Mainbocher is credited with introducing such fashion innovations as short evening dresses, jeweled sweater (hurrah!!!) and the strapless gown. He also revived the corset before Dior’s new look, not that he got much credit for it. (nor should he – I think corsets are an abomination against my internal organs!)
When I go to things like this, I”m always looking for things that we can learn from this kind of fashion – is there ANYTHING that we can take away from looking at gorgeous evening-wear from a half-century ago?
I think that attention to detail – the neatly trimmed loose thread, the carefully sewn-down trim – is something that distinguishes all couture clothing. (and make no mistake – this was ALL couture – he never did any ready-to-wear) So, right there, is something of which we can be mindful; neatness is always a virtue, and attractive, too!
“I’ve never made a ruffle in my life.” – MainbocherClearly, he knew what he liked, and he was faithful to it. That’s worth emulating!
On the dress below, you can’t really tell, but the back left panel of the skirt is soft sage green! So is the right front panel of the skirt, and the back RIGHT panel is this peachy color, i.e. the skirt panels alternate colors! And the back of the bodice is “half and half” peach and sage. It’s such a simple dress, but this detail of mixed colors makes it memorable.
That’s worth thinking about, too!
“Too many gadgets can spoil the dress, just as surely as too many cooks, the broth.” – MainbocherOh MY, can’t we learn from that…
For this dress, I don’t think you could add ONE thing. Even earrings would be too much:
“Lines of classic elegance again mark his collection.” – New York Times 1955While there’s no mistaking that these clothes are vintage, I also feel pretty comfortable saying that in the right circumstances, I would wear ANY of it, today. There’s nothing outlandishly dated in any of these pieces…
And let’s not forget that he designed uniforms for the WAVES during World War Two, for the Girl Scouts, and for nurses at a major Chicago hospital. For which he took no compensation, bless him…
Do you have a favorite designer, either from history or more recently?
I’m tempted to say Chanel, because her designs were so liberating and timeless, but her complete lack of moral compass makes me hesitate. I always loved Yves Saint Laurent – pantsuits! The whole Russian look!
But if I were going to be magically gifted one piece of couture wear, it would probably be a tunic or dress from Mary McFadden, in her signature pleated fabric. Seriously, could I not completely ROCK this dress?:
So who’s your favorite designer? Leave a comment to join in our discussion, and you’ll be entered to win a copy of the catalog from the Mainbocher exhibit! (I love to treat you all – I never feel like I can repay what you give me…)
I’ll announce the winner on Monday, so you’ve got the weekend to think about who you really most admire…
Taste of France says
Gorgeous. I wasn't familiar with Mainboucher, so this is an education.
Personally, I think Carolina Herrera designs and wears wonderful clothes–feminine but not fussy, modern but not trendy.
I lean towards the nice clean lines of minimalism with some added interest (material, color). No particular designer, but if I had to choose, Narciso Rodríguez comes to mind.
Vintage – Givenchy 60s style
Current – Jane Lewis founder of Goat
I do like classic Chanel. It's clean & timeless. I lean towards an early 60's inspiration for my wardrobe, so Chanel is just a natural for me.
I also like Max Mara.
I couldn't name a designer, so I can't choose a favorite! but this reminded me of the time we had a movie costume exhibit come thru the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. the amount of thought and care that went into tiny details – details that would never be visible on-screen but that informed or reflected the nature of the character or their backstory – made me think I should look for such consistency in my own wardrobe, too. I've occasionally looked at my closet and wondered what clothes a costume designer would come up with for someone playing the role of me!
Janice Riggs says
That's such an interesting question… THAT would be something to think about when shopping "would my character in my autobiographical movie wear this?"
I would choose Hubert de Givency too; I love the timeless style of Audrey Hepburn, and her quote "His are the only clothes in which I am myself. He is far more than a couturier, he is a creator of personality." I just prefer the quiet dignity of classic shapes and a fairly restricted colour palette – clothing in which I too am myself! Beautiful scarves are where I add the colour.. Mainboucher's style – attention to detail and lines of classical elegance sounds very interesting; would love to see the catalogue.
