Designer Spotlight

MAINBOCHER, Garnet Red Taffeta Evening Dress, 1946

Based on his experience as a Paris-based illustrator for Harper’s Bazaar and editor of French Vogue, Chicago-born Main Rousseau Bocher (October 24, 1890 – December 27, 1976) decided that he was entirely capable of opening his own couture house. He did so in 1930, first contracting his name to Mainbocher. At the start of World War II in 1940, Mainbocher closed his Paris salon and moved to New York. Though he intended to stay only for the duration of the war, he worked in New York until his retirement in 1971. Due to a policy of accepting new clients only through personal recommendation, Mainbocher’s salon was known as the most exclusive in New York City. Further reinforcing the impression of exclusivity was the lack of advertising. Rather than placing ads in fashion periodicals, Mainbocher relied on word-of-mouth publicity.

Mainbocher was the one to design the famous Navy Waves Uniform. The first uniforms for the armed services designed by a well-known designer, they received much media coverage. Shown is Mainbocher’s military summer working uniforms in a grey seersucker dress with a matching jacket and distinctive collar design.

Mainbocher’s garments were created in the strict tradition of haute couture. Clients selected a garment or garments based on the models seen during the daily 3 p.m. showing at the salon. A personalized garment was then created specifically for the client and fitted over several weeks. Due to their high-quality fit, construction and fabric, Mainbocher’s garments were extraordinarily expensive and long-lasting. A 1961 Vogue feature on Mainbocher noted this, suggesting that anyone interested in Mainbocher’s work carefully weigh the “spectacular longevity of Mainbocher’s clothes as a good, long-range-economy argument for paying prices among the highest in the world.”

Two models singing wearing sleeveless Victorian-style dinner dresses by Mainbocher (1944)


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