La Merveilleuse

19 February 2010

Nothing could be more French than to allow current affairs to influence fashion (just look at the hairstyles concocted by Rose Bertin for Marie Antoinette and her coterie – battleships, babies being born and balloons taking off are just a few examples) and the outrageously dressed Merveilleuses are the finest example of this.

Les Merveilleuses (‘The Marvellous Ones’) made their first appearance in 1794 and influenced by the victims of the guillotine, they cultivated a highly modish and edgily morbid style that bordered on the gothic. The leaders of the Merveilleuses were the extremely stylish Theresa Tallien and Rose de Beauharnais, both of whom had been imprisoned during the Terror and had barely escaped with their lives.

But what items would have graced the spartan styled mahogany Jacob wardrobe of the average aspiring Merveilleuse? Let’s have a peek inside…

1. In the wake of the Terror’s end the most fashionable hair style was long at the front and shorn very short at the nape of the neck à la Titus in a bizarre attempt to copy the way that the guillotine’s victims had their hair cut by the executioner’s assistants before clambering aboard the tumbril that would transport them to the guillotine. Scented pomades were used to mess up the tendrils of hair and create a sophisticated dishevilled look.

2. A red scarf à la Némesis. This was first worn after the execution of the famous beauty, Émilie de Sainte-Amaranthe, who was rumoured to have been arrested after she spurned the attentions of not just Saint-Just but also Robespierre. Her courage in the face of death and undeniable glamour made her something of a heroine to the fashionable ladies of Paris and they wore red scarves thrown loosely around their shoulders in her honour.

3. A thin red ribbon choker or if you were really dashing (like the lady in the first miniature) one made of rubies that mimicked the appearance of droplets of blood around the neck.

4. Lavish helpings of scented white powder applied to the face and bosom in order to replicate a suitably languishing living corpse look.

5. A selection of thinly diaphanous white muslin and gauze low cut dresses, which were fondly imagined to look like the plain white chemises and dresses which many prisoners, including Marie Antoinette, wore to their executions. The more daring ladies liked to dampen their dresses with water before venturing outside in order to make them cling more becomingly to their figures.

6. The Croix à la Victime, a red silk harness, which was worn like a thin shawl around the bodice, artfully forming a red cross on the wearer’s back.

7. Thin grecian sandals, which looked especially delightful teamed with gold or silver toe rings and painted toe nails.

8. Heady, migraine inducing scents that made your every lazy movement waft jasmine, rose and musk through the air.

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