The Bride says
Chanel was important not just for her designs themselves, but for her entire approach to clothing. She completely revolutionized how women dress today -including the LBD and the Capsule Wardrobe. I forgive her a great deal for this. And I still love many of the things that come from Chanel.
Not Haute Couture, but I also have a great soft spot for the Biba designs of my youth. I loved the way Barbara Hulanicki combined chic, unfussy lines with ethnic textiles and other touches. Maybe it's nostalgia, but I've recently seen a couple of recent exhibitions that included her things and I still loved them.
I wish I could see this exhibit since I am a big fan of Mainbocher. As for Chanel's 'moral compass,' in reading several biographies of her I have come to think her terrible, poverty-stricken upbringing had a lot to do with how tough she was and how willing she was to do whatever she had to in order to survive, no matter the situation. She was scrappy and fierce, because she had to be from the time she was very young. One of my favorite all-time designers is Edward Molyneux because I love the flapper dresses he did in the 1920s that could be worn today. FIT has several in their collection that are in mint condition. The Met does too. I also love Charles James and Norman Norell (especially his 'Mermaid' dresses. Just divine).
I agree with you, Janice, Yves Saint Laurent pantsuit, the professional woman's coat or armour. Congratulations Chicago, the worlds most faithful baseball fans. What a winning ending to the series!! You deserve it!
Enjoy the frivolity!!!
Yes, you could definitely rock that McFadden dress, Janice! Thank you for this post about the Mainboucher exhibit. It's fascinating to consider the progression of creativity through the ages and cultures! You prompted a little research on a designer I'd read about years ago and never forgotten.
I'm not sure Claire McCardell is considered a designer in the same way we think of Main Boucher, Chanel or McFadden. However, for my tomboy preferences I am grateful (Thanksgiving is on my mind!) for the influence of this American woman who gave us timeless designs for all aspects of life. Her designs offered women more freedom of movement and comfort. I certainly appreciate the functionalH sportswear available today and think she is largely responsible. Her innovative use of fabrics and the "McCardellisms" she employed are appealing. It’s our loss that she died at the young age of 53 – yes, young from my perspective, ahem! Here's an article from waaay back in 1998 about a couple of exhibits featuring her designs …
Thank you for all the time, effort, and good cheer you share with us. It’s such a great way to begin the day! And…Yea Cubs!
Janice Riggs says
I actually really considered Clair McCardell as one of my favorites; her influence is ubiquitous in how we all dress…
How nice to see this Mainbocher exhibit. For me, it would be an Azzedine Alaia dress. I think he is a genius.
Margie from Toronto says
I'd heard of Mainbocher of course but wasn't very familiar with his work – just gorgeous. Those beautiful clean lines are truly timeless – I would kill for that red evening dress! :-)
I think my favourite is Chanel – the clean lines, the timelessness – just the sheer magnitude of how much of an effect she has had on fashion – and still has.
In a close second – Givenchy – Audrey Hepburn's gowns – so elegant, so feminine and so beautiful.
I love what Oleg Cassini did for Jacqueline Kennedy''s wardrobe, and these Mainbicher designs are divine !
Mainbocher — typo error — my bad.
Janice Riggs says
Oh heck – I had his name spelled wrong ALL OVER THIS POST!!!!! until early morning. For some reason, I just always want to type "bouche" – maybe because I'm always thinking of eating!
Totally off topic, but this life-long fan has to say it on a sort-of Chicago blog: the Cubs won!! I wish my parents were here to enjoy it. What a game! As for designers, I like Chanel, and I think Vionnet was a genius.
Janice Riggs says
I am going to hike to Wrigleyville this afternoon – distant family wants tee shirts, and I want to see what the carnage looks like!
