Mainbocher's Entree to Fifties' Fashion

Today's fifties' fashion featured designer is the American born couturier known simply as Mainbocher. His clientele was comprised of society's most elite with entry to his salon gained only by private endorsement or invitation.

Cranberry colored tulip skirt cocktail dress designed by Mainbocher in 1955 displayed on dress stand
Mainbocher Designed Cocktail Dress 1955
©Metropolitan Museum
Although Mainbocher's creative genius is undisputed, events happening in the 1930's may have contributed to his success in the 1950's.

A wealthy patron of Mainbocher, Wallis Simpson was an American divorcee who became mistress to Prince Edward, the future King of England. While, by 1930's standards, the affair was quite scandalous, the commonwealth considered it particularly egregious after King George V died and Edward ascended the throne.

Having to choose between remaining the king or marrying the woman he loved, Edward abdicated the throne in December 1936. The couple wed on June 3, 1937.

Simply cut long wedding gown designed by Mainbocher for Wallis Simpson marriage to Duke of Windsor displayed on dress stand
Mainbocher Designed Wedding Ensemble
Wallis Simpson marriage to the Duke of Windsor
©Metropolitan Museum
Gift of the Duchess of Windsor 1950
The soon to be Duchess of Windsor chose Mainbocher to fashion her wedding trousseau. Inasmuch as their romance had been anything but understated, her two piece silk gown was quite conservative. The design was simply cut with minimal decoration - an endorsement of  her motto, "You can never be too rich or too thin."

Mainbocher dyed the gown's color to match Wallis' eyes and named it "Wallis" blue. It was an international sensation and became the most photographed wedding gown of the twentieth century.

Back view of model wearing a corset designed by Mainbocher and photographed by Horst P. Horst
Mainbocher Corset 1939
Horst P. Horst Photograph
Auctioned at Christie's
Realizing his dream to live abroad, Mainbocher became the fashion editor for French Vogue magazine from 1922-1929 before opening his own salon at 12 Avenue George V in Paris. His last collection in Paris before, as he stated, "Hitler put me out of business" included a nipped at the waist departure from the 1930's columnar silhouette. This pre-Dior "New Look" necessitated a return to more structured foundation garments.

German born Vogue photographer Horst P. Horst captured what would become an iconic image of "The Mainbocher Corset" at 4 AM in 1939 just as he was leaving his studio before the Nazi invasion of Paris. Of Horst's celebrated fashion photographs, Mainbocher says "Your photographs are sheer genius and delight my soul...each one is perfect by itself."

Just as the Germans began their occupation of Paris in 1939, Mainbocher closed his beloved couture house. He made a triumphant return to The United States and opened a salon next to Tiffany's in New York where he enjoyed much success until his retirement in 1971 at the age of 81.

In the March 25, 1956 issue of The New York Times, Christian Dior said of Mainbocher, "Mainbocher is really in advance of us all, because he does it in America."

The Vintage Traveler visited the Chicago History Museum and offers a great article on the Mainbocher exhibit. You can read it HERE

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