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From Chicago’s West Side to Haute Couture

What do haute couture and Chicago’s west side have in common? Mainbocher.

You would not be the first person surprised to learn that Main Rousseau Bocher from East Garfield Park became one of only two American couturiers in history. While Mainbocher ended up in 1930s Paris and then spent decades dressing some of the world’s most notable women in New York, he never let go of his connection to Chicago.  

Mainbocher’s strong Chicago roots and extravagant couture designs caught the attention of Petra Slinkard, Chicago History Museum curator of costumes, who wanted to share Mainbocher’s story and life’s work with the city he grew up in.

“Mainbocher was born and raised in Chicago, and the more I looked into his personal and professional story, the connection between his formative years in the city and the success he achieved grew stronger, so it seemed only fitting that the Chicago History Museum be the institution to help share his life and legacy with the world.”  – Petra Slinkard, Chicago History Museum curator of costumes

Join Slinkard at the Library on Tuesday, April 4 at 7 p.m. for an exclusive program where she’ll share the story of Mainbocher and his significance in not only Chicago’s history, but the history of haute couture. Register here!

The Making Mainbocher exhibit at the Chicago History Museum uses Mainbocher’s designs to tell his story. As Slinkard points out, this is a perfect way to introduce him because clothes provide us with a point of entry. “A number of stories can emerge from the examination of just one garment,” wrote Slinkard in an email.

Her favorite garments in the collection include a beautiful pink and gold brocade dress (1944), the oldest piece in the collection representing Mainbocher’s work in the United States; and the nurse’s uniform he designed in 1949 for the Chicago nursing school. “Not only do I think the design is very strong, but I love the Chicago story brought to light through the display of the piece,” wrote Slinkard.

You can see these pieces and the rest of the collection at the Chicago History Museum through August 2017.

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