On Facebook recently, I was asked to post about a different sort of visual inspiration: my heroine’s clothing. Emma, the heroine of The Garden Intrigue, is at the forefront of the Paris fashion scene. Like her role model, Josephine Bonaparte, her chosen color is white.
The white dress was to 1804 Paris what the little black dress is to modern New York. In this painting of a frolic in the gardens of Malmaison, you can see the overwhelming preponderance of white dresses among the ladies:
In Paris, unlike London, diaphanous and clingy were in. Emma’s dresses would have looked much like the one being modeled in this 1804 portrait of the wife of Napoleon’s foreign minister, Talleyrand:
To get a sense of just how fine the fabric was– and how beautiful the detail– you can click here to see a close-up of Betsy Patterson’s 1804 dress now in the Metropolitan Museum’s costume collection. (Personal side note: as a high school student, I interned in the Met’s costume collection and got to play with dresses very much like this one. The level of detail and the delicacy of the fabric are incredible. It amazes me that they’ve survived.)
Here’s the whole dress:
Emma doesn’t always wear all white. Sometimes, she wears a colored tunic over an embroidered underdress, as in this picture of her frenemy, Caroline Murat:
Being a small person, Emma likes to build up her height with feathered headdresses, like the one in this picture. And, like Josephine in this 1805 portrait, Emma is very fond of sparkly accessories:
The jewelry of the period tended to be large and gaudy– and Emma was all about that. This set of blue pressed glass cameos is exactly the sort of thing I could imagine her wearing for a weekend at Malmaison:
Although I searched, sadly, I couldn’t find a good picture of the scandalous French fashion for open sandals and diamond or cameo toe-rings. But I’m sure you can picture it!
Only two more weeks until The Garden Intrigue!