Silk satin, paste, sequin, metal
Jacques Fath, Paris, France
Jacques Fath is one of the designers credited with contributing to the rebirth of couture following the Second World War. As Christian Dior’s New Look of 1947 changed the course of fashion, heralding a voluptuous femininity created by sloping shoulders, waspish waists and voluminous skirts, Fath matched the prevailing mood with artfully-draped garments that were masterpieces in the display of movement.
Repositioning French haute couture at the centre of the international fashion industry, the return to pre-war extravagance symbolised hope for a war weary population. However, in Britain austerity regulations were not lifted until 1952 and designers had to adhere to restrictions on fabric quantities and skirt lengths, putting the luxurious designs of the Parisian couturiers firmly in the fashion spotlight.
Who wore it
American actress Rita Hayworth marries Prince Aly Khan in May 1949
This exquisite ballgown was likely embroidered by René Bégué (Rébé), one of a dozen great Parisian embroidery ateliers of the period alongside Lesage and Vermont. It was Rébé who Dior chose to embroider his 1947 New Look collection, which was instrumental in reviving the French luxury industries.
Once an haute couture design has been conceived, the next step is to select the textile, followed by the choice of buttons, trimmings and embroidery. Embroidery houses designed their collections in response to the current season and sent samples to the couture houses. Once sold, a design was exclusive to that salon.
Exclusivity is paramount in the world of haute couture. The embroidery houses would produce as many different samples as they could in order to appeal to the tastes of as many couturiers as possible and ensure sales. Designs would be sampled on a variety of fabrics of different textures and weights such as gauze, satin, organza and tulle, to enable them to propose their creations.
This type of embroidery work was – and still is – considered the perfect balance between art and craft. With each glass bead and paillette or sequin applied individually, such embellishment required meticulous patience.
For further reading on the haute couture industry after the Second World War, see Claire Wilcox’s The Golden Age of Couture: Paris and London, 1947-57 (London, 2008).
Rita Hayworth photography © Keystone/Stringer/Hulton Royals Collection