Mainbocher – Simplicity without Boredom

Mainbocher and models wearing his dresses

When designing his 1945 spring collection, Mainbocher – the noted French designer who worked in New York after the fall of Paris in WWII. Declared that he had attempted more than ever to make clothes “that would embody the right amount of novelty, were stimulating for today, yet with enough classical integrity to be worn harmoniously with the dresses of yesterday, and would continue confidently into the wardrobe of tomorrow.”

“I have not tried to set any sudden styles, abrupt trends, or breathless paces. There aren’t any Trrr-Boom-Boom dresses. If anyone is looking for hand-springs or cartwheels, they will be disappointed.”

Mainbocher, 1949 collection: satin gown.
Mainbocher, 1949 collection: satin gown.

“There are no ideas that shout I don’t want any noisy, glib dresses, I like dresses that speak softly-conversationally-toned clothes. I would rather look twice to hear what they are saying that have them scream at me.”

“Fashion, I think, to be healthy, needs a prescription of large doses of neat simplicity. I haven’t tried to slay any existing mode. I don’t think anything should be out of date except orientation, vulgarity, and bad taste. There is too little fabric in the world and too many unclothed bodies for me to go in for extravagance.”

Magnetic Simplicity

“I believe in simplicity without poverty or boredom. It can be magnetic whether it is simplicity or simplicity adorned. It becomes more satisfying, too, the better one becomes acquainted with it.”

“A few coats-many suits, that’s what I think spring does to fashion. Real wool suits suitable for early spring and just as right again for the early autumn. Suits for morning, noon, and night. Jackets, shorts, and medium never long. Even the separate coats are jacket length.”

“Even in summer, I use lots of high, young necklines. I don’t like too much daytime nudity in town, in public places, and excessive or imagined comfort is hardly a valid excuse.”

“Many details are seasonal. Embroideries are lighter in feeling unless they replace jewellery when they have weight and importance. Flowers galore.”

Horst P. Horst, Dress by Mainbocher, 1936
Horst P. Horst, Dress by Mainbocher, 1936

“There are glimpses, separate scarfs, boleros, pettiskirts, and pinafore skirts as well as glamour belts. The bring variety, length, or added importance to that big moment that comes in the life of every little dress.”

Varied Fabrics

“The fabrics are varied laces, light, and heavy; crepes, silk rayon and cotton; surahs, taffetas, mousseline organza, organdy, marquisette, featherweight wools, jerseys, and woollens.”

“Less black-more navy and more colour. There is a whole series of golden muffin shades. I especially like as well as summer pinks that go from dusty to glowing. But always an unusually dark navy and several new blues with a difference. Luminous reds and luscious yellows, and several soft greys-lots and lots of white some of it very sheer.”

“Indeed, there is more white in my collection than ever before, for dresses, blouses, flowers, and accents; in fact, gold, white, and black has turned out to be my favourite combination.”

Mainbocher cape wih mink trimming at front
Mainbocher cape wih mink trimming at front


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