Despite Parisian protestations, haute couture isn't a French art-form. It was founded by Charles Frederick Worth who, as the name suggests, was an Englishman. The House of Worth opened its doors in 1858, establishing not only haute couture as an industry but the idea of designer as fashion dictator. Worth may have dressed every woman of note from the Empress Eugenie down, but it was Charles Fredrick who called the shots, allowing no dissent and no discussion of his aesthetic decisions.
The House of Worth closed its doors in 1952 - but has now been revived, with Italian Giovanni Bedin at the helm and enviable house archives to draw upon. Bedin's creations revel in the idea of couture as spectacle: it isn't so much about modernising Worth as celebrating its heritage. His latest offering for A/W 2011 takes its inspiration from the corset, and perhaps more notably from the crinoline, which Worth popularised and is often credited with inventing. Bedin titled his collection 'A Gilded Cage' - ironic, really, given that a woman's position in society at the height of Worth's Second Empire popularity and influence was often described as a gilded cage, luxurious but constrictive. Bedin's slant was slightly less psychological and more playful, winding grosgrain-bound boning in undulating shapes around the waist, breasts and hips of his predominantly short and dramatically-proportioned pieces.
There were hints of Gaultier circa Madonna Blonde Ambition in the criss-crossing stays that sometimes reared up the torso to bell around the breasts, and Bedin's short, highly-worked dresses felt less 1850s and more 1980s, with shades of Lacroix's poufed skirts, exuberance and sometimes questionable taste. Than again, the same could be said of Monsieur Worth - his early patron, Princess Pauline von Metternich, was known for being what we would term 'flashy', an accusation as often held against Worth's gowns as the woman who wore them. The longer dresses Bedin proposed in stark black and white seemed more in keeping with the hallowed tradition of haute couture elegance, where the curlicues of whalebone acted as an accent to the figure rather than a distraction from the design.