Design for a fancy-dress costume

Ancient Egypt

1860s (made)

Jules Helleu

Height: 16 cm, Width: 20 cm

E.22059-1957 PDP

Woman's masquerade ball dress. "Ancient Egypt". Watercolour drawing by Jules Helleu, probably for Charles Frederick Worth. Paris, 1860s.

Watercolour drawing, a design for a theatrical or masquerade fancy-dress ball costume featuring hieroglyphs and other motifs from ancient Egyptian art and iconography.

This design was created by Jules Helleu, possibly for Charles Frederick Worth. It is an extraordinary combination of motifs from ancient Egyptian art and design juxtaposed with a fashionable mid-1860s crinoline silhouette. The model wears a striped headdress based upon the traditional nemes headdresses often seen in ancient Egyptian portrait sculpture, and gold sandals with a snake curling up the front of the foot. The front of the skirt is densely decorated with hieroglyphs, and the bodice and hem of the skirt feature the wings of Isis. During the 1860s, Empress Eugenie of France threw a number of extravagant masquerade balls which required the guests to wear elaborate and inventive costumes that were made up by Worth and other Paris dressmakers. Worth, a relative newcomer, became the Empress's favoured couturier at the end of the 1850s. This made him extremely fashionable, and the rest of the ladies of Eugenie's court also bought gowns from him - and so too did their husbands' mistresses, and anyone wealthy enough to afford Worth's very high prices. As a result, Worth was under great pressure to produce vast numbers of unique, one of a kind costumes and gowns, often at very short notice. This is one of a large number of similar designs and sketches that were given to the V&A as part of the archive and reference collection of the House of Worth, making it extremely likely that it was originally designed for a guest to wear to one of the Empress's magnificent balls.

Given by the House of Worth

Location: Prints & Drawings Study Room, level C, case 96, shelf D, box 5

View this object on the V&A website