Friday, July 31, 2009

Decorating in 18th century style


For any style mavens out there redecorating and looking for the perfect touch to their walls, I refer you to Adelphi Custom and Historic Wallpapers.
Historically-based block-printed papers are designed after originals in homes, buildings, and prints from 1750-1930. They are available in original color schemes and (for those who want a more modern aesthetic) alternate tints.
I especially encourage readers to check out the Fragonard wall panel series, one of which is pictured in its alternate coloring above.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

July 30, 1779



I find it terribly inconvenient that after many extra hours of sleep I felt worse today than before. It was an ill figure I made at my own party, and I felt hardly able to enjoy it at all due to my dripping nose and clouded head.

The good news is that T- has apparently come to the attention of someone who is in a position to aid him. I am unclear on the details as we barely had a moment to speak alone at the party, but it does sound promising and he is in high spirits.

I do hope this cold clears up in time for the trip, or it will be a most unpleasant journey.
Olympe, Comtesse

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

July 29, 1779



I believe that just in time for my trip, I may be coming down with a cold. This will not do, and I will retire shortly to bed in hopes of halting the advance of any illness; but before I do I must write that tomorrow I am attending a going-away party held by my dear friends, the Marquis and Marquise de Ferrand. Another excellent reason for resting, I think.

I put aside my portraits and focused on a landscape today in the garden, which, before rain forced me indoors, was turning out rather to my satisfaction and surprise. If I can finish it in time I will take it with me as a reminder of my beloved Auvergne and its beauty.

Received another letter from M. Saint Mikkael today, in which he professed to understand why I could not admit him to my home, and said that he would consider it a great honor if I were to give him, in Paris, any opportunity to render himself of service. I appreciate the gallantry, and truly I bear him no malice, only a lingering mistrust. If we find ourselves in the same social circles again I should be glad to renew our aquaintance along more formal lines.

A letter arrived from Christine saying that she will travel to Paris a month after my arrival, and that her stay will be of short duration. Nevertheless I am sure we shall make arrangements to visit with each other. I will reply to her shortly and extend once more the invitation to stay with me at the Hotel de Sully.

For now, rest; tomorrow I must be at my best.

Olympe, Comtesse

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

July 27, 1779


Nothing but preparations for the trip these days. Nearly all of my gowns have been remade and packed in their trunks. This morning my grooms were polishing the tack, though I'm sure it will only get dusty on the journey. I tried once more to paint my self-portrait, but it never turns out to my satisfaction, and I wonder if that is because I fancy my appearance to be better than it is, or if my drawing skills are really so poor.

My paintings that I left behind in Briancon have arrived home, but I doubt the decor will require them at the Hotel de Sully, and if decor is needed I shall provide it based on what is new. The clothes for my maids have also arrived, and they are so excited they are wearing them already. I ordered them in yellow and red, as befitting the De La Tour D'Auvergne household, though I find red to be somehow a vulgar color, altogether too gaudy or too sombre depending on the shade. Nevertheless when my new court gown is made it too will be in those colors I think.

I have been trying to decide which books to take with me, and alternate between thinking I must take as many as possible to fill the library, and believing that my time will be so full that I won't ever read any of them. My steward has set aside a locked coffer with money for me to take, and we are debating who should have the key in case we are stopped by highwaymen. I believe that such a large party as ours is unlikely to be stopped, and even if we are they will not be able to get away quickly with something so heavy. If they do succeed in carrying away the box the lack of key will likely not stop them from finding a way to force it open.

T- has returned from his father's home, and reports that things are much improved. He spoke with the father of a friend while in Riom, and the father is going to attempt to aid T- in acquiring that long-sought commission.

The money is sent ahead for the servants, packing is underway, and it is only another week or so until we leave for Paris!

The Fan Museum



I was going to post about the fan in eighteenth century France, but then I came across the wonderful Fan Museum in Greenwich site. Truly it deserves a post all its own! Not only do they have an extensive collection of extant pieces from a range of time periods, but it is all housed in a restored Georgian townhome that is worth seeing for itself, or so the pictures lead me to believe.

