Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Many Shawls of Josephine

So being the fabulously fashionably avant-garde lady of the limelight that she was, Josephine had hundreds of shawls. Tons of fabrics. Tons of colors. Most of them had neoclassical themes, like simple borders and edges. Often they had rich, vibrant colors that contrasted rather beautifully with the otherwise plain and simple white muslin dresses Josephine often wore. Her shawls (not to be confused with scarves!) were legendary; Napoleon brought her back Indian cashmere shawls from Egypt (despite the fact that he was royally pissed at her for believing that she was having an affair while he was gone), along with patterns and fabrics, and Josephine's beautiful cashmere shawls soon became all the rage in Paris, despite the fact that they cost a FORTUNE. Any fashionable bourgeois woman sported a shawl when she went outdoors, and lots of times (like 99% of the time) women even sat for their portraits with their shawls. They basically screamed I HAVE MONEY. It's like when girls pose in photos with their Louis Vuitton bags in full view today so you can see the tiny monogrammed LV symbol--same idea. (Except that Josephine wore hers because she liked the patterns and colors and the whole neoclassical theme. She would have seen the LV symbol as tasteless and rather crude).

 One of Josephine's shawl patterns--very Greek!
This one is more Roman, I think
LOVE this one--beautiful color!
I think on the left is the border, and on the right is the body of the shawl. Simple and elegant.
This is a sweet little picture of Josephine's little bathing room at Malmaison. Love that beautiful Greek shawl draped over the chair!

A beautiful example of a long, lacy shawl with a matching veil! A veil with laurel leaves wrapped around it, no less. The border between fashionable and the outright ridiculous was often blurred in this period...

Josephine's daughter Hortense, possibly one of the biggest drama queens of the early 19th century, once told a really cute story about how Napoleon, her stepdad, would come into Josephine's bedroom and see her shawls strung all over her bed. At the time, to say that Napoleon was anti-British would be putting it mildly, and often the materials for these expensive shawls had to be imported from British-controlled colonies, like India (which was banned). He did not like that; he wanted to break the British trade monopoly. But in typical crude Napoleon fashion, rather than explain this, he would just quietly ask Josephine what material the shawls on her bed were made from. An unsuspecting Josephine would tell him, and if it was a smuggled material, he would take the shawl and rip it in half, much to her and Hortense's aghast astonishment. He repeated this scene several times, despite Josephine's angry pleas to stop ripping up her very expensive shawls. No dice. So finally one day an exasperated Josephine and her maid took all her shawls (hundreds!) into Hortense's bedroom and stuffed them into an unassuming little drawer in her armoire (their version of a huge closet), out of reach of Napoleon's marauding hands. Hortense's bedroom was off-limits, even for Napoleon, so the expensive shawls were safe for the time being, although I imagine Josephine and Hortense were probably pretty discreet when they wore them in front of him. It seems at that point that Napoleon did what he said he usually had to do with Josephine--he 'gave in, eventually.' To this day, Josephine and Hortense have some of the loveliest portraits from this period I have ever seen--illegal shawls and all!
A very lovely portrait of Hortense around 1805-1806, I would say, I can't locate a date on it but judging by the full-on Empire-style gown, velvet, and little ruffled collar it looks about that time. Her beautiful ivory shawl with a jewel-colored border gently drapes over her shoulder--not too much, but just enough.
I know I've probably posted this picture before, but I'm using it here because it's one of my favorites AND it shows off one of Josephine's beautiful shawls! This thing looks enormous, very large and long. She has it wrapped around her waist, draped over her shoulder, and it STILL trails behind her. It's a bright, fire-engine red color, with a large and beautiful neoclassical trim that complements her off-white dress perfectly. Josephine was all about accents of color--the accents on the border of her dress are brought out by the shawl, which in turn brings out the border along the top of her dress...amazing!