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At The Chicago History Museum: The First American Couturier

"Chicago-born Mainbocher established a fashion house serving royalty, Hollywood and the social elite. Featuring 30 garments, fashion illustrations and photography, this exhibition explores the life and legacy of a remarkable man and his journey to become the first American couturier. Opens October 22."


"By all accounts, Chicago-born Mainbocher should not have prospered as a high-end fashion designer. He had little formal training, opened his salon following the economic crash of 1929, and was an American working in the tightly regulated business of French dressmaking. His journey was long and complex. It saw him take on the roles of artist, musician, fashion illustrator, magazine editor, and dressmaker - each supporting his mastery of the next - each a step toward becoming the first American couturier."


From the press release:

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," said Petra Slinkard, curator of costume, "This exhibition is the first of its kind, dedicated to the study and presentation of the work of Mainbocher."

Main Rousseau Bocher (1890-1976) grew up in a modest home on Chicago's West Side. Educated at John Marshall High School and the Lewis Institute (a precursor to the Illinois Institute of Technology), Bocher transformed his interest in the arts into a fashion empire serving royalty, Hollywood icons and the social elite. As stated on his plaque on New York's Fashion Walk of Fame, "Mainbocher was known for the understated elegance of his couture clothing. Among his innovations were short evening dresses, jeweled sweaters, and a revival of the corset that anticipated Dior's New Look."

Most famous for designing the wedding dress of the Duchess of Windsor in 1937, Mainbocher balanced his elite brand by creating uniforms for the Navy W.A.V.E.S. during World War II, the Girl Scouts of America and nursing students at Chicago's Passavant Memorial Hospital.

Follow the trajectory of Main Bocher's life throughout the exhibition, discovering his bold career choices and unrelenting ambition which guided him through work in Chicago, Paris and New York. Exhibition highlights include a 1937 suit identical to one selected by the duchess for her trousseau, a stunning strapless ball gown worn by Mrs. Watson Armour III, two items donated by the couturier and samples of his uniforms.

The gallery's interactive experiences invite visitors to step into a designer role: create a Mainbocher- inspired moniker, flip through sketchbooks featuring fashion illustrations of garments on view, and use Mainbocher's preferred colors, fabrics, and motifs to design a garment that is projected on a 3-D dress form in the gallery.



mainbocher1.jpgRed velvet dress; Ball gown with accessories, fall 1947.
Gift of Mrs. Watson Armour, III; 1959


Screen Shot 2016-10-19 at 7.45.36 AM.pngGrey skirt suit with "tulip" detail; Skirt suit, spring 1954. Gift of Miss Peggy Stanley; 1971.


Screen Shot 2016-10-19 at 7.48.28 AM.pngColor blocked strapless ball gown; Ball gown, fall 1951. Gift of Mrs. Watson Armour, III; 1962.


Screen Shot 2016-10-19 at 7.50.44 AM.pngGreen floral dress with stole; Dress with matching stole, spring 1965. Gift of Mrs. Dorothy H. Rautbord; 1980.


Comments welcome.


Posted on October 19, 2016

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