Virginia Oldoini, Countess of Castiglione (1837–1899), better known as La Castiglione , was an Italian aristocrat who achieved notoriety as a mistress of Emperor Napoleon III of France. The Countess was known for her beauty and her flamboyant entrances in elaborate dress at the imperial court. photo by Pierre-Louise Pierson in 1856
[Countess de Castiglione, from Série des Roses] Artist: Pierre-Louis Pierson (French, 1822–1913) Person in Photograph: Countess Virginia Oldoini Verasis di Castiglione (1835–1899) Date: 1895 Medium: Albumen silver print from glass negative
Virginia Oldoini was born to minor nobles in Tuscany in 1837. When she was 17, they married her off to a guy 12 years older than her. But a year later her cousin decided that it would be a lot more convenient to his career and country if Virginia was available to have sex with someone else. Namely, Napoleon III.
See, at that time, what we now call Italy was a bunch of smaller countries, and Virginia’s cousin was part of the group that wanted them to unify. He took one look at his hot, young, close relative and realized the best plan was to get her to cheat on her husband with Napoleon and hope some political pillow talk could turn the tide. Because 19th-century Europe was apparently an alternate-universe Game Of Thrones, complete with a short guy and creepy family relationships. Virginia managed to become the emperor’s mistress for over a year, and shortly after it ended he sent troops to unite the peninsula.
The Gaze Artist: Pierre-Louis Pierson (French, 1822–1913) Person in Photograph: Countess Virginia Oldoini Verasis di Castiglione (1835–1899) Date: 1856–57 Medium: Albumen silver print from glass negative
Anonymous manufacturing bodice, skirt and belt with tail in silk velvet, with collar and cuffs seal in silk satin with velvet and lace mechanic. The dress was given to Virginia Oldoini, Countess of Castiglione. Italy, 1867.
Charles Frederick Worth (13 October 1825 – 10 March 1895, widely considered the Father of Haute couture, was an English fashion designer of the 19th century, whose works were produced in Paris.
Born in Bourne, Lincolnshire, England, Worth made his mark in the French fashion industry. He worked at several prosperous London drapery shops before moving to Paris in 1846. He was hired by Gagelin and Opigez, well-known Parisian drapers. While working in their shop, he married one of the firm’s models, Marie Vernet. Marie would model shawls and bonnets for prospective customers. Worth made a few simple dresses for his wife and customers started to ask for copies of the dresses as well.
Worth, by now a junior partner in the firm, urged his partners to expand into dressmaking, but they hesitated to risk their reputation in a business as low-class as dressmaking. Worth found a wealthy Swede, Otto Bobergh, who was willing to bankroll the venture and opened the dressmaking establishment of Worth and Bobergh in 1858. Worth was soon patronized by the French Empress Eugénie, and after that by many titled, rich, and otherwise notable women. Catherine Walters and Cora Pearl, the famous demimondaines, and Pauline von Metternich, an Austrian princess and musical patron, were Worth devotees, the infamous beauty Virginia Oldoini, Countess di Castiglione was often dressed by him. He also dressed actresses such as Sarah Bernhardt and singers such as Nellie Melba. Many of his customers travelled to Paris from other countries, coming from as far away as New York and Boston. Much of his work is associated with the movement to redefine the female fashionable shape, removing excessive ruffles and frills and using rich fabrics in simple but flattering outlines.He is credited as the first designer to put labels onto the clothing he manufactured. Worth gave his customers luxurious materials and meticulous fit. Rather than let the customer dictate the design, as had previously been dressmaking practice, four times a year he displayed model dresses at fashion shows. His patronesses would pick a model, which would then be sewn in fabrics of their choice and tailored to their figure. Worth was sufficiently fashionable that he had to turn away customers. This only added to his éclat. He completely revolutionized the business of dressmaking. He was the first of the couturiers, dressmakers considered artists rather than mere artisans.
Worth and Bobergh shut down during the Franco-Prussian War and re-opened in 1871, without Bobergh, as the House of Worth. Worth took his sons, Gaston (founder of Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture) and Jean-Philippe, into his business and the couture house continued to flourish after his death in 1895.