A Comeback for Worth, the Paris Label That Invented Couture
Tue 17 Aug 2010
In Paris the one fail-proof cure for summer heat and humidity is the July couture shows. These magical three days involve a marathon of taxis, exotic locations and elaborate settings—all cooled and fuelled by an ocean of Evian. This year Karl Lagerfeld’s giant gold lion towered over us in the Grand Palais, a garden of Christian Dior dresses bloomed in a tent behind the Musée Rodin and, in the 1863 splendor of the Hôtel le Marois, one of fashion’s most famous-ever houses staged a comeback. That house was WORTH, one of the most influential labels in the history or Paris.
Just like Alexander McQueen and John Galliano, its founder, Charles Frederick Worth, was born in England. But there ends the similarity for, without Worth, there might never even have been couture. After all, this was the man who, from 1858, created those traditions, which eventually defined it. (One of his sons, Gaston, also founded its governing body, the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture.) Worth père was the first to sew a “house” label in each creation, the first to show separate collections intended for different seasons and the first to create experimental previews of each design in muslin. By using live models to show his work to clients, Worth even invented what we now know as the catwalk.
Now the eminent label is back, in the second collection by Giovanni Bedin. This designer, 35, trained with both Thierry Mugler and Lagerfeld. For WORTH, Bedin has shown two looks, both with tiny waists, stiff collars and hourglass shapes that evoke high Victorian femininity. Each aspect also recalls the opulent, theatrical touches favored by WORTH’s founder. Bedin says he “wanted to emphasize the essential—which, to Monsieur Worth, was always l’élégance.”
Bedin pays special homage to Worth’s mastery of detailing, with delicious lace furbelows bursting out of period silhouettes, handmade enamel buttons arrayed down feminine jackets and flirty curves derived from those ladies’ riding jackets once worn throughout the Bois de Boulogne.
WORTH had another special announcement at its show: it has “remixed” Je Reviens, the maison’s signature perfume. This scent, whose name means “I’ll be back,” was once reserved for celebrity clients. Then, in 1895, Worth died and the house was taken over by his sons Gaston and Jean-Philippe. They released Je Reviens to the public, and it soon became the ultimate Paris souvenir. During both world wars, soldiers gave bottles to their sweethearts and mothers; Je Reviens became so famous that a mass-market version continued into the 1990s.
The new “heritage version” will be uncorked on August 28. In London, it will feature at the Harrods “Perfume Diaries” exhibition (August 28–October 2); here, in Paris, it will sell in exclusive “heritage box editions.” The new Je Reviens retains its celebrated bottle, a classic blue whose ridged shape dates from its very first incarnation.
Couture-wise, there’s more to come. A WORTH prêt-à-porter collection will debut in September, followed by lingerie and fine-jewelry collections. Until then, of course, we’re free to commission from Bedin’s couture; prices are rumored to start around $8,000, and Lady Gaga is already a customer.