Saturday, July 16, 2011

Fashion Fail, Empire Style

Whaat in helmet-hair, plaid-dress hell....


Therese Part Trois: La Fashionista

So as previously mentioned, the grand heyday of the unforgettable Therese Tallien was during the political period in France known as the Directoire. It was a unique experiment in English-style ministerial rule that looked great on parchment, but wasn't so great in practice. This was largely because the men who ran it--particularly one little scoundrel with a penchant for black wigs and corsets named Paul Barras--were all about kickback schemes, shabby investments, and straight-up setting up shop in the sad former homes of guillotined aristocrats. Meanwhile, the majority of Parisians were starving and freezing. No bueno.
Barras looks particularly swashbuckling in this portrait from the mid 1790's (I wonder who the hottie in the back was? Barras was bisexual...hmm..). This guy was vain to a marvelous degree; he had famous artist Jacques-Louis David design a new uniform for himself and the other Directors to wear, sort of an official court uniform, something inspired by the court of Henri IV, France's most beloved ruler. When he modeled the over-the-top, bejeweled and tasseled concoction for Therese, she promptly laughed him out of her house and told Barras he looked like a decorated peacock. The uniforms died a quiet death after that.

Many of the men attached to this government were part of a nouveau-riche set that wanted to make money, and lots of it, as quickly and cheaply as possible. They were literally rolling in the dough. They didn't care what anyone--including the pompous old wind-bag aristocrats--thought of them. They had just survived a horrendous revolution with their heads still intact, and they had a new lease on life! They wanted to sing, dance, make money, get drunk, gamble, and pretty much party rock till they dropped. And who was the reigning queen of this group? Why Madame Tallien, of course. 

 This is a really great caricature of Therese waltzing along in the Tuileries or some such popular place. She glides along, unaccompanied by anyone because hey, she's Therese Tallien, and she's wearing a beautiful white dress accented by a bright, ruby-colored scarf, yellow gloves, and pink accents on her sleeves. And her HAIR! Yes, Therese chopped off all her black, curly hair in a style called the 'Titus' look. It was like the 18th century pixie cut. So bold! So fabulous!

For many women like Therese, though, the biggest change was in their dress. Gone were the stiff whalebone monstrosities that women used to corset themselves before the Revolution, gone were the mile-wide dresses a woman could scarcely navigate a room in, gone were the towering, rat-infested powdered wigs stuffed with fruit, flowers, and whatever one could think of. What took the place of the voluminous, heavy dresses and stiff bodices was a variation of Marie Antoinette's 'chemise' look from the early 1780's, which slowly evolved over the course of the Revolution into a slenderizing little dress, elegant and marvelous in its simplicity of form. This new, massively popular dress was a plain, simply ivory or cream color, and made of soft, silky layers of muslin. It was really quite comfortable. It often sported a low, square neckline that revealed some serious cleavage (we're talking just above the nipple. With nothing else covering it. And sometimes the nipples were visible through the dress. And this was the 18th century?). 

Or you could just bare your breast for all to see, a la Therese. Modesty what?

 Although this would have been more the norm.

This too. French girls are not all about showing off their goodies, by and large.

This time around, dresses were designed to gently drape the figure--NOT hide it because, as Therese herself said, 'it's not the dress, but rather what's under the dress, that's important.' (yes, she actually said that. Don't you just love her?) Was this dress see-through? Pretty much. Did women wear undergarments? Eh, kind of. And who made this dress stylish, accessible, popular, and oh so scandalous? Therese Tallien, of course.

 A pretty fabulous sketch of Therese from the late 1790's. She's sporting a tunic over a plain white muslin dress that pretty much looks like our modern-day tank dress! She has belted the tunic in the middle with golden ropes, and she wears greek gladiator sandals. Supposedly Therese set the fashion for toe rings--she wore them in all colors, along with snake-shaped arm bracelets that pop up everywhere, and gold necklaces too. She's wearing some type of headband with a small medallion in the front, and I LOVE all the gold accents on her mauve-colored tunic. This whole look was called the 'sauvage' look--supposedly to represent a more natural, 'savage' look. 

