Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Empire Strikes Back: Josephine Bonaparte

First wife, consort and empress to Napoleon Bonaparte, Josephine was born Marie Josephe Rose Tascher de la Pagerie on the Caribbean island of Martinique in 1763. I've always had a love for Napoleon, but admittedly I first fell in love with Josephine when my colleage/co-blogger had presented me with the wonderful gift of The Josephine B. Trilogy by Sandra Gulland. Though a fictional series based on the life and times of the empress, Josephine, next to Marie Antoinette, became one of my favourite ladies in history.

This Caribbean queen, while not know for her great beauty (which seems to be a recurring theme among my fashion queens), Josephine was known for her elegance, charm and mature style. Admirers noted her ideal figure, liquid like movement, and musical voice. Coincidentally, Josephine had arrived in France when the "back to nature" style was very much en vogue. This more simple and natural style was made popular by the Bourbon queen Marie Antoinette (as immortalized in this Vigée Le Brun painting), and was only natural to Josephine, as it was a style closer to the what was worn in her native Martinique. The much more natural shape of these 'shepherdess' styled dresses were flattering to the mature style of Josephine. She was also known to wear flowers and feathers in her hair and as accessories. 

While married to her second husband, Napoleon, Josephine brought the style of shawls to the French fashion forefront. Perhaps influenced by her husband Napoleon, who frowned upon her wearing the very a la mode muslin (a British product), Josephine resorted to other materials, including her favourite accessory, the cashmere shawl. She is said to have owned hundreds, and shawls came to replace fans as the new "it" accessory. 

Josephine helped popularized a much more relaxed, yet still elegant and regal style of dress. Out were the stiff ball gowns symbolic of the Ancien Regime, Josephine and other fashionable ladies of the Napoleonic Empire sported the neoclassic (fashion paralleled the art style of the time, with lines and forms popular in ancient Rome and Greece once again becoming in fashion)."empire waist" look, which is still popular to this day.

If you would like an amazing read, check out The Josephine B. Trilogy by Sandra Gulland, available widely in stores and online. For a great blog dedicated to the empress, check out Also, while searching the web I came across this site detailing an exhibit all about Napoleonic fashion that had been on display in Milan, if you'd like to take a gander! There are some great photos on there.

Until next time!


fefe xx

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