Born on this day in Fashion History: Rose Bertin, July 2, 1747

Jean-Françoise Janine after Louise Trinquesse,

Jean-Françoise Janine after Louise Trinquesse, “Marie -Jeanne “Rose” Bertin,” n.d. Image taken from from Kristen Chrisman-Campbell’s “Fashion Victims” (2015).

Happy birthday to Marie Antoinette’s premiere marchande de modes, Rose Bertin, born on this day in 1747. Bertin’s meteoric rise to success began in 1772, when she opened her own shop, after having apprenticed to a marchande de modes for years. She quickly developed an affluent clientele, but no one would prove as important to her career than the Queen of France, who became her patron in 1774. It was a relationship destined for fashion history.

“Marchande de Modes” engraving from Robert Bénard’s Encyclopédie, 1777. Image from Kristen Chrisman-Campbell’s “Fashion Victims” (2015).

A term not typically familiar to us today, marchande de modes literally translates to “fashion merchant,” but Bertin and her contemporaries were more than mere purveyors of the latest trends, they created them. A marchande de modes was a decorator, a visionary, rather than a dressmaker or milliner–the latter two professions produced the blank canvases for which Bertin would work her magic. First envisioning, then overseeing the execution of additions of lavish amounts of embroideries, laces, ribbons and other passementerie. On hats, the adornment was even more inventive, including feathers, fruit and flowers. But nothing stands alone as more imaginative—and perhaps more excessive— than Bertin’s designs for poufs. The elaborate coiffures in fashion at the time were the literal height of fashion and the most extreme examples of the excesses reached by fashion during this period.

No design was too extreme for the elaborate

No design was too extreme for the elaborate “pouf” coiffures that dominated women’s fashion in the 1770s. This plate dates from 1778 and is in the collection of the Franco-American museum at the château de Blérancourt.

As fashion consultant to the Queen of France, Bertin was instrumental in defining the extravagant fashions of the time. In fact, so renowned was Bertin’s influence on the Queen’s style, that Bertin became known in the press as the “Minister of Fashion.” An unofficial title at court, Bertin’s influence was actually very real, her influence international. At the height of her career, Bertin boasted over 1500 clients from some of the most affluent families in the world. In addition to Marie Antoinette, she dressed the queens of Spain, Sweden and Portugal, as well as numerous other members of the aristocracy, and celebrities.

While Marie Antoinette’s excesses in the way of fashion, as encouraged by Bertin, were perhaps one of the defining elements of her reign, they also, famously, proved her downfall. As author Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell aptly wrote “Marie-Antoinette is remembered as history’s definitive fashion victim.”[i] Indeed, the Queen’s decadent wardrobe became a symbol for the royal family’s debauchery, a visual representation of the unapologetic lifestyle of luxury and self-indulgennce that highlighted the incredibly wealth gap that existed between the royalty and their increasingly disgruntled and impoverished subjects.

A late 18th century fashion plate by artist Claude-Louis Desrais illustrates the expansive, elaborately decorated styles in fashion under the reign of Marie Antoinette, as worn by the Queen herself. Image from Museum of Fine Arts Boston.

A late 18th century fashion plate by artist Claude-Louis Desrais illustrates the expansive, elaborately decorated styles in fashion under the reign of Marie Antoinette, as worn by the Queen herself. Image from Museum of Fine Arts Boston.

It all reached a boiling point in 1792, when angry mobs stormed the château des Tuileries, where the royal family had been under virtual house arrest since the French Revolution began in 1789. Anyone associated with the aristocracy were targets for the new government who sought to purge itself of such wanton wealth. Bertin was lucky to escape the country with her life, a fate not shared by her beloved patron Marie-Antoinette who met her death by guillotine in 1793.

Bertin was eventually able to continue her work, but her business, and name, would never again reach the glory of the pre-revolutionary days. Times had change and with it, the fashions. Bertin died in 1814.[ii]

This 1780s court dress, in the collection of Royal Ontario Museum, is thought to have been worn by Marie-Antoinette and a masterpiece of Rose Bertin.

This 1780s court dress, in the collection of Royal Ontario Museum, is thought to have been worn by Marie-Antoinette and a masterpiece of Rose Bertin.

Marie Antoinette, Queen of France as painted by Elisabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun, 1778.