The site gives a short history of the fan for those who can't wait for the upcoming post (and let's face it, travel preparations are delaying my posts), lots of pictures, details of current and upcoming exhibitions, a giftshop option, details of commissioned fans the museum has made for events and individuals, and a look at the venue which is available for weddings and other rentals.

The undeniably best part though is that they offer a fan-making class! You have to be there in person, obviously, and there is a fee, but they spent hours teaching you to make two different kinds of fans which you get to take home with you. If you would rather have a professional do the work, they also offer a special service to have one-off heirlooms made.

For anyone living near or visiting Greenwich I strongly recommend a trip to the museum to check it out! Next time I am in London, I thoroughly intend to make it part of my itinerary.

Friday, July 24, 2009

July 22, 1779



Today I had a hairdresser come to Saint Saturnin and give a lesson to all of my maids on how to properly dress hair. He tried to suggest that I take him with me to Paris, but while I'm sure he knows his craft and can teach my ladies, I trust those already established in the city to be more fashionable. Marianne was quite taken with her new skills, and practiced pleasantly for hours afterwards. I did purchase more powder as it is probably less expensive here.

Maman writes in a kinder tone that we must visit the theatre together while we are in town, which I'm sure we shall many times. The frivolity I look forward to most is having the newest clothes made, and seeing what the most fashionable people are wearing. The shop tells me that Marianne and Pauline's clothes are on their way to me, so they are looking forward to that as I informed them of its imminent arrival this morning.

I have permitted myself the expense of commissioning a very young writer to draw up a new history of the De la Tour d'Auvergne family, with the hope that by the time he is finished it may have some new members. I am very hopeful these days.
Olympe, Comtesse

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

July 21, 1779



Received a very irritating letter from maman today, which proceeded to lecture me on the lack of wisdom inherent in pursuing the reacquisition instead of making a good marriage. I need not be reminded of my age and the increased likelihood that I will be unable to bear children of my own body. Yet, she seems determined to chastise me for the very things I cannot do, or for which there are consequences I would not prefer to face. Not seeking the reacquisition will not make marriage with T- come any faster, but then it is perhaps he himself that she objects to. I would think that having endured an arranged marriage herself that she would be happy to allow me to make my own choice in my own time. That, it seems, is not the case.

It has put me in a terrible temper all day, and I have not been fit for civil society.
Olympe, Comtesse

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

July 20, 1779


The process of packing has begun. The household is bustling as it rarely does, and all sorts of people have been coming to wish me a pleasant journey. A committee of local magistrates arrived this morning around ten-thirty, but I was not awake yet, and so was obliged to rise and begin an impromptu levee. At eleven o’clock Abbe Veronde came to see me about the distribution of charity in my absence. I believe that thanks to this pious man I am now supporting half the village. I assured him that instructions had been left with my steward and that the appropriate alms would be dispersed. At half past noon my steward himself arrived as I was preparing to ride out, so I informed him of the charitable distributions and he troubled me with the financial details of the trip.

I took a long ride, the better to soak in the beauty I must soon depart from. Nothing is so desired but that which is impermanent. The leaves are just beginning to turn here and there. Marianne is proudly tutoring Pauline on the ways of the city, and how to cut a fine figure amongst the other ladies maids. I think Marianne may find that despite her assertions, nothing remains constant in Paris and she will have much to learn herself. As will I, no doubt.

I leave on the ninth of August, and we will stop for the night in Orlean continuing on early on the tenth to arrive hopefully before noon. Mme le S-B writes that it is the custom in Paris to pay some wages in advance, and so I seem to have no choice but to hire servants unseen and pay them before my own. I cannot arrive to an empty house, and I am bringing only two footmen, two maids, a cook, and my coachman.

As to M. Saint-Mikkael, I shall brave the icy reputation and insist that I am too busy with preparations for my own journey to entertain guests.
Olympe, Comtesse

Monday, July 20, 2009

Shoes!

