Historic Fashion Prints-Mme. Bertin

Continuing an overview of books in the library’s Rare and John Ringling collections to be included in the 18th and 19th Century Fashion Exhibit, let’s take a look at…

Un Ministre des Modes sous Louis XVI, Mademoiselle Bertin: Marchande de Modes de la Reine, 1743-1813. By Pierre de Nouvion amd Emile Liez, illustrated by G. Ripart. Published by Henri Leclerc, Paris. 1911.

This fantastic volume is a biography of Rose Bertin, the famed “Minister of Fashion” to Marie Antoinette. Nouvion focuses mostly on Bertin’s life during her relationship with Marie Antoinette, though the book contains valuable information about Mme. Bertin‘s family life and childhood, as well as her life during and after the Reign of Terror. Bertin’s rise to prominence as history’s first recognized fashion designer has been recounted numerous times, but Nouvion’s biography is important simply because it is one of the first accounts. In addition to the biography, Nouvion reprints information from Bertin’s store account books: itemized lists of what her patrons ordered from her. These lists include descriptions of the individual garments, the dates the order was placed, as well as the price for individual items and the total prices. Bertin saw her creations in fabric as art, and her prices reflected the idea that she was selling wearable art, not just a day dress or a ball gown. These documents give a clear idea of how extravagant fashion in the decades before the French Revolution had become, as well as the fact that Bertin was clothing all the royalty of Europe, not just the French- her reputation was international.

The addition that makes this biography really special is the 12 hand-colored plates created by G. Ripart. 11 of the plates are oval and all are portraits. One portrait is of Rose Bertin, another two portraits of Marie Antoinette. The remaining nine portraits depict ladies hat styles from 1776-1790, as designed and influenced by Rose Bertin.

Our copy of the book is marked number 299 out of the original 400 copy run. This book was donated to the library in 1970 by the Friends of the Museum. Below are the plates created by G. Ripart- enjoy the fashions of the world’s first acclaimed fashion designer!

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