"Making Mainbocher: The First American Couturier"

March 13, 2017

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I'll admit, being from the Midwest, I'm a bit ashamed I had not known so much about Mainbocher previous to my visit to the Chicago History Museum who is showcasing the exhibit, "Making Mainbocher: The First American Couturier". Bocher was from Chicago's West Side and made quite an impact on fashion.

Photographer unknown, 1939; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Irene Lewisohn Costume Reference


Here's an overview.

Mainbocher was born Main Rousseau Bocher and later changed his name to Mainbocher, which seemed more European - specifically French - and was thought to be a way to help him "fit in" with the couture crowd. Now, not only was Mainbocher America's first courtier, but he also was editor-in-chief of French Vogue; had a couture salon at 12 Avenue George V in Paris and would later relocate to New York City's Upper East Side to open a salon; designed the Duchess of Windsor's wedding dress in 1937; created uniforms for the Navy W.A.V.E.S. during World War II and for the Girl Scouts of America and for the nursing students at Chicago’s Passavant Memorial Hospital; and has a plaque on New York’s Fashion Walk of Fame.

Red velvet dress; ball gown with accessories, fall 1947; Gift of Mrs. A. Watson Armour, III; 1959.345a-d

“By examining the steps taken by Main Bocher to achieve great success as a couturier, this exhibition introduces visitors to the extraordinary career of Main Bocher and invites them to get know him as an arbiter of early- to mid-twentieth-century style,” commented Petra Slinkard, curator of costume at the Chicago History Museum. “This exhibition is the first of its kind, dedicated to the study and presentation of the work of Mainbocher.”

Apricot evening dress with bows and tulle bustle; evening dress, fall 1946; Gift of Mrs. A. Waston Armour, III; 1959.355

You'll also notice that in many of his designs, he didn't end at the fabric. Instead, he also included the accessories - jewelry - on many of his pieces. In this way, he could be sure his whole vision would come full circle.

And probably my favorite and unexpected fun fact about Bocher - he was even a spy. Yes, a spy.

On that note, I will close out this post.

For more information on Mainbocher and the Chicago History Museum, go to makingmainbocher.com and to chicagohistory.org.

- Aimee

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