Making Mainbocher The First American Couturier is now open through August 20, 2017 at the Chicago History Museum. I had the opportunity to take a tour of the fascinating and very inspiring exhibit. I had no idea that against all odds this Chicago-born designer established a fashion empire serving royalty, Broadway and Hollywood icons and the social elite. With over thirty garments, fashion illustrations and photography, this exhibition explores the life and legacy of this remarkable man and his journey to become the first American couturier.
Born Main Rousseau Bocher, he was raised n a modest home on the West Side of Chicago, he leveraged his passion for the arts to become a tastemaker of twentieth-century style. Mainbocher 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. Highly regarded for his impeccable construction and understated elegance, Mainbocher designed uniforms for the US Navy WAVES, the Girl Scouts of the USA, and Chicago’s Passavant Hospital.
Here’s a brief history of his journey:
Born in 1890 in Chicago’s East Garfield Park neighborhood, Mainbocher was drawn to the arts from an early age. He attended John Marshall High School, the Lewis Institute, and the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. His early employment at Sears, Roebuck and Company—where he worked in the complaint department—taught him the value of quality, efficiency, and customer service.
Following a few visits to Europe as a young man, Mainbocher landed in Paris after enlisting in the US Army. Later, he gained employment as a fashion illustrator for Harper’s Bazaar. From Harper’s Bazaar, he joined French Vogue, first as an editor and then editor-in-chief. Armed with the confidence of having selected women’s fashions for French Vogue, Mainbocher opened his couture salon at 12 avenue George V. in November of 1930.
Anticipating the Nazi invasion of Paris, Mainbocher sought refuge in New York, reopening in the fall of 1940 at 6 East 57th Street, designing his American salon in the image of his Parisian atelier. He was the first haute couturier to relocate an internationally famous House to New York.
For admission, exhibit hours and more information visit MakingMainbocher.com
Chicago History Museum | 1601 North Clark Street | Chicago, IL 60614
– Carol Calacci