Sunday, 3 December 2017

Power dressing / Dressed to Rule

“Throughout history rulers have used clothes as a form of legitimization and propaganda. While palaces, pictures, and jewels might reflect the choice of a monarch’s predecessors or advisers, clothes reflected the preferences of the monarch himself. Being both personal and visible, the right costume at the right time could transform and define a monarch’s reputation. Many royal leaders have known this, from Louis XIV to Catherine the Great and from Napoleon I to Princess Diana.

This intriguing book explores how rulers have sought to control their image through their appearance. Mansel shows how individual styles of dress throw light on the personalities of particular monarchs, on their court system, and on their ambitions. The book looks also at the economics of the costume industry, at patronage, at the etiquette involved in mourning dress, and at the act of dressing itself. Fascinating glimpses into the lives of European monarchs and contemporary potentates reveal the intimate connection between power and the way it is packaged.”

“Queen Maud of Norway was renowned for her stylish dress. Daughter of Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, she was born a princess and became Queen of Norway in 1905. She had exemplary taste and a strong interest in fashion, and her royal lifestyle required appropriate dress for every occasion. Her wardrobe includes a range of stunning creations dating from her wedding trousseau of 1896 to the latest Worth designs purchased just months before her death in 1938.
Queen Maud's clothes document an extraordinary era of fashion history, from the decorative but elaborate dress of the Victorian era to the streamlined chic of the 1930s: clothes for the modern working monarch. Her wardrobe encompasses the public and private like no other collection, from sumptuous state gowns and elegant evening dresses for official occasions to riding habits, winter sportswear, and simple tailored suits for afternoons in the garden with her grandchildren.
Maud engaged with contemporary fashion throughout her long life, and commissioned many of the great designers of the day, notably, Worth, Blancquaert and Morin-Blossier. Her wardrobe illustrates the impeccable standards of couture dressmaking and tailoring of the period. Flawlessly beaded gowns, perfectly cut and hand-finished suits, beautifully embroidered and appliqued dresses all exemplify the superb workmanship of the era. Style and Splendour showcases some of the most spectacular garments now in the collection of the National Museum of Art/Museum of Decorative Arts and Design in Oslo, and sets them properly in the context of Queen Maud's life and times.”

Power dressing
Anne Kjellberg and Susan North's Style and Splendour and Philip Mansel's Dressed to Rule give differing accounts of Europe's fashion revolutions, says Veronica Horwell
Veronica Horwell
Saturday 2 July 2005 01.22 BST First published on Saturday 2 July 2005 01.22 BST

Dressed to Rule
by Philip Mansel
237pp, Yale, £19.95

Style and Splendour
by Anne Kjellberg and Susan North
112pp, Victoria & Albert Museum, £30

Louis Leroy, who has a walk-on part in Philip Mansel's history of court costume, began work as an accessories hand for Marie Antoinette's couturier, then escaped the French revolution by using his talents in service of the stage and theatrical republican regimes. He found a patron in Josephine de Beauharnais, mistress of the Directoire's senior monster; she went on to be style adviser, and more, to scruffy officer Napoleon Bonaparte, and when emperor Boney became obsessed with impressing Europe and rescuing French luxury industries, Leroy robed Josephine and her successor empress Marie-Louise, plus the Bonaparte family and retinues.

Post Waterloo, the wives of the gallant allies made Leroy's maison their first destination in conquered Paris, and he outfitted the restored Bourbons. "Turncoat" is an inadequate description for a designer in continuous employment from the diamond shoebuckles of the ancient regime, through the gold bees of the empire, to the diamond swordhilts of the revived monarchy - a designer who could, moreover, pleat a tricolor cockade on command.

