Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Les Merveilleuses

I love visiting the Ladurée website – I would prefer to be in the shop, but I’ll take the second best option. Visiting this weekend, I found that Ladurée are celebrating Les Merveilleuses with the release of a special flavour of macaroon. But who are they? I’ve not heard of the féte les Merveilleuses before. So a little bit of research was in order. (some from Wikepedia)

Did you know about The Incroyables ("incredibles") and their female counterparts, the Merveilleuses ("marvelous women", roughly equivalent to "fabulous divas")? 

They were members of a fashionable aristocratic subculture in Paris during the French Directory (1795–1799). Whether as catharsis or in a need to reconnect with other survivors of the Reign of Terror, they greeted the new regime with an outbreak of luxury, decadence, and even silliness. They held hundreds of balls and started fashion trends in clothing and mannerisms that today seem exaggerated, affected, or even effete (decadent, self-indulgent). 

Many Incroyables were "nouveaux riches" who had gained their wealth from selling arms and money lending. Members of the ruling classes were also among the movement's leading figures, and the group heavily influenced the politics, clothing, and arts of the period. 

Ornate carriages reappeared on the streets of Paris the day after the execution (28 July 1794) of Maximilien Robespierre, which brought an end to the Reign of Terror and signalled the commencement of the Thermidorian Reaction. There were masters and servants once more in Paris, and the city erupted in a furor of pleasure-seeking and entertainment. Theaters thrived, and popular music satirized the excesses of the Revolution. 

Napoleon’s wife to be, Marie-Josèphe-Rose de Tascher de la Pagerie, was one of a small elite of remarkably gifted, charming and alluring young women around whom Parisian Society gathered at the close of the eighteenth century.

Out of the chaos of the Revolution and the Terror, French society slowly started to collect itself. A subculture of aristocratic and fashionable young people established themselves around the “salons” held by these women of means, charm and education. They provided the setting for a society of shared political allegiances, cultivated conversation, parties, balls and amorous dalliances. They attended the theatre and drew attention to themselves in public by adopting a supposed simplicity of dress – or as one wit described it “undress”.

 “Les Merveilleuses” – literally, the Marvellous or Wonderful, cultivated garments based on the almost transparent, body-revealing garments of Greek and Roman sculpture and even the Roman hairstyles of tumbling curly hair. The boldest of these women, Madame Hamelin, whose portrait by Andrea Appiani is in the Napoleon exhibition, notoriously appeared in public virtually naked beneath the flimsiest of muslin dresses, sometimes bare-breasted. The young widow Rose de la Pagerie, the Vicomtesse de Beauharnais, was less extreme in her dress than her friend Madame Hamelin – although no less alluring.

Initially the wearing of simple Greek and Roman-like garments served to reinforce Revolutionary rejection of the excesses of the AncienRégime, and nakedness in art signalled purity, however the sheer garments of Les Merveilleuses – their simplicity notwithstanding – were decidedly erotic.


Jeanie said...

This is fascinating and I had no idea. I realize with woeful embarrassment that apart from knowing there was a revolution, a Napoleon and all that, my knowledge of French history is primarily stuck in the World Wars! This sounds divinely decadent -- and no wonder they came up with their own macaron!

Ironically, one of my verification words for this post is "Lovers" which seems fitting -- whether referring to the decadent French or the wonderful macarons!

skiourophile said...

That's so interesting, Tamara. Imagine dressing like that before decent heating! (I too love to look at the Laduree website. Drool...)