Sunday, February 1, 2009

Rose Bertin, Minister of Trinkets

At the zenith of her success as a marchand de modes, Rose Bertin worked with over 120 different suppliers, including hat makers, hosiers, lace makers, silk mercers, linen suppliers, cord makers, ribbon weavers, flower makers, feather sellers, jewelers, glove makers, furriers, button makers, fan makers, dressmakers, and embroiders. She was at the centre of the Parisian fashion trade.

However, Rose Bertin's close association with Marie Antoinette, her international success as a marchand de modes, and her status as a high profile, unmarried woman sparked considerable resentment along gender and class lines.

To make things worse, Bertin was arrogant and did not hide her feelings of superiority. Even though she was the daughter of a provincial gendarme from Abbeville, she felt her creative genius alone justified her attitude. She did not hesitate to dismiss a potential client's order if she did not feel them worthy of notice, and once refused to serve "the wife of a mere prosecutor from Bordeaux". Bertin's haughty attitude and disrespect led the Baronne d'Oberkirch from Alsace to describe Bertin as "puffed up with self-importance, behaving as if princesses were her equals."

By the 1780s, pamphlets appeared in the press describing Bertin as Marie Antoinette's Minister of Fashion and Minister of Trinkets. And not long after the Queen had pledged personal sacrifice (declaring that the nation needed new warships more than she needed new diamond jewelry), she appeared in public with her flashiest and most extravagant pouf designed by Bertin to date - a tall ship in her hair in homage to the French naval victory against the British in 1778. This sparked further public outrage.

To be continued