Fashion Biography

Main Rousseau Bocher, Fashion Designer

Mainbocher is a fashion label founded by the American couturier Main Rousseau Bocher (October 24, 1890 December 27, 1976), also known as Mainbocher (to be pronounced MaineBocker). Established in 1929, the house of Mainbocher successfully operated in Paris (1929 1939) and then in New York (1940 1971).

Main Bocher was a native of Chicago, where he studied art at the University of Chicago and the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. He served in the Army in the first World War and stayed on in Paris after the war, working as a fashion illustrator for Harper"s Bazaar, as Paris fashion editor for Vogue (1922 1929), and eventually became the editor in chief of the French edition of Vogue in early 1927. Mainbocher"s decision to become a couturier grew out of his years as editor at Vogue; he realized that his critical eye and his feeling for fashion might also serve him as a designer.

The House of Mainbocher

The French Years (1929 1939)

In November 1929, Main Bocher fused his own name, in honor of his favorite couturiers, Augustabernard and Louiseboulanger, and established his own fashion house, incorporated as Mainbocher Couture, at 12 Avenue George V in Paris.

Mainbocher designed expensive, elegant haute couture dresses and gowns for an exclusive clientele who included fashion editors like Carmel Snow, Bettina Ballard, Diana Vreeland, titles like Elsie de Wolfe, Lady Castlerosse, the Vicomtesse de Noailles, Lady Abdy, Baronne de Rothschild, pianist Dame Myra Hess, society like Millicent Rogers, Daisy Fellowes, Mrs. Cole Porter, Syrie Maugham, and stars like Mary Pickford, Constance Bennett, Kay Francis, Claudette Colbert, Irene Dunne, Loretta Young, Miriam Hopkins, Helen Hayes.

He designed much of Wallis Simpson"s wardrobe, naming a color, Wallis Blue, for her. In 1937, he also designed the wedding dress and trousseau of her marriage to the former Edward VIII (the Duke of Windsor).
Mainbocher"s wedding dress worn by the Duchess of Windsor on the wedding day.

Mainbocher"s last Paris collections created a storm of controversy. Just as later Dior"s New Look, the Mainbocher Corset, a nipped in waist, radically altered the undefined silhouette of the thirties. This change, linked with the fame of his trousseau for the Duchess of Windsor, was a beginning of a new phase in fashion, eventually as influential as Coco Chanel"s loosely cut, boxy jackets and skirts. The corset that shaped Mainbocher"s last Parisian collection was immortalized in 1939 by one of Horst"s most famous photograph, known as the Mainbocher Corset. The corset itself, listed in Town and Country as one of the big events of 1939, caused a furor in France. Mainbocher"s corseted waist, defined bosom, and back draping was an abrupt shift in sihouette and introduced the Victorian motifs that were to pervade the forties.

The American Years (1940 1971)

In 1940, Main Bocher relocated his business to New York on 57th Street next to Tiffany"s and established Mainbocher, Inc. As a French American designer of international reputation, Main Bocher returned to New York with wide publicity, the first American celebrity in the French fashion world.

The corset controversy proved to be a terrific marketing opportunity and the house of Mainbocher teamed up with the Warner Brothers Corset Company and streamlined the design for mass production.

In New York, Mainbocher continued to design for generations of discerning women of means like debutante Brenda Frazier, Doris Duke, Adele Astaire, Elizabeth Parke Firestone, Gloria Vanderbilt, Lila Wallace, Bunny Mellon, Babe Paley, Princess Maria Cristina de Bourbon, Kathryn Miller, C. Z. Guest, and on and on. In 1947, eight of the New York Dress Institute"s Ten Best Dressed Women in the World were Mainbocher clients.

Through the 50s and into the 60s, Mainbocher design was a its highest pitch of purity. A Mainbocher label meant invisible extravagance and deep discretion.

After he achieved fame for dressing some of the world"s most famous women, Mainbocher was commissioned to design the costumes for Leonora Corbett in the comic play Blithe Spirit (1941), for Mary Martin in the Broadway musicals One Touch of Venus (1943) and The Sound of Music (1959), for Tallulah Bankhead in the Broadway production Private Lives (1948), for Ethel Merman in the musical Call Me Madam (1950), for Rosalind Russell in the musical Wonderful Town (1953), for Lynn Fontanne in The Great Sebastians (1956), for Katherine Cornell in The Prescott Papers, for Irene Worth in the play Tiny Alice (1964), and for Lauren Bacall in the musical Applause (1970).

In 1961, Mainbocher business moved at the K.L.M. Building on Fifth Avenue and continued until 1971 when Main Bocher closed the doors of his house, at 81.
Mainbocher"s Innovations

Mainbocher"s innovations include the short evening dress; the famous beaded evening sweaters; the strapless evening gown; bare armed blouses for suits; the costume dyed furs (black mink and black sealskin); novel uses for batiste, voile, organdy, pique, linen, embroidered muslin; the waistcinch; mantailored dinner suits; bows instead of hats; the principle of the simple dress with lots of tie ons (shirt like aprons, changeable jackets); the sari evening dress; the bump shoulder (a sort of modified leg o" mutton sleeve) on suits and coats; the evening version of the tennis dress a white evening dress with V neck and stole); the revival of crinolines; the rain suit. Quotes and rewards

In 2002, Mainbocher was honored with a bronze plaque on New York City"s Fashion Walk of Fame in the legendary garment district.

Christian Dior: Mainbocher is really in advance of us all, because he does it in America.
Christian Lacroix: Mainbocher, it"s glamour, but with a sense of everyday glamour It"s so pure, so new.
In an interview published in March 2009 in Interview Magazine, Hamish Bowles, the European Editor at Large for Vogue stated:

I am absolutely crazy about Mainbocher"s clothes. I think they are so subtle, the detailing is so extraordinary, and they are so unbelievably evocative of such a particular time and place and milieu and lifestyle, of absolute subtle luxury. Even his work from when he had his couture salon in Paris through the "30s it has a kind of brisk edge to it and a crispness and a precision that is completely American. You can really see why a client like Wallis Windsor would have been drawn to his clothes, and why she became so emblematic of his work. It needs a cafe society client who really understands Europe but has a kind of brisk, no nonsense American edge.

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