Founded Paris, 1858
For almost a century the house of Worth, founded by the Englishman, Charles Frederick Worth, thrived in Paris. It was at the height of its power, under the leadership of the founder and his sons, Jean Philippe and Gaston, before the 20th century began and it continued as a strong force for the next thirty years. Jean Philippe (1853-1924) and Gaston (1856-1926) took over the firm on the death of their father in 1895. They had both worked with him for many years, Jean Philippe as a designer and Gaston as an administrator.
Jean Philippe was not overshadowed by his father. He was a very good designer in his own right and designed for the Spanish, Italian, Dutch and Russian royal families before World War I, as well as for just about every woman of note in la belle époque. His attitude to his customers was very like that of his father. He was the creator and they were to be guided by his choice of what was suitable for them. Gaston was much more practical and saw that, with wars and revolutions, the traditional Worth customer was disappearing. Simple, less opulent clothes to attract a broader, less rarefied, clientele were essential if the firm was to survive. To achieve this end he engaged Poiret, who was perhaps an odd choice as a designer of simple lines. Jean Philippe disliked Poiret’s design approach and eventually had him sacked. He himself retired in 1910 and Gaston’s son, Jean Charles, became the house designer.
Like his uncle, Jean Charles was a good designer and he kept the name of Worth in the vanguard of fashion throughout the 1920s. The sophisticated, relaxed elegance of his clothes appealed to members of American and European high society, actresses and the mistresses of millionaires. He retired in 1935, though he did not die until 1962, at the age of eighty-one. Roger Worth, the son of Jacques, became designer at the age of twenty-seven and, when his father died in 1941, head of the firm. The fourth generation continued the dynasty. Maurice was in charge of administration and Roger was head of design. On Roger’s retirement in 1952, Maurice took control of everything and in 1954 he accepted a take-over bid from Paquin. So ended the longest-running house in the history of haute couture.
Through four generations the high standards set by Charles Frederick, the father of fashion, had been maintained by his descendants. The London branch of Worth, opened in Queen Victoria’s time, continued under non-family management until the early 1970s. The Worths played an important role in the organization of Paris haute couture: Gaston was the first president of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture Française and Jacques held the same post twice, from 1927 to 1930 and from 1933 to 1935. He also founded L'École Supérieure de la Couture in 1930 as an establishment to train apprentices and thus maintain the high standards of couture workmanship.
Major perfumes: Dans La Nuit (1924); Je Reviens (1932).
Photographs.. Metropolitan Museum of Art.