulating rays have a line of matching rocailles down the center of each. This matches the MMFA gown very closely, only the seams of the skirt panels show any deviation.
The cloud patterns also match, nearly perfectly however do not have a couched cord but instead is composed entirely of faux pearls of graded sizes.
This change may be down to personal taste of the wearer or was decided by Worth as an exploration of a theme. The pink accents on a plain white silk would immediately bring to mind the colours of a pearl to Worth (Charles or Jean Phillipe.)
The opulent era: fashions of Worth, Doucet and Pingat
Brooklyn Museum, in association with Thames and Hudson, 1989 – Art – 208 pages
Fashion: 18th century and 19th century
The House of Worth: Portrait of an Archive 1890-1914
Worth: father of haute couture
By Katherine Joslin
Eight Chicago women and their fashions, 1860-1929
The House of Worth: The Gilded Age, 1860-1918
Museum of the City of New York, 1982 – Costume – 36 pages
High Style: Masterworks from the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art