What woman doesn't love shoes? As Olympe prepares her wardrobe for the eyes of the french court, she will, of course, give some thought to new footwear.
The pair of shoes to the left are Martha Washington's wedding shoes, and so would date to around 1759. The slight curl at the toe, the large lappets for a buckle, and the chunky "Louis" heel are all typical of shoes styles in the 1750s.

Contrary to some beliefs, shoes did not always match the gown. While some certainly did, or were made to compliment a specific dress, more commonly shoes were made and worn much as they are today, according to the owners tastes. Specific right and left shoes were not made until the American Civil War, so all shoes in the eighteenth century were "straight-lasted". Often this is not noticeable when looking at museum examples, because over time the shoes would conform to the wearer's feet, creating in essence a right and left.

To better keep these beautiful and delicate creations from wear pattens could be made to fit them, and served to raise the soles and protect the shoe. Frequently these did match the shoes, but not always.


From the 17th-century until around the 1770s only aristocrats were entitled to have red heels on their shoes, as a status symbol. Buckles were the most common type of closure, but ribbons laced through holes in the lappets were also used. Most were constructed of fabric on a wooden sole, but in the 1770s again, kid leather became increasingly popular. Heels after the 1760s became narrower and higher, while retaining the Louis shape, which flared at top and bottom, and curved sensuously in the middle.


In the 1770s and 80s the top of the shoe began to curve upward, creating a profile that looked as if the foot were being arched up out of the shoe. As hemlines rose with the Polonaise and similar fashions, shoes were increasingly seen, and assumed more variety in materials. Towards the end of the 1780s heels began to lower, and be forced inward under the foot more. Some slipped on without the use of lappets or laces, paving the way for the low slippers of the Directoire period.


One style that shows up again and again in paintings is the mule. A backless, slip-on shoe that research suggests was only worn indoors, or in the privacy of a residential garden. They originated in France and could be either formal or informal. Impractical, due to their tendency to slip off the foot, they exemplified the frivilous nature of many eighteenth century styles. For some truly wonderful examples of mules, and eighteenth century shoes in general. I refer you to The Bata Shoe Museum website (http://eng.shoe-icons.com/museum/objects.htm?age=41&page=1).

For anyone interested in modern reproductions of eighteenth century shoes see either of the sites below.

Sarah Juniper Shoes http://www.sarahjuniper.co.uk/18c.html

Plantagenet Shoes http://www.plantagenetshoes.freeserve.co.uk/home.htm

Friday, July 17, 2009

July 16, 1779



Letters, letters, and more letters! One from maman saying now that though they will join me in Paris they will travel up separately after I have had a chance to “prepare for them”; in which case I do hope she will inform me as to what preparations they will need that I have not already allowed for. T- writes at last to say that the reacquisition is much talked of in Riom, and people are hoping for my success without much confidence in its feasibility. I shall hope to prove them wrong. Mme Le S-B writes that she can provide for the necessary servants, but would need wages up front for them before they even begin, which is problematic in that the cost of preparing for the journey alone is burdensome without having to pay people in advance for work not yet accomplished.

My order from the lingerie shop did finally arrive, and despite my initial tendency to be critical I find it very much to my satisfaction, and can hardly wait to put it to use. I have sent word to my marchande des modes and dressmaker that with the exception of my traveling outfit all order should be held and will be picked up or sent for once I reach Paris. I really must find a good wigmaker and hairdresser; that is essential.

The weather has turned stormy overnight and I doubt if I shall leave the chateau for the remainder of the day. There are more than enough letters for me to occupy myself with in the meantime. Which reminds me, I am still debating M. Saint Mikkael’s suggestion; if I invite him I also invite the potential for further expectations of intimacy, and if I do not I will establish my character as harsh and unforgiving. Prudish, even, which I dare say I am not. At this most delicate time in negotiations I can ill-afford any kind of negative reputation. Versailles may well respect me more for a whisper of scandal, than they would for glacial purity.