Speaking of the Cubs (and your great blog, Janice), I just waited 45 minutes in line at New City for 3 World Series t-shirts. Ordered the cap online while I waited :-)
Chanel & Liz Claiborne.
Janice Riggs says
OH MAN…. I can SO CLEARLY remember some of the Liz Claiborne clothes that I had in the mid 80's. I never felt so well-dressed as I did those outfits… sigh….
I felt so polished as at my first job.
Margie from Toronto says
I still have a pink linen Liza Claiborne top/unstructured jacket that I love – I intend buying some new white linen pants next summer to freshen up it's look – it's timeless.
You forgot COCKTAIL APRONS! I just saw this exhibit over the weekend and it was delightful. They have done other great fashion exhibits too, like the Berthe Palmer exhibit a few years ago. I was so impressed that by 27 Mainbocher had been an American spy in occupied Paris, an illustrator for Vogue, and a few years later a couture designer! The dress with the subtly different colored panels was amazing.
You don't have to consider me for the catalog, but the designer I would love to own and wear is Alexander McQueen (when he was still alive). The vitality and detail and masculine touches thrill me.
I'm a fair weather Cubs fan (and from Ohio originally to boot), but this Series was one for the ages. You could not make up those moments and stories. Go Cubs!
Alexandria Blaelock says
Thanks so much for sharing, it's lovely to see some more of his work.
So many designers to choose from! At the moment my favourite is Jeanne Lanvin, for her deep colours, simple lines and striking (but not always over the top) ornamentation.
I have always liked Bonnie Cashin for her chic and geometric clothing especially sportswear. Although I have only seen her work in books, I could well imagine seeing her pieces on ordinary people in everyday situations.
Arts Doc says
I didn't know this guy. Lovely things – classic, elegant, and as you said – timeless. I love looking at costumes and clothing from times gone by. It gives a hint at how we lived. I had a book of underwear – from a friend when I was in theater (a lifetime ago). I looked at it endlessly.
I have so many favorites, most are not couture….Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto, Donna Karan, Dries Van Noten, Bonnie Cashin, Thomas Meier, Alexander McQueen, and my all time sewing crush Ralph Rucci.
Deb from Vancouver
Cee Pluse says
Normally I could care less about designers, but I do like Christian Siriano. I appreciate the fact that he designs for all women, not just some idealized body type and/or exclusive income bracket. I think his designs are lovely, whether custom or retail. I so agree with his philosophy that the clothes should fit the woman, and not vice versa!
Vionnet for me! The 1920's style is my aesthetic- the pleats, the bias cut- basically the way the garments move…….
Ahhhh! So many designers, so little time…. Right now I think my favorites are (early) Armani, Dior and Vionnet.
Katrina Blanchalle says
What a delightful exercise! (Although if we have to consider the designer's personality and morals that is really going to complicate things.) I have always loved vast swathes of fabric draped and pleated over the body, and Madame Gres did that beautifully from the 1930s to the 80s.
Gail Finke says
I'm partial to that designer from Liberty of London during the pre-Raphaelite era. Worth? If we're going with the greatest of all time… BTW you are wrong about corsets. I've never worn a New Look corset so I can't comment, but I used to do a lot of historic costuming with accurate clothing, and historically (until the Gibson Girl period) corsets were VERY comfortable. In most periods they provided support (there were no bras) and created a smooth foundation for clothes, which were often very light. The Gibson Girl look required some serious body manipulation that could get extreme and be harmful, but that was an aberration. In previous centuries, the extremes were from the gowns — wide hoops made the waist look tiny, for example. You didn't need to make the waist smaller you just made it look smaller.
I adore your blog, Janice! I'm a new subscriber and you've got me thinking about color in a new way. Can't say that I know many clothing designers, but I currently appreciate the clean lines and simplicity of some of the Eileen Fisher items. I appreciate Calvin Klein as well. Congrats to the Cubs and all of Chicagoland!!
I've only recently discovered your blog, Janice, as I struggle to reduce and reform my wardrobe, having recently entered a new decade: my sixties! :shock: How did I get here so quickly?
