Making Mainbocher: The First American Couturier

By Kristen Shirley


Gift of Mrs. Watson Armour, III, fall ballgown from 1951

One of fashion’s more unlikely stories, Chicago-born Main Rousseau Bocher ultimately rose through the ranks of French fashion to reach its pinnacle; the world of haute couture. This month, the Chicago History Museum opens an exhibit, Making Mainbocher: The First American Couturier, to introduce visitors to the extraordinary man who dressed some of the 20th century’s most stylish women, including Gloria Vanderbilt, CZ Guest and Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor.

Beginning his journey, Mainbocher moved to Paris after serving in the US Army and became a fashion illustrator for Harper’s Bazaar. He then made a move to French Vogue, ultimately becoming its editor-in-chief. Once he felt his fashion education in the editorial world was complete, Mainbocher opened a couture salon in Paris in 1930. In 1937, he designed the dress for which he is most well known, the wedding dress for the Duchess of Windsor. During World War II, Mainbocher relocated to New York City, becoming the first major couturier to move to make the transatlantic move. The exhibit traces his fascinating life and showcases 30 garments from the museum’s permanent collection, as well as illustrations, photography, video and interactive design experiences.

The opening gala takes place on Friday, October 21 and the exhibit opens to the public on October 22. Purchase tickets to the exhibition here.