Today’s subject on my favorite topic, books, is the catalog/monograph of the current Costume exhibition at the Chicago History Museum, Making Mainboucher The First American Couturier by Petra Slinkard.
Cover of catalog
Visually it is stunning. The photography is done by Joseph Aaron Campell and Stephen Jensen. It depicts close-up details of the garments as well as full-length shots…beautifully done. Of course, each garment has its donor’s name, and the date the garment was made and date it was given to the Museum, several pieces are from the designer’s own Collection. The Costume Collection at CHM is primarily devoted to garments worn by Chicago and Illinois residents. I’m sure given the stature of Mainbocher they would have accepted his garments but, fortunately, that decision didn’t have to be made…you see Main Rousseau Bocher was a native Chicagoan! Perhaps more importantly, the Mainbocher story is told in a fascinating, exciting manner giving the reader insight into a designer who might be called and was called by the sponsor’s, LUVANIS.S.A., Managing Director, Arnaud de Lummen, a “Sleeping Beauty”…a designer waiting to be rediscovered! After reading this wonderful in-depth volume he has been given long overdue recognition. I am hopeful that everyone will see the exhibition in person, it will be up until August 20, 2017, but just in case this monograph is a must for your library!
Shot on my iPhone opening day of exhibition
What will you learn, probably more than just how to pronounce his name Main Bocher, the man and Mainbocher, the brand. You will find he started as a sketch artist, then a fashion editor for French Vogue in 1923, (M. Lumme told us that it was just revealed*, by Vogue Magazine, that Main Bocher was the artist that did the iconic Chanel black dress sketch) he became editor in chief of the magazine in 1927.
In 1929 he established his couture salon and continued until 1939, his cinched waist full skirted look foretold Dior’s New Look in 1947.
Another Ivon iPhone photo
His New York salon, which opened in 1940 was on 57th Street where he dressed most of the names on the Best Dresses List. Known for understatement in his garments each collection produced over 100 pieces. No doubt best known for designing Wallis Simpson’s wedding dress in a color Mainbocher coined Wallis Blue. He continued to design for her throughout his career.
This garment is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Collection, obviously, the color photo is enhanced but it gives an idea of what Wallis Blue looked like.
Mainbocher’s devoted client, Josephine Forrestal, the wife of Admiral James V. Forrestal was instrumental in having the designer create uniforms for the WAVES . He also created new uniforms for the Girl Scouts and their leaders, I actually wore that uniform while a Girl Scout, who knew! In addition, he did the uniforms for the student nurses at James Ward Thorne School of Nursing at Passivant Memorial Hospital (now Northwestern).
Another interesting twist to this intriguing journey was Mainbocher’s contribution to theatrical costuming. He designed for several Broadway productions notably a Lunt and Fontaine play, The Great Sebastians, for which he was nominated for a Tony Award as well as for Ethel Merman in Call Me Madam and Mary Martin in The Sound of Music. Ms. Martin wore a Mainbocher gray tulle gown to accept her 1960 Tony Award.
You will also get to know this creative genius as being very controlling, extremely dedicated to his clients and them to him, always demanding perfection….in other words a true creative genius.
A must read if you have ANY interest in the history of fashion and why French Haute Couture and American made to order garments are the foundation and laboratory for all of fashion. Bravo Petra and CHM staff for a perfect tribute to a one of a kind designer. I give it 5 stars!!
You can obtain your copy at www.shopchicagohistory.com
*Vogue article on the Exhibition http://www.vogue.com/13495535/exhibitions-mainbocher-from-the-archives/