Mainboucher… What a fabulous designer! Thank you for introducing him to us. Beautiful clothing. I love the details on the jacket and dress ensemble.
My favourite designer is Mary Quant. Her dresses are deceptively simple, engineered pieces with clean lines and fabulous colour mixes that capture the youthfulness and vigor of the 60s. I especially loved how she channelled Modigliani; her colored tights; her bold juxtapositions of pattern and brights that made mod…mod! These were fun clothes, that I enjoyed immensely and wished I could have afforded more and better. I do fondly remember saving up for her iconic makeup case! What riches back then. Laura.
small town gal says
Valentino is probably my favorite designer.
My favorites by era? Pre-20th century would be Worth, of course & Doucet. First quarter 20th: Callot Soeurs & Poiret. Second quarter 20th: Schiaparelli & Jacques Fath. Third quarter: Marc Bohan & Balenciaga. Last quarter: Vivienne Westwood & Lacroix. Honorable mention 20th Century to Courreges & Paco Rabanne for fun and simple clothes. New century designers would be McQueen and Galiano (even though he has issues, his clothes are beautiful). But what do I wear? Slacks or jeans, a tee and a cardi almost every day. Ah well, a different era. Carla.
Adina Klein says
Janice, I've been following your blog for quite a while, but this is the first time I've commented. I look forward to your posts and have learned so much thanks to your clear and creative way of presenting your ideas. Thanks so much!
So many designers draw inspiration and borrow freely from those that preceded them, and it's always interesting to see new riffs and iterations of previous designs. Past designers whose work I admire (and covet) include Mario Fortuny, Balenciaga, Paul Poiret and Elsa Schiaperelli. Contemporary designers whose clothing I'd love to have in my closet include Donna Karan, Eileen Fisher, Abner Elbaz and the "Rodarte" sisters.
My favorite designer is Vionnet. But more for her techniques than the actual garments.
Ragged Ivy says
What a rich magazine of design readers are building here! I can't wait for a rainy day to start exploring so many new (to me) names, and revisiting the familiar ones.
Can I throw in a couple for their miraculous ways with fabric: Fortuny and Akira Isogawa. I once touched a delicate silk Akira garment in a boutique and it was like being stroked by gossamer.
Robyn in Tasmania
Wonderful post (as always!) Janice. And how marvelously knowledgeable your readers are too!
I confess I'd never heard of Mary McFadden and if I hadn't known the dress was hers, I'd have suspected it was by Issey Miyake. Could it be that his famous pleated fabrics–all polyester, mind you, not silk–were inspired by her work?
Twelve Riches says
Vintage, i adore Balenciaga.
Current, Donna Karan and Ralph Lauren for simplicity.
My favorite designer is Vionnet. I wish I had the time to learn how to create on the bias as she did.
Jennifer Young says
Oh, Diane von Furstenberg! I would be arrested for indecency without my collection of vintage wrap dresses.
There are so many great designers — Catherine Walker did lovely classic styles for Princess Diana that I really liked. But growing up in the 60s, May Quant, as mentioned above, was the style I aspired to. Lyn
I would wear that tweed suit in a New York minute if it fit me! – nancyo
So many wonderful designers it's hard to choose. Am currently spending time on two Yves Saint Laurent documentaries in preparation for visiting the exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum. So he's my current favorite. But only the current….
Elizabeth J. says
DeLaRenta. I love the feminine designs.
Robert F. Crocker says
Great articles and great layout. Your blog post deserves all of the positive feedback it’s been getting.
Ralph Lauren UK
Chrissie Dyson says
Coco Chanel for her intuitive good style taste, Missoni for the incredible colour combinations, Armani for his subtlety, currently enjoying the sheer strangeness of Gucci. The designer whose clothes I would love to have owned is Romeo Gigli when he was making those incredible brocade and velvet trouser suits in the 1980s. I admire Edith Head’s work too.