Saturday, 5 November 2016

Medea - The Versatile LWD - Roman Style

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman can never be too fine wearing white mousseline.

The LittleWhiteMuslinDress of the period is one of my favourite period wardrobe staples, as it can be upgraded and downplayed with a few well placed accessories. It is an upper class or Sunday garment, as practical work is rather out of the question, though with train or without, I love the simple elegant flowing lines the LWMD creates.

My current favourite is last years Roman Style Dress, or Medea, as I nicknamed her after the first wear. She was created originally as a ball dress, but with the objective to be worn to elegant promenades as well. 
Last year in April, my friends C & F organised a most beautiful Bal de Souscription (Read Sabines report for more details), and amidst sewing for musicians and one other dancer, I thought that I actually also would love a new dress, preferably without train, even if trained dresses were still very much seen on the dancefloor. 
© The British Museum, Acc. No 1856,0712.609

A bit earlier I fell in love with this painting, respectively her dress, the hem. And her veil. And the flowers. In short: the whole ensemble.
Anonyme portrait of a lady, presumably Caroline Murat.
Collection of the Château de Malmaison, and she also served as the poster girl for the Musée Marmottans Exhibition "Napoleons Sisters, Three Italian Destinies"

The only problems were the sleeves, as lovely as they were, I planned to wear my dress to a ball, where dancing would start at 4 in the afternoon until midnight. By the experience of our monthly and bi-weekly rehearsals it wouldn't be a walk in the park, but a sportive event, and I would need my full sleeve chemise as underwear to prevent stains on the dress.

That's when this painting, what went on sale at Sotheby's in the months before the ball came to my help: closed sleeves, and another hint that I will need a red shawl in the future.

Henri-Pierre Danloux

My dress itself is unlined, made from sheer Swiss cotton (very sheer). The bodice is as lowly cut as
the  one of the beauty from Malmaison, and the hem features a more time saving approach to the zigzags, by simple chain stiching. It's front closing with drawstrings, and generally a wonderful no-fuss dress, apart of the fact that one needs a petticoat underneath, a chemise on it's own will not do.

It worked a threat at the ball, and when I did my hair (I bought flowers for my head and ended up handing them out to ladies with greater need than I) I turned to my friends and asked 'Do I look like a crazy tragic actress personifying Medea in all her madness? Yes? Excellent.' That's where the dress received its name.

© Jeanette Klok-Heller

And did it work for dancing? Oh yes. It was light. It was flowing, it made me feel like a goddess, even when I started to become very very footsore

© Eliane Caramanna
© Jeannette Klok-Heller

And now we come to the versatility of it: 

Promenade prior to the ball? Add a shawl/Schall/Châle and you are good to go.
© Sabine Gaus /

A Summery afternoon in a landscape garden? Capote with veil and shawl in coquelicot, beige gloves and some corals makes if elegant yet not overdone for an outing out of town

© Fabrice Robardey
As I've said, this dress has become one of my well loved favourite dresses. It takes so little to turn a whole outfit upside down: 

Again, very casual during a visit to Bagni di Lucca. (And finally one can see the zigzags!) with a little jacket and a hat by the wonderful Charo Palacios who runs her own atelier Angelica Absenta
Picture © Antonia Mandic
But only a couple of hours later we sat in a beautiful little opera house in Barga, and casual wouldn't do for me. Off came the jacket and the hat, drape the shawl over one shoulder and enjoy the show (and thank the gods that you did a proper updo before you put your hat on...)
© Keane /

© Coltrane Koh at
© Coltrane Koh at
I am on the first range of boxes, on the right :-)

You see, I am an advocate of the Little White Dress, and even more so if the Little White Muslin Dress for earlier period. Cotton muslin is easy on the budget. It washes well (pre-wash it before you cut your dress!), can be embellished with some white embroidery (if you feel up to it) and depending on the accessories results in so many beautiful and different outfits.

There is close to no occasion where you will be out of place (Attending court wouldn't do. But I speak of more Bourgeois occasions), where you won't feel pretty and fresh and elegant. 

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Trouvaille: Mlle Chevigny

There is woeful little information, though had a rather long career (especially if compared with the tragic end of young Mlle Chameroy), but maybe that is the reason why she was less celebrated later in life than Mlle Chameroy was in death? 

