Friday, May 23, 2014

The costuming bug bites

Every summer I have these grand plans about all the costumes I am going to make, and then I'm lucky if I get three done. Sometimes this is because of administrative things for the University, and sometimes it is due to my own distraction. Right now I should be building the Tudor Transitional project which has been on hold for months, or starting on the late-18th century travel outfit that was designed years ago. Instead I find myself with a strong desire to "knock out a sacque-backed gown" as if it were just that simple.

Nevertheless, I invite you to share in my distraction while I indulge in some of my favorite inspirations...

Princesse de Lamballe
This portrait of the Princesse de Lamballe is one of my favorites, with the cream lace over the soft lilac color, and the deep flounce at the hem. I go back and forth on whether or not I like the echelles-style stomacher, but the sleeves are luscious.
Speaking of sleeves, these ones from c.1760 have a really interesting lace pattern, gilt trim, and the scalloped edge that give them that wow-factor I know I'm drawn to.

I'm also drawn to this 1750s court dress, and the way the passementerie is really large at the front edges of the skirt, and then scaled back on the bodice. I'm a small woman, so large trims can overpower me if I'm not careful. Someday I will have a court dress like this, but that is not this project. Must stay focused!
It's the way the back pleats appear to hang off of the neckline trim on this 1775-80 ivory moire silk. There's a simple beauty to that which I cannot help wanting to recreate.
Finally, though this c.1780 sage gown is a different style, I think the color combination would be stunning with some taupe and gilt trim. It would also go with my sage-colored Georgianas from American Duchess.

Surely I can squeeze this project in, right? Maybe with a coordinating Bergere?


Saturday, May 3, 2014

May 2nd, 1784

There is much to report and I will begin by saying that I am in Paris, staying at present with my friend, Elizabeth, Comtesse de R-. Growing impatient with waiting for word from Versailles and Mme the Princess Elisabeth, I convinced Thierry that we must seize the reigns and take ourselves to town to fight for our opportunities.

A friend from the Ferme was able to find Thierry a small charge at court, and although he does not enjoy the position or the expectations of ettiquette, he is doing well in the eyes of all he meets; a rare thing for such a place!

Meanwhile I found out that it was one of the older harridans at court who had spoken against me, and told such lies that Mme Elisabeth was forced to refrain from inviting me to return. Mme A-, my enemy now in all things, had a young daughter whom she wished to place instead, and seems to have felt that my position was the one which would be simplest to obstruct.

So it was that I bent all my strength to the purpose of thwarting her. I gained the ear of the gentleman whose charge it was to oversee the Princess' household. This was achieved by finding out from Msr. Poisson that his mistress was pregnant and confined to her house near the Place Vendome. The lady, a Mlle. R-, reminded me of my friend Elizabeth's terrible boredom and frustration with being thus confined, and I thought that if I could make her acquaintance it might prove useful. But how to do so?

My maid, Marianne, was sent to deliver a letter and a book. A copy of La Nouvelle Heloise, which was so much in fashion only a few years ago, but the letter was to be addressed to me. Naturally this necessitated that Mlle. R- would need to find me to return both since there had been a mistake. I created a story that the address must have been given badly, and that the lady from whom they had been sent had a similar name to her. In recompense for her time and trouble I returned a basket of fruit, purchased at great expense from the person now living in the l'Hotel de Sully with its Orangerie. As hoped she sent back a note expressing her gratitude and inviting a visit, should I ever wish.

Naturally, I took her invitation to heart and feigned surprise at her condition, becoming very concerned for her and offering my assistance. We talked of many things, and soon she was telling me about her patron, and seemed relieved at my warmth. To stave off rumors that might abound from my visit I dispensed gossip with other acquaintances in the area, while delivering charity to the less fortunate in equal measure.

While accomplishing this connection, I also attended as many events as I could, was seen at the opera and balls, and attempted to be as charming as possible, while not offering any invitations at all. Many asked me how long I would be in town, or where I might take a house, and I told all who asked that there were plans I was not able to divulge at present. Soon the rumors swelled. It mattered little what I said or did, or how genuine I was, many would speculate wildly simply to say the newest thing. What mattered was that I was talked of.

