September 21st is the anniversary of the French Legislative Assembly abolishing the French Monarchy in 1792. To mark the occasion I would like to take a look at one of the few surviving gowns that Marie Antoinette wore herself. This particular gown was on display at the Royal Ontario Museum and is considered one of the first examples of French Haute Couture.
The official description of the gown via the Royal Ontario Museum describes it as a “formal court dress comprise(d) a fitted bodice with attached train and matching petticoat of silk satin made in the fashionable style of the 1780s. It demonstrates the height of the 18th century professional embroiders’ art as seen in the lavish, artistic design which combines plant and flower, peacock and pheasant feather motifs on pale blue, pink and ivory satin appliquéd swags of ribbon and bows. Further embellished with spangles, glass stones, pleated metallic strips and two types of metallic thread made from thin metal coil wrapped over a silk core, this is one of the few dresses attributed to Marie-Antoinette and her dressmaker, Marie-Jeanne “Rose” Bertin, that survive; often identified as the first couturière, Rose Bertin was Marie-Antoinette’s favoured marchande de modes. The dress was acquired in 1925 by the Museum’s first director, Charles Trick Currelly from Mary Christie, a London antiques dealer.”
The structure of the dress is not in keeping with the style of the 18th century, particularly the hourglass figure of the corseted waist. That’s because this dress was modified by a second wearer during the Victorian era so the dress was considered updated by 19th century standards. However, the embroidery and beading on the dress is pretty much intact from how it was when the gown was first designed making it one of the more complete examples of a gown that Marie Antoinette wore herself. Here are some close-up pictures of the stunning embroidery detail of the dress that is believed to have been designed by Rose Bertin, who is an icon in traditional French Haute Couture fashion. The embroidery features a design of peacock feathers, flowers, and pheasant feather detailing. I can also see what looks like black sequins throughout the design but what is described as “glass stones” by the museum.
I am surprised that the vibrant pink and blue thread and silk has kept its color so well.
I think it is absolutely stunning. Considering how old this gown is it is in remarkably good condition. It is easy to see why Marie Antoinette was considered one of the great fashion icons of her day. This isn’t just a dress, it is a true work of art.
I am including a short video that explains how fashion historians and textile conservators preserved and restored this gown to put it on display at the Royal Ontario Museum. The video also gives a concise history of the gown and how it came to be at the museum. I can only imagine how thrilling it must be to hold a dress in your hands that you know Marie Antoinette wore herself and to stitch on the same fabric that Rose Bertin worked on more than 200 years ago. These historians must feel so in touch with the past when they work with an extraordinary artifact like this one. It’s like holding history in your hands.
I also like this fun video by Simone Smith who animatedly describes ten fun facts about Marie Antoinette’s hair. 🙂
And finally, here is a link to an article published today by BBC History Magazine giving a brief biography of Marie Antoinette’s life to mark this anniversary.
Vive la France!
The Frugal Lady