IMPERIAL RUSSIAN COURT DRESS OF
BY CHARLES FREDERICK WORTH
French, ca. 1888
The renowned British-born couturier, Charles Frederick Worth (1825–1895) virtually dictated women’s fashion from his establishment founded in 1857 on the Rue de la Paix, one of the most elegant shopping districts in Paris. Dubbed "le tyran de la mode" by his patron, the trendsetting French Empress Eugénie, Worth dressed women of the highest echelons of Parisian and international society as well as leading courtesans and actresses. His formal evening and court wear were noted for their spectacular use of luxurious, often specially commissioned Lyonnais silks and richly applied decoration in the form of embroidery, fabric trim, lace, and passementerie.
In the early eighteenth century, Peter the Great obliged the Russian nobility to adopt Western-style dress, and by the late nineteenth century the court was decidedly Francophile in its fashions. The penchant for extravagance associated with the imperial rulers and their circle was well supplied by showy creations from the house of Worth. In 1871, the couturier himself designated his Russian clients as the top spenders. This impressive court costume, comprising boned bodice, skirt and train, was worn by Marie Maximilianova Romanovska, Duchess of Leuchtenberg (1841–1914), a great- granddaughter of Empress Joséphine and a regular Worth customer between 1881 and 1888. The ivory silk petersham label has the woven-in signature of Charles Worth that was introduced in the late 1880s and remained in use until the closing of the house in the twentieth century.
Of luminous emerald green silk velvet, the bodice and twelve-foot train are densely embroidered with stylized floral and foliate motifs in opalescent crystal and silver metallic beads, embossed silver strip and plain and twisted purl. A border of deep, matching green silk plush adds sumptuous tactile splendor to the dramatic train. Intended to be seen by candlelight, the gown’s embroidery materials and the cloth-of-silver moiré skirt would have sparkled brilliantly. The duchess’s appearance at court in Worth’s magnificent ensemble would have ostentatiously conveyed her status—and the artistry of its creator.