Olympe, Comtesse

Thursday, July 16, 2009

July 15, 1779



Other than word of our victory in Grenada, very little news for today. Still nothing from T-, though surprisingly a letter from M. Saint-Mikkael did arrive inquiring after my health. He is apparently still at Adrienne’s, but admits to his own upcoming journey to Paris, and suggests a visit in Auvergne on his way. I find his request presumptuous in light of his behavior in Briancon, but may consider in spite of that in order that I might give him the opportunity he seeks to redeem himself. He does assert that it was caused by an unfortunate misreading of my attentions towards him, so perhaps he is not entirely to blame.

Rode out for a while today, reviewed the nearest fields and took charity to a few families in need of assistance, at the suggestion of Abbe Veronde. I regret that I will be leaving Auvergne just as autumn begins, as that really is the prettiest season here. Today was very warm, but a late shower has cooled the air considerably.

The date of departure looms far too quickly and it seems increasingly impossible to adequately prepare in the time remaining. I suspect that quite a few things will have to be sent to me after I arrive.
Olympe, Comtesse

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

July 14, 1779



Very weary tonight, but I will stay awake long enough to record that I sent a letter to maman today inviting she and both of my brothers to join me on my trip to Paris. I will have quite a large enough residence for the three of them, and it may aid Andre in finding a useful profession. We will, however, have to arrange for a tutor for Matthieu, who is ever in need of schooling.

I finished reading M. de la Chalotais proposal and find it very elucidating. I do not agree with him on all points, but in general his plan of study would seem to be beneficial to all classes of society from laborers to young nobles, and rather than setting them against the honorable pursuits of their fathers, help them to better understand and content themselves in the work which God has set before them.

I visited tenants today, wrote part of my petition, and sent a note regarding the servants I would be taking to Paris and those which would need to be provided. Hopefully Mme Le Sang-Boeuf will be able to aid me once more in procuring reliable help.

I also took some time to paint, but grew impatient part of the way through the composition and did not complete it. Perhaps tomorrow I will take it up again, but I would not wager much on it. It seems that less and less frequently do I desire to practice those arts of painting or music I once found so pleasant.

I miss T- and hope he will be able to return soon, but only for the best of reasons. I will close before I begin to ramble.

Olympe, Comtesse

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Countess' New Clothes 2



Another chemise has been completed, linen with woven lace and satin ribbon again. The neckline is of the square drawstring variety. A final chemise is already halfway completed and should be done within the week, which brings me to four total and should suffice for now. Silk stockings are on backorder.



A dig through the fabric collection has also yielded all of the fabric necessary for making the two pairs of stays (corsets) mentioned in a previous entry. I have not abandoned the quilted petticoat and bedgown, those projects are in the works as well, and once completed they will received their own post.


The important thing to remember is that neither one chemise nor one style of corset will suffice for all kinds of outfits. The type of chemise worn beneathe a court gown is not the same as what would be worn beneathe a polonaise, and for corsets this is particularly true as the desired shape changed according to function and style. One of the two corsets being made will go under Olympe's traveling outfit, and the other under a l'anglais.


For those who may be interested this is what gives the polonaise in Olympe's picture it's shape.

July 13, 1779



The flowers in my bedroom are fading, and I am reminded of how fast all things must fade, including summer. My friend Anne-Marie writes to tell me that her mother has fallen ill and she is obliged to spend much of her time caring for her. It serves to remind me that I may be more charitable and take my mother with me to Paris after all, that we may enjoy the time we have together before it is past.

The lingerie shop writes that my order is complete and on its way to me shortly following the letter. Nothing from T-, whom I assume is busy caring for his own ailing parent. “How precious the days that passing are…” I have sent him a book from my own library on the life of Julius Caesar, in the hopes that he may enjoy it and think of me.

Chevalier Guillame-Blaise de Crecy visited me this afternoon, after I had spent a pleasant morning in the gardens reading. He very clearly wanted to know every detail of the reacquisition, and I believe would have written the petition himself if he could. It is hardly a secret anymore, and I have no doubt that the reason for my journey to Versailles will be well-known before I ever arrive. I only hope that it will not provide sufficient time for my opponents to prepare against me the tricks I am certain they would attempt.

