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Versailles and fashion

mardi 23 janvier 2018

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  • La Modiste (La marchande des modes; Le matin), François Boucher, Wallace Collection
    The Modiste (La marchande des modes; Le matin), François Boucher, Wallace Collection
    (C) The Wallace Collection, Londres, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / The Trustees of the Wallace Collection

At once a birthplace of dress codes, a source of inspiration and a showcase, the Palace of Versailles – a royal residence, a place of power and intrigue, creativity and passion – has always been at the heart of fashion. Laurence Benaïm tells the story in a book recently published by Editions Flammarion.

The concept of fashion was born in Versailles out of a combination of etiquette and games of seduction: kings and courtesans dictated the ways clothes were used, queens and favourites competed in their inventiveness in order to stand out and assert their supremacy. Appearance became a means of communication that sparked a breathtaking pace in changing movements and tastes in clothing. From the Marquise of Montespan to Marie-Antoinette, elegance required that one set trends as well as wear them, to be in the public eye and to show off, to transform accessories into essentials.


Reception of Condé in Versailles by Louis XIV, Jean-Léon Gérôme
(C) RMN-Grand Palais (musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski


The influence of the palace in every period is tangible in the extent to which designers and couturiers draw from the resources of this emblematic place. All the major fashion houses have presented collections in a nod to – or even fully and nominally dedicated to – the splendour of Versailles or one of its illustrious residents. The ambiance of the palace is a perfect match for the inventiveness of such great couturiers as Jacques Doucet, Christian Dior, Yves Saint-Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld, enhancing all their creations.


Maria-Luisa (dite Coré), John Galliano
(C) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / image of the MMA


Versailles is also a setting, with its theatres, alcoves and gardens the perfect backdrops for staging fashion shows, stories and films. A symbol of typically French refinement, it is also a diplomatic venue for hosting key figures from around the world. Photographers, advertisers and directors have all made use of the mirror effect between the building and their subjects in order to recreate and showcase the magic of this enchanting place.


the Hall of Mirrors, Palace of Versailles
(C) RMN-Grand Palais (Château de Versailles) / Gérard Blot


It is this never-ending show, both in-situ and on coated paper, that is given pride of place in this book brimming with iconography that goes back in time in order to best demonstrate the timeless modernity of Versailles.

Versailles et la Mode (Versailles and fashion) by Laurence Benaïm, journalist and author. "Style & Design" Collection by Flammarion, a joint publication with the Palace of Versailles.