Monday, 7 January 2019

Noble Enemies of Rose Bertin

The woman who would become known as Marie Antoinette's "minister of fashion" was introduced to court and quickly became a household name. Her extravagant creations caused heads to turn; unfortunately, the creator's own head appears to have been turned by her sudden rise to the highest echelons of French society. Before long her haughtiness became legendary and earned her the enmity of a score of aristocrats. 

The Baronne d'Oberkirch was outraged at the middleclass woman's behaviour. In her memoirs, the Baronne describes her as "thinking herself equal to the princesses". 

Rose's behaviour were such as many at court had never seen the like before. One notable instance was when she ran into a certain Julie Picot in the Hall of Mirrors. Julie Picot had worked for Rose Bertin and had used her position to gather clients for herself - and slander her employer. By this point the two were no longer on speaking term and when Bertin discovered that Picot had been allowed into the queen's apartments she was furious. In a fit of rage, Rose spat in her face. The two were separated by the guards and Rose was fined for her misdemeanor. Some of the aristocratic onlookers were simply amused; others thought it was a proof of the baser characteristics of her social class.

Indeed, her sense of equality with those around her was shown in rather brazen acts. When the Duchesse de Cossé - then acting dame d'atours - was presented with the bills for some clothing delivered to Marie Antoinette, the duchesse refused to pay thinking them too exuberant. In an act of defiance Rose Bertin went straight to the queen instead. By-passing a duchesse in such a rude manner could only have made her even more unpopular in the strictly hierarchical Versailles.

The political views of the milliner caused more enmity to brew - on both sides. For the monarchists it was not merely the fact that she was not an aristocrat; that could be accepted (but not forgotten) if she had acted with more humility. It was far more the fashions that she provided to Marie Antoinette. The most daring piece was the chemise à la Reine which was far too plain for a queen of France - at least in the eyes of the supporters of the Ancien Regime. While some pointed the finger of blame at the queen herself, others chose the less risky course of blaming her milliner. 

The lower classes watched with a mixture of envy and disdain. To them, it seemed that she merely encouraged a spendthrift nobility, thus adding fuel to the fire.

Even those who were more socially equal to Bertin agreed that the "minister of fashion" had lost touch with her background. The infamous writer Théveneau de Morande said of her "nothing can equal the impertinence and arrogance of this lady since she has been admitted to intimacy of the queen..."

Billedresultat for rose bertin
Rose Bertin

Bertin certainly did all she could to make sure that no one forgot whom she also supplied. Her business cards and salons were soon covered with the words "supplier to the queen"; not even those who avoided her could be safe from her bragging of her "intimacy" with Marie Antoinette. Apparently, she enjoyed mentioning it often - and loudly - to most people she met; besides she was quite often at Versailles.

As Rose Bertin's visits with the queen became a fixed point in the court timetable, her ego led her to even turn away customers. A friend of the Vicomtesse de Fars - the wife of a lawyer - had consulted the salon of Bertin in the absence of the maestro herself. She had put down a large payment of 200 livres for a hat in a certain new style. Once she returned to her own residence, the would-be customer soon heard a knock and was greeted by a servant of Bertin's carrying a note. In it she was informed that the fashion mogul had no time for the wife of a lawyer since she was busy with the ladies of the court! One can only imagine the indignation of both the scorned customer and her more aristocratic friend.

Other reports details how Rose Bertin herself treated customers in her shop. A gossip magazine (and being such it should be taken with a grain of salt) from 1778 tells of a noble woman who went to her shop where she found the fashion maker reclining on a chaiselong. Without even getting up, Bertin merely nodded her head although etiquette demanded that she curtsy. Nor would she serve her herself; instead, she called one of the shop-girls and tasked her with showing "that lady" some of her new hats.
A rather similar account of a different date have Rose Bertin merely looking up and down a well-to-do lady before redirecting her to another shop-girl's attention.

By January 1787, news spread that send a smile across the faces of her enemies: the fashionista had gone bankrupt. This was not the end of her career, though, as her name was still famous throughout Europe. Some even attributed the notice of bankruptcy as a ruse on behalf of Bertin herself. In her defence, the upper class was notorious for being extremely tardy in their payments - if they ever paid at all.

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