This is supposedly a representation of Therese via a late 19th-century fashion history compilation (and therefore edited by prudish Victorians. Enough said.). She's holding a huge, neoclassical-print scarf to keep herself warm, and a large new style of purse called a ridicule. These little guys were the forerunners to our modern-day purses! They were colorful and charming, painted with Greek figures or cherubs, or even the lady's initials, and decorated with jewels, tassels, fabrics--anything! She has adroitly fastened a cool little jewel to the front of her dress to keep it bunched up and out of harm's way, since the long trains on these dresses were often dragged through mud (or worse) and dirtied easily. Plus it shows off her snazzy greek sandals so well. I love her little messy bun and the three-tiered headband she's wearing too.  

 Here's another portrait of Therese sporting her 'Titus' haircut. I have no information on this engraving but I'm guessing it was taken from a biography or article about her, probably based on a painting that's in private hands somewhere (sob sob sob). She looks relaxed and attentive here, dressed rather simply with a string of pearls complementing her white dress and (ever-present) shawl. Laure Junot, in her memoirs, said that after Therese cut her hair all kinds of fashionable Parisian beauties cut off their hair as well, creating hair tragedies all over the place! Therese was the only one who could really rock the cut.

Eventually, though, Therese mellowed out in the fashion department and settled for looking gorgeous and elegant, rather than risque and racy (but oh so fun). The resulting portrait here is my favorite portrait of the famous Madame Tallien--just lovely.

Gorgeous layers of dress, satin booty slippers, an elegant little haircomb, a dramatic black shawl lying just next to her..perfection!!

Random Fabulousness: Josephine

Obviously I love Josephine. You can't not love her, if you know her story. If you don't like Josephine, well you're just weird. I also love her portraits--particularly this one!  This version, of which there are like a trillion copies, is one that hangs in Malmaison, Josephine's beloved home (that is still standing! And still fab!). When I last visited Malmaison, there was a little inscription underneath the painting that said that everyone thought this portrait of Empress Josephine most closely resembled her. Everything about this portrait--her relaxed pose, delicate dress and pretty accessories, flawless skin (early 19th century photoshop hello), probing but gentle eyes...lovely lovely!

The Empress Josephine by Firmin Massot (AWESOME ARTIST), c. 1812
Josephine's taste was flawless. I mean it really was. She was an earl 19th c. Jackie O. Once she became Napoleon's Empress (and even before that) she set the fashions of the day, and girlfriend did not disappoint. Even the cut of her gowns, today called the 'empire-waist', stems from the designs that SHE made popular! She was all about delicate designs, soft colors and patterns, neoclassical borders and patterns that please the eye and soothe the heart. In this portrait, she wears a cream-colored soft muslin gown, and the little patterned ribbon tied around her high-waisted dress complements the pretty red beads around her neck and dangling from her ears, which match the little frilly comb in her hair, which bring out the glossiness in her curls, meanwhile she has her beautiful red indian cashmere shawl draped around elegant and simple!

Here's another version of the same portrait: 
Somehow her features look sharper here. And did Josephine have a lazy eye (on the right)? It looks like it! It seems as though this portrait was boxed in some hideous frame for a while, due to the color difference in the circle around Josephine's head. 

Aaaand it seems like both of these were variations from this full-length portrait:
Look at the bottom of her beautiful dress! I love how that 'oriental' pattern is only on the bottom portion of her dress, like a really thick border. It adds a unique, original splash of color to the otherwise kinda plain muslin dress. And here the top of her dress has a gold border that's missing on the other two portraits? She looks so chic and sophisticated, yet gentle and approachable too. It's too bad that her teeth were bad and she could never really smile. Then again, being married to Napoleon would not always be cause for smiling!!!