Marie Antoinette, Queen of France as painted by Elisabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun, 1778.

[i] Ibid, xii.

[ii] Unless otherwise indicated, all facts about Bertin used in this article were obtained from: Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, “Bertin, Rose” The Berg Fashion Library, The Berg Fashion Library, 2005, Web, 2 Jul, 2015.

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Born on this day in fashion history: Raoul Dufy, June 3, 1877

“La Perse” coat designed by Paul Poiret using a Dufy textile design, 1911. In the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Happy birthday to the French artist Raoul Dufy, born on this day in fashion history in 1877. As a young man, Dufy studied painting at Paris’ prestigious Ècole des beaux-arts, finding early success with an evolving artistic style that found inspiration in avant-garde art movements of the era, including Impressionism, Fauvism and Cubism.

Close up of the

Close up of the “La Perse” coat by Poiret

Dufy was a man of many talents, working successfully during his lifetime as a painter, illustrator and textile designer. But it is his incredible body of work within the latter arena that Dufy was able to truly distinguish himself from his contemporaries, designing bold, vivid patterns that served to become defining elements of the visual landscape of the Art Moderne and Art Deco eras.

Dufy came to textile design with the guidance of haute couturier Paul Poiret who prided himself on his patronage of young artists. In Dufy, Poiret found a shared decorative vision that he soon translated into a business, opening La Petite usine, a small wood block-printing factory in 1911. The business was short-lived, however, as Dufy soon left to work for the prestigious—and arguably more lucrative—textile firm Maison Bianchini-Férier in 1912, but his

Pencil and gouache textile design by Dufy for Bianchini-Férier. In the collection of the V&A, London.

Pencil and gouache textile design by Dufy for Bianchini-Férier. In the collection of the V&A, London.

relationship with Poiret would continue for many years. Poiret often used Dufy’s bold fabric designs in his garments, two examples of which are featured here. In both the “La Perse” coat and the “Bois de Boulogne” dress, it becomes clear that Dufy’s designs were ideally suited for Poiret’s clothes, his flat, planar surfaces allow for the full breathe of Dufy’s expansive floral patterns. At first glance, the “La Perse” coat is deceptive, appearing to be made of plush black devoré silk velvet but closer inspection reveals it to actually be a wood-block print, produced entirely by hand in Poiret and Dufy’s workshop. This thick lined, mono-colored woodblock pattern would become a defining element of the aesthetic of Dufy, who repeatedly found inspiration in the “exotic,” like many other artists of the period. He often incorporated tropical flowers and animals into his patterns, as well as scenes from history and everyday life. His patterns are characteristically immersive, using bold lines and vivid blocks of color with repeats blending seamlessly in to one another to envelope the entire fabric.

“Bois de boulogne” dress designed by Paul Poiret using a Dufy textile design, 1919. In the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Dufy would work for Bianchini-Férier until 1932. After, he continued to work as a painter and illustrator until his death in 1953, having been awarded the main painting prize at the Venice Biennale just the year before. Over one hundred years since their collaboration began, Bianchini-Férier still prides itself on its twenty-year relationship with Dufy and continues to produce and sell his distinctive designs in a variety of color-ways, featured here.

Pochoir-printed fashion plate featured in Gazette du bon ton, illustrated by Fernan Siméon, textile by Bianchini-Férier. Though not specified, the pattern is likely by Dufy who was known for his large floral prints.

Pochoir-printed fashion plate featured in Gazette du bon ton, illustrated by Fernan Siméon, textile by Bianchini-Férier. Though not specified, the pattern is likely by Dufy who was known for his large floral prints.

Reproduction of

Reproduction of “Les Violins” pattern designed by Dufy for Bianchini-Férier in 1922.

Remembering Dufy fondly in his memoirs, Poiret wrote of the artist: “A rosy-cheeked, blonde arch-angel, with curly hair, rather dollish, with petites gestures, one had to see him in his workshop, walking with short steps, in shirt sleeves, every moment brining out from his portfolios masterpieces, the least of which is, to-day, worth tens of thousands of francs. Dufy never ceased to be a simple artist, whose heart and soul are entirely devoted to his work.”[i]

[i] Paul Poiret, King of Fashion: The Autobiography of Paul Poiret (London: V&A Publishing, 2009), 87.