Leroy's eras, when the wrong choice of clothes could doom the wearer, provide Mansel with great material. He is comfortable with punctilio, exactly specifying the width of embroidery proper to the pocket of a premier officier - 122mm, since you ask - but his sharpest observations are made in the discomfort zones where rules were overruled. Revolutionary taste in 1789, he points out, detested the red heels and silks of Louis XVI's courtiers less because they advertised privilege than because they were out of fashion in a world where power had already changed into a coat of plain wool (the frac), or military uniform. During the 18th century, men with money from bank, bourse and land, especially the land of America, doffed silks for cloth outfits that evolved into the modern suit. While the soldiers of Sweden, Prussia, Russia, Austria and Britain were standardised and glamourised by the use of uniform, "the king's coat", des Kaisers Rock, soon adopted by actual monarchs, although not the Bourbons. Frederick the Great's was snuff-stained and gone at the elbows - like Stalin long after him, he asserted autocrat status through shabbiness yet gave a dressing down to anyone who did not dress up.

Balzac wrote that the French revolution had been a debate between silk and wool cloth, but the real winner was gold braid. Napoleon, having to motivate an army, a state and annexed countries, supervised the invention of his own peculiar court wear and battledress of spectacular fraudulence (although it looked great in long shot, the leopardskin was fake, and not top-quality fake, either), and uniformed civil officials, a practice widely imitated after the Congress of Vienna.

Only Englishmen and Americans were left preferring civvies, something the US made up for later by insisting on livery for park rangers and the serfs of Mac-commerce. For melodramatic swank, English royals could always misuse Scots highland dress: Prince Albert insisted that kilts at Balmoral almost cover the knee, which real lairds laughed at as "so very German"; the Duke of Windsor, in exile after his 1936 abdication, draped himself and minions in more tartan than the Old and Young Pretender put together.

Mansel draws a remarkable global panorama from 1840 to 1914, with monarchs and top brass "fishing for uniforms", as Queen Victoria once sniffed - that is, claiming the right to wear the grandest regalia of friends and ex-enemies, so that Kaiser Wilhelm II was "quite giddy" to dress like Nelson, while Franz Josef of Austria-Hungary had to swap kit so often and fast that he felt sympathy for actors.

Further down the social scale, vestments established not just authority but identity; servants of the new post and transport companies, schoolchildren and students wore uniform from the Atlantic to Siberia. (And in Japan after it was prised open; its schoolgirl get-ups preserve the fashion for rigging out regal heirs as sailors on holiday in Osborne, Baden-Baden and St Petersburg.) An empire could pass for modern with assistance from tailors. The Ottoman sultan shed his sublime kaftan for an epauletted tunic and unwound his turban to reveal the east-west compromise fez - the foundation of the imperial fez factory was a Turkish move towards Europe.

Even clothes that rebelled against militarism were conscripted. The liberal Hapsburg Archduke Johann retreated to the Alps, there to flaunt himself in protest gear - hunting jacket and lederhosen, both later drafted into the service of nationalism. Loyal followers of Garibaldi in their casual red shirts (which their leader likely borrowed from Argentinian slaughterhouse workers) were easy targets for ex-comrades who had put on the blue coat of King Victor Emmanuel II's troops. Garibaldi's mono-colour garment worn as a political statement did become the power dressing of the 20th century, but not the way he would have wanted: millions massed, willingly or not, in black or brown shirts, or Chinese blue jackets. Mansel has a wicked eye for meaning, especially in his postcript about Osama bin Laden, whose broadcast kit is the white robe and headgear of Wahabite purity, with a US combat jacket atop to communicate command of macho, techno and potency.

Queens and empresses were subject to the conflicting requirements above, plus a demand that they set fashion, at least while young; after that, it could be all pinning and shawling, plus gumboots. Empresses Eugénie of the French second empire and Elizabeth of Austria patronised a second Leroy, couturier Charles Worth, whose creations (and those of his heirs) clad the rulers of rival, even warring, states until after the second world war. Queen Maud of Norway, the subject of Style and Splendour, had Worth ensembles in the vast lifetime wardrobe she left in the royal palace in Oslo. Born the daughter of the Prince and Princess of Wales (later Edward VII and Queen Alexandra) in 1869, she had modern model proportions, petite and neat-waisted, and constantly updated her taste; she seemed to grow ever younger, from her postbridal going-away gown, upholstered in the mode of 1896, to her final purchases around 1938. By then, her Worth evening suit was far simpler than the lightest layer of her underwear had been 40 years before, and after the fashion of most women skiers, she wore tailored trousers on the slopes. Another revolution.

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