Empire of the crinolines

Galliera crinolines

Galliera crinolines

The Empire in question is the Second Empire, the reign (1852-1870) of Napoléon III and Eugénie. This exhibition at the Palais Galliéra, the City of Paris’s fashion museum, gives us a glimpse at a brilliant, vital, corrupt, prosperous, and ultimately disastrous era of French history.

As noted in a prior post, Eugénie admired and wished to emulate Marie-Antoinette. The influence of the 18th century can be easily traced in dresses copying the late Queen’s favorite colors and fabrics, or in fans inspired by Boucher’s paintings. Yet many things had changed since Marie-Antoinette’s time, a century earlier. On many a ball gown, priceless hand-made lace is sewn next to its cheap machine-made counterpart. Artificial dyes have appeared, ushering new, vibrant colors into fashions. For a couple of hours I was transported into the world of Emile Zola‘s extraordinary novels: Au Bonheur des Dames, Nana or La Curée.

The 19th century is also a time of practicality: the skirt is often detachable from the bodice, or rather bodices. For several bodices were often cut to match a skirt: one neck-high to make a day dress, one lower cut for a dinner gown, and one entirely baring the shoulders for a ball or opera gown. All with a single skirt!

The visitor can admire dresses, shawls, shoes and trinkets that used to belong to Eugénie and her ladies-in-waiting, but also to the novelist George Sand and Madame Gachet, wife of Doctor Gachet of Van Gogh fame. My favorite artifacts were the poupées de mode (fashion dolls) with their porcelain heads and leather bodies. Like modern Barbie dolls, they represented miniature adult women, and came with a full set of clothes for all occasions.

Or maybe I should choose the bridal or First Communion sets (prayer book, notebook and coin purse) of exquisitely carved ivory or mother-of-pearl, still in their original cases lined with silk and velvet.

The notices that accompany the 300 artifacts are simple, informative, well lit, easy to locate, accessible in every regard. This exhibit is also mercifully free of the mobs that attend (I should say attack) blockbuster shows. A delight for anyone interested in the history of fashion, the Second Empire, Eugénie, or simply gazing at beautiful objects from times past.

Until April 26, 2009 at the Palais Galliéra
.

Eugenie and her ladies 1855 Winterhalter

Eugenie and her ladies 1855 by Winterhalter

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8 Comments to “Empire of the crinolines”

  1. Catherine Delors says:

    Marie-Helene – You are welcome, and I may show you my pictures as a dressy little girl someday. But I won’t post them!

  2. Marie-Helene says:

    and thank you fro the paris.fr link

  3. Marie-Helene says:

    I will love to see your picture when you were a little girl all dress-up !

  4. Catherine Delors says:

    It is true that at that time, French foreign policy seemed focused on
    picking absurd fights. The Mexico Expedition was a disaster, but that
    didn’t prevent France to seek another conflict with Prussia, with
    utterly disastrous consequences. In both cases, Eugenie was said to be
    instrumental in the decisions to go to war, apparently with the idea to
    enhance the prestige of the regime.

    As for fashions, Margaret
    Mitchell makes it clear in the novel that Paris set the tone then. And
    that was certainly thanks to Eugenie’s beauty and sense of style. One
    of the merits of this exhibition is to highlight this.

  5. Catherine Delors says:

    It is true that at that time, French foreign policy seemed focused on picking absurd fights. The Mexico Expedition was a disaster, but that didn’t prevent France to seek another conflict with Prussia, with utterly disastrous consequences. In both cases, Eugenie was said to be instrumental in the decisions to go to war, apparently with the idea to enhance the prestige of the regime.

    As for fashions, Margaret Mitchell makes it clear in the novel that Paris set the tone then. And that was certainly thanks to Eugenie’s beauty and sense of style. One of the merits of this exhibition is to highlight this.

  6. Penny says:

    Yes I meant Gone with the Wind. I wonder if the hair and clothes were copied from Paris and London? Poor Mexico. President James Polk lied and started a war with Mexico and so we now have the southwesterb states. i don’t think their army was effective. big debate in United states over slavery in the territories. England risked the blockade and almost went to war with teh Union. Lincoln and sec of state Seward did worry about France as well from what I read recently.

  7. Catherine Delors says:

    Gone with the Wind? Oh sure, Penny, I saw it a dozen times. I
    think there’s a couple of references to Eugenie in the novel as well.
    And Scarlet’s second daughter is called Eugenie Victoria (how more
    bombastic can you get? Reminds me of Agatha Christie’s ABC Murders).

    No,
    I never wore a crinoline. But I was very dressy as a little girl and
    might have liked it given the chance. At the time of the Civil War,
    France was embroiled in a disastrous expedition South of the border, in
    Mexico, so it was too busy in the Americas already…

  8. Penny Klein says:

    Lovely. It also brought back memories of my childhood. i had to wear a crinoline! this picture also reminds me of the clothes worn by the women in the famous or infamous movie you may have seen with scarlet o’hara and rhett butler?
    by the way, was France leaning to allying with the South? England almost did.

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