In due course hearing of me, the Head of the Princess' Elisabeth's Household mus have mentioned me to his mistress, or she to him, but he sent me a letter requesting a meeting, and duly I answered and he came. I accepted his offer of a position as Lady to Mme Elisabeth and waited. Callers arrived, and messages of congratulations, for word travels quickly in Paris. A visit with the Princess herself was scheduled for the next day, and so I went; only to arrive and find a chagrined Princess who told me that the position had previously been promised to Mme A-'s daughter, and it was a promise which could not be broken.

Humiliated, I returned to my hostess, vowing to find a way to correct this wrong. Elizabeth agreed to help me, and she asked her husband, the Comte de R-, to use his influence to make the husband of the young woman an attache to the French ambassador to Milan, for he has many contacts there. Soon the young woman was packing for Milan instead of Montreuil.

Still not deterred Mme A- came to call on me and made the most horrendous accusations about my virtue and husband's claim to nobility, and left me in little doubt that the fight would be a long one. I feigned innocence, of course, and told her that I had nothing to do with the decision whether or not I serve my Princess. She then told me that another of her daughter's would serve in the other's stead, and I was not to interfere; which meant of course that I must.

The only thing which makes one more sought after than a new position at court is misfortune. I had more visitors offering their condolences in the days which followed than I had before, and I told them all about the threat of Mme A-, who they told me was known to be a drunk, and a discourteous person not well-liked by many. This meant that I must have other allies who would help me in destroying her ambitions. One such ally turned out to be Menars himself. Hearing of my rejection, he visited me and offered his support. The old woman had been rude to him on more than one occasion, and he deeply resented her insistence on interfering in court events.

Mme A-s next daughter was a tall, intelligent woman, married, with two young children already. Being of a steady nature, she would be difficult to discredit. She was, like her mother, ambitious. Menars bribed one of the Princess' footmen to report on a conversation between the two of them at their first meeting. He said that she expressed interest in founding a convent school, but lacked the resources to do so. A letter was written, anonymously, offering her the opportunity to take over care of the Convent of the Sacred Wounds in far Aix-en-Provence. Another "footman of the Princess'" delivered the letter, his hands liberally gilded to do so. Funds for her journey, a letter of introduction, and instructions not to delay, all convinced her of the genuine nature of this charge which could only come from Mme Elisabeth herself. If the companion letter sent to the convent itself does its work, it will be months before the lack of response from Versailles reveals this to have been a mistake. In the meantime her timely resignation letter will explain her absence.

Still, the old woman persisted with a third daughter. This one charming, jovial, and fat. She expressed her strong desire to serve the Princess, and her husband's already strong position at court meant that they were ill-inclined to leave it. Gossip was my rescue here. Soon it was being whispered in every corner and into every ear that Mme Elisabeth's "fat, new lady" would be unable to endure the strain of her schedule at Montreuil. Even the Princess herself began to have her doubts, while the mother blustered and blamed me, but the whisper never came from me; but only from all of the others who had cause to hate her. The only person I spoke to of it was the mistress. She whispered into her patron's ear, and he convinced the third daughter to attend to one of the King's aunts instead.

There was yet one more problem to solve. One more lady was put forward, and this time by another member of court, Mme A- now being discredited by all. Even as confusions swirled about why her second daughter had left court and who had sent her thither, a matronly lady of minor nobility was shuffled to the fore. One look at her and I knew I simply had to wait. Though her piety was sure to please her mistress, there was nothing else to recommend her, and the plan was soon given up and she was shuffled off again.

I asked to meet with the gentleman of the Household again, and was told that, should I still wish it, the position was mine. Mme A- leaves court in humiliation shortly, and her own lodgings are being prepared for me, as the Princess still does not reside at Montreuil in the evenings. Thierry will join me there, and together we will celebrate victory.

Olympe