Contemporary reviews are very favourable though, as much as the poem what opens this post is flattering, though apart from two costume sketches I couldn't find any other picture of the celebrated dancer turned actress. The poem refers of her return, apparently she was absent from the stage due to illness, and returned two years later, of a slightly fuller figure, what removed her from the dancers limelight towards acting.

Costume sketches of the ballet the Le Retour d'Ulysse, (Return of Ulysses) in 1807 (You can read a review in English here). The last figure on the first picture is Eurydée, the wet nurse of Penelope who recognises Ulysses, the role performed by Mlle Chevigny, for what she earned much praise.
On the right, Mlle Chevigny in the role of Eurydée

Just because Berthélémy's drawings are so nice, a second one. Not picturing Mlle Chevigny
Details & source: 

Titre :  
[Le retour d'Ulysse : trois pl. de costumes / par Jean-Simon Berthélémy] 
Auteur :  
Berthélémy, Jean-Simon (1743-1811). Dessinateur 
Date d'édition :  
Identifiant :  
Source :  
Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Bibliothèque-musée de l'opéra, D216-2 (4-6) 
Relation :  
Le retour d'Ulysse : ballet héroïque en trois actes / chorégraphie et argument de Louis Milon. - Paris : Théâtre de l'Opéra-Montansier, 27-02-1807 
Relation : 
Provenance :  
Bibliothèque nationale de France 

And of L'enfant prodigue, (the prodigal son) the second figure from the left

The second from the left, in yellow tunic

Titre :  
[L'enfant prodigue : trois pl. de costumes / par François-Guillaume Ménageot] 
Auteur :  
Ménageot, François-Guillaume (1744-1816). Dessinateur 
Date d'édition :  
Identifiant :  
Source :  
Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Bibliothèque-musée de l'opéra, D216-3 (10-12) 
Relation :  
L'enfant prodigue : ballet-pantomime en trois actes / décors de Jean-Baptiste Isabey. - Paris : Théâtre de l'Opéra-Montansier, 28-04-1812 
Relation : 
Provenance :  
Bibliothèque nationale de France 

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Trouvaille: Mlle Chameroy

And again in the Journal what would be end of December 1803.
A very beautiful portrait of Mlle Chamroy is on sale at Mad. Masse, the papetière (a papeterie is a boutique, where paper and writing tools are sold), at Rue Helvéticus, near Louvois.

Sounds intriguing. A reference to a Mlle Chameroy, but who was she, and who would have known her? As it happens - everyone would. It's as if today you'd say "a photo of Amy Winhouse". Even if you'd never saw a performance, you'd know that she was famous, and died tragically young just a couple of years ago.
It's the same thing here. Mlle Marie-Adrienne Chameroy was another young star of the ballet scene, but died tragically young in childbirth; Laure Junot mentioned her death in her memoirs. (my comments are in brackets. For the complete memoirs follow the link. Laure Junot's memoirs need to be taken Cum Grano though...)

Apropos of the pirouetttes of Mademoiselle Chameroy, an event connected with her had recently made much noise. The poor girl pirouetted no longer in this world. She was dead, had died in childbed... attended and greatly lamented by Vestris. (We just read about Mme Vestris...) The Curé (priest) of Saint Roch deemed the profession of the deceased and the manner of her death (in childbirth, while still being a "Miss") doubly scandalous, and in all charity refused her admission within the pale of the church.

Though can we take Mme Junot's word for gospel? The auctionhouse Invaluable, who sold this miniature of Mlle Chameroy in May 2016 thinks so: 
After her death in childbirth at 23, her funeral, which was to take place at the Church of Saint Roch, attracted a large crowd of her fans. When the doors of the church remained closed, the rumor spread that the priests there had refused to perform the service because of Mlle. Chameroy's profession. A near-riot ensued, only calmed by the soothing words of the actor Joseph Albouy Dazincourt of the Comedie Francaise. The funeral procession then continued to the church of St. Thomas, where the funeral took place. 

Marie-Adrienne Chameroy (1779-1802) made her debut as a dancer at the Paris Opera in 1796 as Terpsichore in the ballet Psyche. Considered one of the most beautiful dancers in the corps, she attracted many admirers for her grace and vivacity. 