Olympe, Comtesse

Monday, July 13, 2009

July 12, 1779



Maman has brought to my attention that while at Versailles I would do well to visit my old school, Saint Cyr, and perhaps take them a present of some kind to show my gratitude. I’m sure the school could use money or books, and the girls may appreciate something a little less serious. It was a pleasant enough place, and I owe many friendships to its experience, at least as much as my education. So many years I spent there, away from my mother, though she did visit, and barely meeting my brother Andre until he was older. Perhaps that is the reason for the formality of our current relationship.

The date for my arrival in Paris has been set for Tuesday, August 10th, and I will likely stay until December at least, though I hope to return to Saint Saturnin in time for Christmas. If, however, it is expedient to remain there for the whole season then I will amend my plans.

I read and embroider and tomorrow, if the weather is fine, I may ride out to visit some tenants. Otherwise my time is occupied with preparing for this journey. I replied to Christine, and hope to receive a letter from her in response before I leave. As she will also be in Paris I have invited her to stay with me, but I know she has had other offers and may well choose a prior engagement.

I am finding M. La Chalotais proposal for national education to be of interest. Curious how the ideas put forward then are applied to education today. Now, however, I will sleep and work on the preparation of my own request tomorrow. I hope that the king will be as kindly disposed towards me as he was towards M. La Chalotais, with whom he had more reason to disagree.

Olympe, Comtesse

Sunday, July 12, 2009

La Chalotais and His 1763 Essay on National Education



Currently being read is the titular article on national education put forward by Louis-Rene de Caradeuc de la Chalotais in 1763. I have found it to be so far a fascinating read with some surprisingly modern ideas. It makes one realize just how progressive people could be in the eighteenth century. The author of the book in which it is contained makes mention of the fact that in 1843 a comparative study was made by a french official, which determined that there were actually fewer and less effective scholastic institutions (primary through university level) after the Revolution of 1789, than prior to it. Certainly those who were educated by the previous system don't necessarily seem to have been enamored of it; and one of La Chalotais chief complaints is that the proponderance of ecclesiastically-sponsored institutions were mainly concerned with the edification of the soul rather than the enlightenment of the mind, and therefore produced people with either highly-specialized or insufficient educations, who then went on to teach others, badly.

One wonders, of course, after such scathing criticism how he and others like Rousseau and Voltaire managed to become so enlightened as to critique these institutions. Then again, many of them procured their educations in various cities amongst many countries. He makes surprising mention of the differences between the educational psychology of adults and children, and also of the need for variety and the importance of an understanding of health and the benefits of physical exercise for children who will carry these habits forward with them in life.

While not actually excluding girls from his treatise, one does get the impression from the few specific mentions made of them that La Chalotais is mainly interested in the education of males, though he does state that while many of the subjects are suggested for girls as well, that they should in addition study those womanly virtues such as sewing, embroidery, and music.

Finally, the most interesting assertion so far, has been that children should be taught in ways that naturally excite their curiosity, and that education should, as far as is possible, be a hands-on experience involving movement, experimentation, models, and the lessons best learned from being wrong. The very idea that children learn as much from failure as success is, to my mind, very new, so I was pleased to see him express it. Nothing though has been more pleasant to me than to find that he believed children to form the most lasting impressions from their own experience, and that to this end they should not only study the stars and that which is far from their own daily comprehension, but also that some things, like literature and writing were best if left to them to articulate from their own lives. That writing down their own experience of a play or festival would be more beneficial than copying Plutarch's observations, is novel indeed.

For more information on the author of these statements himself I refer you to the link above which will take you to the Wikipedia article, whose statements I largely condone according to my own research.

Friday, July 10, 2009

July 10, 1779

There is a pleasant kind of fatigue produced by the fruitful efforts of a busy day. Such have been my last few days at home in Saint Saturnin. I have visited the nearest inhabitants, heard disputations, settled debts with creditors and merchants, paid my servants, and made provisions for the harvest season while I am away.

Only a month now until I journey north to Paris. The staymaker came yesterday and fitted me for two pairs of stays, which once completed will be sent ahead so that my gowns may be fitted off of them. I have sent an inquiry to the lingerie shop as it seems to me that my most recent order ought to be completed by now. We will see what answer they give.

