Monday, September 13, 2010

An American in Paris

It is not often that an American becomes the toast of Paris and even admired and revered. It is even rarer in the world of Haute Couture. To date there has only been one American accepted into the holy inner circle of this veritable French institution.

Originally a native of Chicago Main Rousseau Bocher also known as Mainbocher was a graduate of the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and served in France during World War I where he stayed on after the war had finished. Eventually becoming the editor-in-chief of Vogue, Mainbocher decided to open as couturier, due his critical eye and feeling for design. Fusing his first and last names together he opened in 1929.

Right from the beginning Mainbocher designed for an exclusive and wealthy clientele. Having none of the shock tactics as some of his fellow couturiers such as Schiaparelli, Mainbocher’s creations displayed a purity of line and proportion and simplicity that set them apart from the other creations of the other couturiers, except maybe Molyneux. This was savoir faire with discretion.

Clients read like a list of who’s who, cumulating in designing the wedding trousseau for Wallis Simpson and naming the colour ‘Wallis Blue” for her.

Maybe sensing that war was coming, his last collection in Paris created a furore. The “Mainbocher” corset radically confronted the sinuous fluidity of the designs of the thirties with a more constructed tailored silhouette. The corset that was the basis of this collection was immortalized by Horst in one of his most famous photographs.

With the advent of war Mainbocher relocated to New York setting up next door to Tiffany’s on 5th Avenue. In New York he established a clientele that was known for the supreme elegance of café society. In 1947 eight of the New York Dress Institute's Ten Best-Dressed Women in the World were Mainbocher clients.

Through the 50s and into the 60s, Mainbocher design was at its highest pitch of purity. A Mainbocher label meant invisible extravagance and deep discretion. In the two photographs of Gloria Vanderbilt below this is highly evident.

Retiring in 1971 Mainbocher closed his doors at the age of 81, leaving a lasting legacy of innovations in women’s fashion.

In an interview published in March 2009 in Interview Magazine, Hamish Bowles, the European Editor at Large for Vogue stated:

"I am absolutely crazy about Mainbocher’s clothes. I think they are so subtle, the detailing is so extraordinary, and they are so unbelievably evocative of such a particular time and place and milieu and lifestyle, of absolute subtle luxury. Even his work from when he had his couture salon in Paris through the ’30s—it has a kind of brisk edge to it and a crispness and a precision that is completely American. You can really see why a client like Wallis Windsor would have been drawn to his clothes, and why she became so emblematic of his work. It needs a café-society client who really understands Europe but has a kind of brisk, no-nonsense American edge”


  1. !!!
    "The Mainbocher Corset"!
    11. August 1939, for Vogue!
    Was part of one of my photo-history exams!!!
    I love it!
    I know EVERYTHING about this and Mainbocher and Horst P. Horst!
    1999. R.I.P.

    Can you read my brain, soulmate!?

  2. Another fantastic post.... I am learning something new with all your elegant posts!

    Thank you!

  3. Thank you for your wonderful post on Mainbocher. I had no idea that he was an American. The corset photo is of course a classic, but that picture of Gloria Vanderbilt reclining on the sofa is lovely too.

  4. Lovely post!Your Blog is like a little fashion encyclopedia (I also loved An American in Paris-the movie :D)

  5. Joe, Gee we are on the same wavelength! You are one of the few who know!

    Cote, thanks so much!

    Belle, little is known really compared to other designers of the day. There is a website domain registered , but nothing on it so maybe a relaunch in the works.

    Spoiled, thanks, I loved that movie too!

  6. Well now, that was a great read! Didn't know all of that. Fabulous images!!

  7. that was a brilliant post David! love the detail, and i always learn something new when i drop in here.

    just brilliant!

  8. Pinecone Camp, thanks for dropping by and I am glad you enjoyed it.

    Jukes, High Praise indeed. Have a great weekend!

  9. In this time of vulgar, loud, and ridiculous fashions, these discreet clothes look particularly elegant and refined. I greatly admire this aesthetic. I don't think we will ever truly understand what they were like because the fine detailing would only be evident when close to a person wearing them. This kind of fashion is more difficult to appreciate from photos.

    Interesting article.


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