Making Mainbocher

Making Mainbocher - Main Rousseau Bocher – The First American Couturier
Opens October 22, 2016 Chicago History Museum
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The man behind the name. 

By all accounts, Chicago-born Mainbocher should not have prospered as a high-end fashion designer. He had little formal training, opened his salon following the economic crash of 1929, and was an American working in the tightly regulated business of French dressmaking. His journey was long and complex. It saw him take on the roles of artist, musician, fashion illustrator, magazine editor, and dressmaker—each supporting his mastery of the next—each a step toward becoming the first American couturier.


Born in 1890 in Chicago’s East Garfield Park neighborhood, Mainbocher was drawn to the arts from an early age. He attended John Marshall High School, the Lewis Institute, and the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. His early employment at Sears, Roebuck and Company—where he worked in the complaint department—taught him the value of quality, efficiency, and customer service.


Following a few visits to Europe as a young man, Mainbocher landed in Paris after enlisting in the US Army. Later, he gained employment as a fashion illustrator for Harper’s Bazaar. From Harper’s Bazaar, he joined French Vogue, first as an editor and then editor-in-chief.

Armed with the confidence of having selected women’s fashions for French Vogue, Mainbocher opened his couture salon at 12 avenue George V. in November of 1930.

New York

Anticipating the Nazi invasion of Paris, Mainbocher sought refuge in New York, reopening in the fall of 1940 at 6 East 57th Street, designing his American salon in the image of his Parisian atelier. He was the first haute couturier to relocate an internationally famous House to New York.

“…an exhibition as quietly cut and deftly embellished as one of Mainbocher’s own creations.”

The Wall Street Journal

Exhibit Information


Included with Museum admission:
$16 adults
$14 seniors/students
Free to children 12 and under


Monday to Saturday:
9:30 AM to 4:30 PM

Noon to 5:00 PM


Chicago History Museum
1601 North Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60614

Museum Directions


$9 with Museum validation.

Visa, MasterCard, and Discover accepted.

Parking Directions

Special Thanks

Costume Council
Liz Stiffel