Thierry, sadly, had to journey home to visit his father, who remains in poor health. No word on any of the commissions he has been working towards, but we both have hope that soon one will be offered; he for pride (as no man wants to be kept by his wife, like a lover) and I so that our marriage may at last be considered.

Settled into my bed, with my desk upon my lap, flowers from my own garden perfuming the air, and a low fire dwindling drowsily, I feel the contentment that only home can provide. I lack for few things that may constitute a general happiness in life. I only hope that I may always have the meand to bring such pleasure to those within my domain.

Why do people ever wish to leave home for larger cities?

Olympe, Comtesse

Busy, busy, busy

Olympe is preparing for her trip north in just less than a month. Also the powercord to her quill has gone awry, so we will be back with more updates shortly.

Stay tuned.

Monday, July 6, 2009

July 5&6, 1779


Spent the better part of the day traveling yesterday and arrived home to find that T- was here to greet me. We dined simply and retired early, nous restons ici.

Today T- had business and has been away most of the day, whilst I have attended to my own affairs. A meeting with my steward has confirmed the feasibility of renting the Hotel de Sully for my sojourn in Paris, and that simplifying my wardrobe will help matters immensely, therefore I will not have as many new things made as originally intended.

Maman continues to press me to take she and my brothers with me to Paris, which doubtless would be good for them, but difficult for me as they would only complicate an already delicate matter.

I am in the process of choosing swatches for those garments to be made, and responding to Christine’s latest letter. No news from the war in the colonies, or of our Layfayette, whom I trust is well. I begin to dread this trip, as I am no performer and much prefer the calmer, gentler atmosphere of home to the heady intricacies of court and capital. Still, I’m sure there will be many pleasant divertissements.
Olympe, Comtesse

Sunday, July 5, 2009

July 4, 1779



I continue to be rather weak and ill, but count on regaining my strength shortly as I am returning home to Saint Saturnin tomorrow. I have no idea if I shall return once recovered, but it may provide a very good opportunity to excuse myself for the remainder of the summer; the better to prepare for my journey next month.

A letter from Mme. Le Sang-Boeuf informs me that amongst other properties the Hotel de Sully is available and so I have written her to request details and may settle there. Located on the Place Royale, it should provide adequate access to the city while still being private enough for my pleasure. If furnished I will likely only need to purchase a few items and provide some servants.

I attended mass this morning, and took the precaution of asking the priest to hear my confession. Marianne has packed nearly all of my things, and anything else we can send for if needed. I sent a note to T- informing him of my imminent arrival, and so hopefully he will be at Saint Saturnin to visit me. I believe that his company would greatly improve my spirits as well as my health.

Olympe, Comtesse

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Battle of Grenada


On this July 4th it would be easy to talk about the Declaration of Independence and its consequences for France, but instead let us recall that on July 4, 1779 the American War for Independence raged on and at the British-controlled island of Grenada they met the French fleet in a lesser-known battle.


For months in the West Indies British Admiral Byron had been cautious about keeping near to Grenada, but when he left to safeguard a trade convoy in June the French Comte d'Estaing seized the opportunity to capture first St. Vincent and then Grenada (Grenade) on July 4th. Two days later on July 6th, Byron returned too late to prevent them, and engaged the French in a naval battle which ended in a French victory. Subsequently the war in the West Indies died down, but the victory was much-sensationalized in France and several styles were created a la Grenade to celebrate, usually involving the display of a pomegranate motif.


The word Granada is from the latin word granatus "seeded", hence pomegranate or "seeded apple". It shares etymological roots with "Grenade" which is shaped like a pomegranate, and "Grenadine", which is a syrup originally made from pomegranate juice. Finding that the island reminded them of Andalusian Spain, sailors named the island Grenada after Granada in Spain.

Friday, July 3, 2009

July 3, 1779

It has taken me until today, really, to feel better. The other guests were kind enough to cut flowers for me from the gardens and so my room is quite pleasant and full of color. I was feeling sufficiently well enough to leave my room, but then lapsed into a worse state than before. My head and stomach hurt so, it was hard to sleep. Today I am weak, but well enough to dress and take a small turn in the gardens.

