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Authority record
Fashion Illustrator

Mainbocher, 1891-1976

  • US.20180711.007
  • Person
  • 1891-1976

Mainbocher (1891-1976) was the first American-born designer to work as a successful Paris couturier. He was also the first to transfer his business from France to America in 1940 at the outbreak of World War II. Before becoming a designer, he was an intelligence officer with the American forces, opera singer, staff artist at Harper's Bazaar and fashion editor turned editor-in-chief at Paris Vogue. He debuted his first collection in Paris in November 1930, and designed biannual collections in America from 1940 to 1971. Throughout his career, Mainbocher was known for his ageless style and quietly pursued his own private vision. He maintained his belief that "women ought to be investors, not speculators in fashion," and likened his clothes to museum pieces. Although he claimed he was not interested in setting trends or influencing the fashion world, his designs did just that.

He studied classical singing in Munich and Paris. He had intended to pursue an operatic career until overcome by severe stage fright. It was then that he turned his attention to fashion design as a career.

He introduced the strapless evening gown, designed uniforms for the Red Cross, the Waves, Spars, Girl Scouts. He made a success with elegant, wearable clothes; elegant evening gowns were his forte. He has been ranked with Molyneux, Schiaparelli, Lelong. His philosophy has been widely quoted: "The responsibility and challenge...is to consider the design and the woman at the same time. Woman should look beautiful rather than just trendful."