French fashion and politics in the time of Marie Antoinette
May 12, 2015 11:40 AM   Subscribe

Fashion to Die For: "Fast fashion might seem like a modern invention, but in the turbulent world of 18th-century France, when Marie Antoinette was calling the shots, fashion moved at light speed." Dr. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, art historian specializing in fashion and textiles, gives a delightfully rich interview to Collectors Weekly. Through the prism of fashion, she touches on class fluidity and lack thereof, gender roles, textile trades, guilds, self-expression – all elements that rapidly metamorphosized at the end of the Ancien Régime and inexorably led to the French Revolution and its Reign of Terror.

"French queens had always dressed magnificently but within the confines of very rigid court etiquette, and they were also answerable to the royal treasury. So in general they followed fashion rather than leading – they didn’t want to rock the boat. But then Marie Antoinette comes along. Louis XVI didn’t actually have a mistress, so there was a void in the fashion hierarchy. Marie Antoinette was enamored with the vibrant Paris fashion world, as everyone was at the time. Paris had replaced Versailles as the center of society and style, so she wanted to take advantage of the wealth of talent there in Paris, rather than having one official dressmaker who only dressed her, which is what previous queens had done."

"Most milliners [FR] were low-born women, like Rose Bertin, but Bertin was very unique in her success. Bertin was extremely talented, obviously, and one of her major clients was the Duchesse de Chartres, who was related by marriage to the King and was the richest woman in Paris in her own right. She introduced Bertin to Marie Antoinette, and once that happened, Bertin became unstoppable."

"In hindsight, it’s pretty easy to see the French Revolution in fashion even a decade before it happened. Even at the time, certain astute observers were commentating on this in a 'what is the world coming to' kind of way. People were wearing black for everyday life, which was seen as a sinister omen. Throughout the 1780s, fashion workers like the embroiders’ guild or the weavers’ guild [FR] were constantly petitioning the King and Queen for help because they were losing so much business, as over-the-top luxury went out of fashion in favor of this self-conscious simplicity. The writing was on the wall."
posted by fraula (19 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
Man, Collectors Weekly has been really stepping up the quality of its interviews in recent years. This is wonderful, and so detailed. Thanks!
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 11:50 AM on May 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

posted by The Whelk at 11:54 AM on May 12, 2015

Sans foi!
posted by clavdivs at 1:46 PM on May 12, 2015

Reading the Bertin was extremely talented link....

They spent SO MUCH MONEY on clothes. Holy crap. Vive le Roi and all, but...maybe not that particular roi. Though I guess spending was preferable to hoarding.
posted by resurrexit at 1:50 PM on May 12, 2015

"Did an Addiction to Fads Lead Marie Antoinette to the Guillotine?"


There's nothing in the interview that suggests that it did, either.
posted by howfar at 1:55 PM on May 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Diamonds are a girls best friend!
posted by clavdivs at 2:01 PM on May 12, 2015

But not the diamonds in that particular necklace

It went poorly.
posted by The Whelk at 3:20 PM on May 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

posted by Sys Rq at 3:53 PM on May 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

Wow, that was fascinating. Thank you!
posted by lollusc at 7:35 PM on May 12, 2015

And now I recall the Aragonese cartoon that had Marie Antoinette being led to the guillotine...While her seamstress and hairdressers were busy at work...
posted by happyroach at 1:57 AM on May 13, 2015

happyroach I can't find that one, would be neat to see it if you know of a place online.

This engraving of Marie Antoinette in sedate clothing is powerful when taken alongside the more popular lush imagery surrounding her: Marie-Antoinette au Tribunal révolutionnaire.

There's also the famous sketch Marie-Antoinette conduite à l'échafaud ("Marie Antoinette led to the scaffold"). Naught but a chemise.
posted by fraula at 10:55 AM on May 13, 2015

I have some problems with Coppola's film Marie Antoinette, but totally enjoy this scene of fabrics, shoes, counters and pastries, and wondered if it was at all historically accurate as to the fashion of the time.
posted by goofyfoot at 8:30 PM on May 13, 2015

Yes. All of it. The Chuck Taylors especially.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:08 PM on May 13, 2015

(Seriously though, I'm pretty sure all the pink in the movie would in actual fact have been considered, until surprisingly recently, to be far too masculine.)
posted by Sys Rq at 9:14 PM on May 13, 2015

(I liked the sneakers, sneaking into the scene. Seemed to be of a piece with the queen saying "oh wow" and the choice of music.)
posted by goofyfoot at 9:39 PM on May 13, 2015

(I liked all the chronoclastic fashion cause it supported how YOUNG the King and Queen were and where basically the 4th best choice for ruling a vast imperial empire and totally unsuited for it and also one of the requirements for filming at the palace of Versailles was paying a huge amount to restoring it

There's a comic book series I realy like by Jason Lutes about Berlin between the World Wars and it makes the choice to not show Nazi iconography, all the symbols are just abstract dots, cause a modern viewer cant' see a swastika without having a huge raft of historical baggage where, at the time, it would just be another symbol among many. So I liked the little jabs like Chuck Taylor sneakers to cement that Marie is really young and acting not at all Queenly and how MUCH that rankled people. As the article said, she behaved more like a King's Mistress (an actual formal position because, made famous by Pompadour who like, was a house flipper and created the French porcelain (get it, china) industry cause China REFUSED to trade with them, there's a letter it's hilarious) while also didn't have kids right away, which is basically your Job as Queen, partly cause Louis had a medical problem involving a fused foreskin that made intercourse EXTREMELY PAINFUL.)
posted by The Whelk at 9:48 PM on May 13, 2015

I gathered from the movie (haven't read Frasier's book) that the teenage queen's body was the focus of all the court - her virginity, her fertility, her desirability vis a vis the young king - so it made sense that Coppola had her queen cover her body up in more and more elaborate frocks and hairdos. Fashion as armor. Also, fashion as feint, since those elaborate gowns drew the eye but shielded the body.
posted by goofyfoot at 10:19 PM on May 13, 2015

partly cause Louis had a medical problem involving a fused foreskin

New lie apocryphal story to drop in conversation: You know what they say about the origin of champagne coupes? Yeah, well, champagne flutes...
posted by Sys Rq at 10:24 PM on May 13, 2015

(yeah Marie was, and I think the movie does a good job in showing how weird and overwhelming this was, H A T E D how both the court and the people. She was too young, too Austrian, too provincial and just so in the wrong place at the wrong time. If she was fancy she was decadent and wasteful and corrupt, if she was simple and wholesome she was not regal and stupid and a bad example. Couldn't win.)
posted by The Whelk at 11:11 PM on May 13, 2015

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