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Tuesday, 25 February 2014

LFW at Waddesdon (feat. The Duchesse de Polignac)

Last week I went to London Fashion Week.

I know- I was as surprised as you are. If you want to see what I was up to you can see the video I made for XXY Magazine here. At the end, I ask people about YOLO and pizza, if that's your sort of thing.

Just having a cHAT

Many of the outfits I saw- especially in the Somerset House Courtyard- were vying to be controversial; almost-naked anime characters brought to life; fox tails; hats that trumped any Ascot headwear.

What does the fox say?

This got me thinking about some of the more ‘risqué’ outfits we have here at Waddesdon- (where I work as the Collections Assistant, if you haven't already picked that up!) and one in particular: the dress belonging to ‘Madame de Polignacin this gorgeous painting by Madame Vigeé-Le Brun.

Elisabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrunMartine-Gabrielle-Yoland de Polastron, The duchesse de Polignac (1745-1793), 1783; Waddesdon The Rothschild Collection (The National Trust) Bequest of James de Rothschild, 1957; acc. no. 2154 © The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor

This sweet little white number might not scream of controversy- it’s precisely the type of outfit some Victorian artists would later dress their vunerable virgins in- but in C18th France, this white percale dress, topped with a simple straw hat, caused a bigger stir than any busty corset or meat dress would on the red carpet today.

And here’s why:

Madame de Polignac (1749-1793), as you may know, was one of Queen Marie Antoinette’s favourites. Recently, revolutionary rumours that she was the Queen’s lover have resurfaced, with the release of ‘Farewell, My Queen’ in 2009. But, irrespective of her sexual preferences, she was part of the Queen’s inner circle, and would eventually become governess to Marie Antoinette’s children, spending much of her time indulging in an imagined life of a peasant with the queen at Trianon, pretending to milk cows, running through perfectly pruned fields, and playing on a purpose built carousel.

Trianon's very own working mill

This luxurious faux-poverty, exemplified by the women’s carefree outfits, highly angered the pre-revolutionary French public, showing them just how out of touch their rulers were. Similar images of the Queen herself, also by Vigeé-Le Brun, caused a scandal at the 1783 Salon (a public hanging of artworks a bit like the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition), and had to be taken off the walls.

Oil on canvas, Private collection of Hessische Hausstiftung, Kronberg, Germany

In some ways, it seems that we have become increasingly lax- think Miley or Madonna- but today just as then we have expectations of our state leaders. Imagine if the queen was spotted in a mini-skirt, or David Cameron starting wearing a fox tail! 

Au revoir mon petit choux
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  1. This was so interesting! I always learn so much from your posts!

    <3 Sam
    That Curious Cat

  2. Fox tails. In the plural? Is that a thing now?

    This was fascinating! Thank you.

  3. Ahh you guys! What do you think of the new font? I didn't realise how terrible the old one looked off a mac!
    E x

  4. Very interesting!

    Yasmeen x