I have accomplished little other than to rest in the past few days, and received letters from T-, my steward and one rather terse one from my mother. She would like me to expend my money and influence to aid my brother, Andre, to make his fortune in the world. I continue to say that not only can I not, but I would not, for he is as likely to squander it as any man I have ever met. If he showed any true inclination to apply himself to a profession I would be only too happy to assist him, but as it is, I do not trust him to know his own course.

I will answer Christine’s latest letter soon, and press Mme le Sang-Boeuf for a decent residence while I am in Paris. This must all be resolved soon. I do hope that T’s prayers for a commission are soon answered as well.

I am tired and must rest again. If fervent prayer has any effect then all will be right very soon.

Olympe, Comtesse

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Institution of the Levee


The engraving to the left is one that I find particularly evocative of eighteenth century aristocratic culture. It is after Nicolas Lavreince II, a Swedish artist, who did a lot of similarly-themed works; and is a very suitable visual for the discussion of The Morning Levee, which I told you we would get back to.

Amongst fashionable society in the eighteenth century a woman might rise as late as eleven o'clock, perhaps take some hot chocolate, which was a very popular morning refreshment, and as soon as she was partially clothed she would begin to receive visitors in a sort of ritualized informality as she continued to dress.


A quote from Dangerous Liasons: Fashion and Furniture in the 18th Century describes the situation beautifully:-
"The toilette was a semipublic event in which an individual presided over the construction of his or her appearance while connducting a variety of interactions with a steady stream of visitors. These might include both casual and intimate acquaintances, household staff, tailors or milliners in the process of completing commissions, artists or writers in search of patronage, and sellers of a wide range of luxury goods...Moreover, by controlling the point at which visitors were received, the duration of their stay...a woman could communicate very specific degrees of intimacy or closeness. For instance a close friend might be admitted alone, while her hostess was still bare of makeup, and invited to sit close to the dressing table...In contrast a creditor might be summoned to a roomful of people during the final stages of the dressing process and made to wait, standing by the door, before being dismissed without payment."


Far more accounts and depictions of women's Levees survive than men's, it seems, and this is not a custom that appears to have been much practiced while visiting in someone else's home, which is why we haven't seen Olympe practice this ritual yet; and this makes sense if we conclude that the entire performance (for such it surely was) was predicated upon a concept of personal ownership, not only of the person it centered upon, but also of the objects, furniture, and atmosphere surrounding them. In short, it was a power play designed for the highly controlled domain of one's personal kingdom. People entered your home, you granted them an audience and determined its parameters, and then you dismissed them at your leisure.

It is very easy to see how this evolved from court ettiquette surrounding the daily activities of the King, and is not surprising that the aristocracy would want to mimic and in some way own such condescension.

Perhaps when we arrive in Paris Olympe will have her own Levee. For now, we are still searching for a residence. If only our cousin, Godefroy, had not squandered so much money on his mistress and been forced to sell the Hotel d'Evreux we might have been able to stay there. As it is we hear the Place Louis XV has some nice new residences; but that is a story for another post...

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Countess' New Clothes 1

In August Olympe will travel to the capital, so if you've been following this diary you know that she is having new clothes made, and some old ones reworked. What you may not know is that in so far as is possible, the clothes really are being made.

I began with a chemise, 100% linen, cotton lace, satin ribbon, 100% handsewn. It has a wide square-cut neckline and 3/4 length tight sleeves, suitable for wearing under a robe a l'anglais or caraco or anything with the tight sleeves of the late 1770s and later. Two more chemises are in the works, these with the looser, gathered sleeves to the elbow, also in linen.


To follow there will be a quilted petticoat in cream satin with pink stitching and a deep pink ruffle at the hem. As well as a "Mantelet au lever de l'aurore", a dressing gown.
Fabric and trim for these last two projects is pictured here and is in shades of sage green, cream, champagne, and coral pink. I will post the design shortly.

Of course it won't end there. I'll follow with corsets, wigs, petticoats, hats, and whole new outfits. Stay tuned for more pics and progress!