Friday, January 30, 2009

Rose Bertin, Minister of Fashion

La Galerie des modes: Fashion Plate mentioning Rose Bertin

Rose Bertin's association with Marie Antoinette reached its zenith in the in the mid-1780s. As the leading marchande de modes, Bertin was known for creating fashion trends, from the pouff to the dress a la Suzanne (a dress with a tight-fitting bodice with a fichu worn with a white skirt and apron inspired by Beaumarchais's play The Marriage of Figaro first performed in 1774).

Bertin loved to brag about her latest collaborations with Marie Antoinette and agreed to sell copies of the pieces she made for the Queen of France, although she was not permitted to do so until two weeks after Marie Antoinette wore the original outfit.

News of the latest fashions was disseminated through fashion plates (like the one shown above from Galerie des Modes) and poupee de modes (fashion dolls). The infamous Marie Antoinette doll which was created with the Queen's features was awaited with "breathless anticipation" in cities across Europe. According to an editor of Le Journal des dames, "fashionable ladies throughout Europe welcomed the oversized, overdressed mannequin with practically as much adulation and excitement as if they were meeting the sovereign herself."

Royalty and aristocrats across Europe flocked to Bertin's atelier. Even the Grand Duchess of Russia bought a number of dresses including "one of silk brocaded with velvet flowers with an overskirt of lace interwoven with gold".

Marie Antoinette rarely wore a gown more than once (this was accepted court practice and even the previous Queen of France Maria Leczinska spent vast sums of money on clothes). In 1776, Marie Antoinette spent 272,000 livres, most of which went to Rose Bertin. Of that sum, 100,000 livres was spent on accessories, even though the Queen's total clothing budget was set at 120,000 livres.

Apparently, Bertin refused to provide detailed accounts of what she had sold to the Queen, which meant that the dame d'atours had no way to verify the charges and had to pay the unsupported bills. It is not surprising that Bertin was dubbed the "Minister of Fashion."

To be continued