Monday, 17 October 2016

Trouvaille: Little Helpers to gather sleeves gracefully

Already for a couple of days jewellers are making diamond (possibly paste?) rings, what ressemble earrings: these rings are made to be threaded through a practical eyelet in the sleeve of a pretty woman, to gather and lift that sleeve with grace:
It's a famous painter who thought this fashion up.

Sadly LeMésangère doesn't share with us, what painter. But as Mme Vigée Lebrun painted Mme Vestris with such a sleeve decoration, I think it was already wider spread in 1803, and made its way out from the pages of a journal where it has already been publicised earlier to the canvas of expensive and famous painters.


Description of the nmwa webpage: The identity of this woman is far from certain although some scholars believe that she might be Anne Catherine Augier Vestris (1777–1809), a French dancer who went by the stage name Aimée. Anne Catherine was the wife of dancer Auguste Vestris, who came from a famous family of performers. 

An 11, Tunique de Grande Parure 

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Trouvaille: Dancing is soo complicated and tiring these days...

That's January 16, 1804
Dancing today is so complicated, so intricate and fatiguing, that in an assembly twenty good dancers meet four good gentlemen dancers: after five or six years of training, a dancer is exhausted; the ladies, who are more graceful by making less of an effort, or rather to whom this kind of exercise is more favorable, the ladies, as I say, are dancing well, dancing much and are dancing for a long time.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Trouvaille: The Velletri Pallas, the Blockbuster in December 1803

Just imagine, how wonderful it would be if you are meeting in 'Good Society'*, and the topic of choice isn't the weather, but art. And even better, ancient Roman art!

One cannot present oneself in good society* these days without saying something about the Pallas of Velletri, and without reciting some passages from Valérie, the latest fashionable novel.

We've already read a little bit about Valérie in a recent post, but what is so special about the Pallas Velletris?  

I am sure that you have seen pictures of the Velletri Athena, even without knowing her name: 

C Wikimedia Commons
A print from 1810, at the V&A 

© The V&A  

She was discovered near Velletri in Lazio in 1797, and entered the collection of the Musée Napoléon** in December 1803. This translates that this wonder if the antique world made her appearance just days before this issue of the Journal des Dames was published. If you have ever stood in front of this imposing goddess (or a copy of it), who appears serene, beautiful, knowing, offering shelter, you understand how she became the talk of society. She was the embodiment of this new era, of a period when the spirit of consular Rome was considered to be the guiding light.

Monsieur being spellbound by a copy of her a couple of years back. The plaster copy's home is in the collection of the University of Bern, Switzerland.
© A. Reeves

More modern information can be found on the Louvre's website: 

* the 'Bonne Société was defined by Helmina de Chezy, a contemporary observer and society correspondent as members of former court circles, of good society, but actively excluding Nouveaux Riches who obtained their fortuned by speculation during the revolution. 

** The Musée Napoléon is known today as The Louvre. But back in 1803 the collection was renamed Musée Napoléon. By the way - did you know you can also search the Louvres Collection database online? 

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Trouvaille: a little less in the head

It's no secret that I along with other people love good zingers (Dowager duchess, I'm looking at you...), and for anyone with such a taste, the Journal des Dames is a treasure trove, usually signed off by Centyeux. (Nom du plume of the editor)
Sadly not everything translate well into English, but I'll love such snippets, and I'd like to share:

That reads 27 December 1803, as usual courtesy of the BNF

An elegant fop's hair is blockingly cut at the front, and rather short/shaved on the sides: on top of the head the hair is cut high and teased into the shape of fishbones; on the sides there is some sort of empty bit named Luck's Way, at the forehead a bushel of hair falls down to the eyes, another bunch falls in curls like a tail. 
That is the description of current styles given by Mr Crépon (creper = teasing hair, Crepon = hair rat), the wig maker. This analysis leads to the conclusion that there is much to say about the outside of a fop's head: there would be much less to analyse on the inside. 
O cerebrum caput etc....

P.S.: I'm by no means well equipped using use hair dressers terms, but to me it reads as some sort of 1980ies mullet hairdo ;-)