History : Sep-Oct 2016
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC HISTORY 13 Anatomy of a Dress THE ROBE À LA FRANÇAISE was the hot trend for 18th-century European aristocrats. It had three parts: the gown, open at the front and ending in the train; the skirt; and the bodice. This embroidered silk and satin gown dates to 1760 and is in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. One of the most important of all ac- cessories was the fan. The culture of Versailles mingled flirtation with con- cealment, and fans were used to send flirtatious signals as part of a complex, gestural language of seduction. The Business of Fashion Underlying the frivolity of 18th-century French fashion were hard economics. The appetite for clothes among the French upper classes gave rise to a dy- namic textile industry, which had been assiduously guarded by the protection- ist policies introduced by Jean-Baptiste Colbert, minister to Louis XIV. The so-called royal manufactories helped foster a booming silk industry in Lyon. Technical progress and advances in dy- ing further bolstered private enterprise, and factories turning out stockings, hats, and lingerie thrived. Christophe- Philippe Oberkampf’s textile factory at Jouy-en-Josas, for example, employed some 900 workers in 1774. Notable 18th-century French fash- ion designers included Marie-Jeanne Bertin, also known as “Rose,” who pio- neered French haute couture in the late 18th century. She opened her own fash- ion store in Paris in 1777, and quickly became the dressmaker of choice. Rec- ognition of her talents was cemented by the Duchess of Chartres, who intro- duced her to Marie-Antoinette herself. The queen was so taken by her designs she had a workshop built for her in Versailles where Rose, her “Minister of Fashion,” created ever more extrav- agant designs for the queen. Her cre- ations were exported to courts in Lon- don, Venice, Vienna, Lisbon, and many other capitals. Rose also created dolls attired in spe- cially made clothes. These were bought by collectors, or sent as gifts to other European courts. These figurines also allowed foreign ladies to keep up with the French fashions and order the latest, most elegant dresses. Marie-Antoinette helped keep France the capital of Euro- pean fashion throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. On one occasion, Joseph II of Austria commented that the elaborate wig worn by his sister Marie-Antoinette was “too light to bear a crown.” It was under- standable that the Austrian emperor would draw a parallel between his sis- ter’s style of dress and her role as queen: Marie-Antoinette’s lavish wardrobe only increased her image as a frivolous spendthrift, one of the principal reasons why she became despised by the French people. This antipathy would eventually bring down the monarchy and lead her to the guillotine in 1793. — María Pilar Queralt del Hierro SCALA, FLORENCE The long neckline can be U-shaped or square. Embroidered or printed floral motifs cover the silk fabric. The back of the gown has broad folds and a small train. Goldwork and silverwork decorate the overskirt. The bodice is finished with a triangular section, the pièce d’estomac. The elbow-length sleeves end in frills, sometimes of lace. The skirt peeks through the opening in the gown. The gown hugs the upper body and flares at the waist in an overskirt.