Rose Bertin – Fashion designersSeptember 5, 2015
Have you ever wondered where fashion design and haute couture started?Who were the first couturiers? How far would we need to go back to find out? Well we could start with 18th century France and the court of Marie Antoinette – and a young woman called Rose Bertin.
Rose Bertin – The first fashion designer
Rose Bertin, or Marie-Jeanne Rose Bertin as she was known, was born in Picardy in France in 1747 and went on to become the celebrated designer to Marie Antoinette, it is her we have to thank for bringing haute couture into the public arena.
Rose Bertin – Small beginnings
She was first apprenticed to a milliner and worked her way up to becoming a partner in the business.Her connections with well-connected and titled members of the aristocracy would eventually lead her to her fateful meeting with Antoinette.
Towards the end of the 18th century Bertin opened her own shop, Le Grand Mogol which was situated on the Rue Saint-Honore.
It quickly became popular and was visited regularly by customers of her former employer and the ladies in waiting to Marine Antoinette.
Marie Antoinette – the fashion queen
Antoinette already knew a lot about fashion before meeting Bertin in the late 1700s.New outfits were presented to the Queen whose enthusiasm for detail meant that each outfit was discussed in depth to get it exactly how Antoinette wanted it.
Bertin paid attention to current trends of the day in 18th century France with luxurious gowns, and helped create what were known as ‘poufs,’ that were sometimes anything up to three feet in height.Often the pouf would be decorated with ornaments and other objects.
It was Bertin and Leonard Autie that helped create a signature coiffure for the Queen complete with ornaments, it would be shaped and modelled into any shape that reflected current gossip and ideas.
Even naval ships, and one pouf was designed and shaped to celebrate the American Revolution.here was even an inoculation pouf to celebrate Marie Antoinette persuading the King to vaccinate himself against smallpox.
Rose Bertin and her dolls
Even Antoinette’s dolls were dressed by Bertin and given away as gifts to friends and family.They even had names “Pandores,” that came small or as big as an adult.
They were, in a way, the precursor to the more familiar mannequins we would recognise almost a century later.The dolls wore the fashions and were extremely popular until the advent of fashion magazines.
Rose Bertin – The Minister of Fashion
She was known as the Minister of Fashion and every dress the queen wore was a Bertin creation.
Today we have actresses, royalty and celebrities dressed exclusively by well-known designers, this was where it started.
Bertin was important enough to create real changes in fashion and have a wider impact on fashion within French society.
Dramatic gowns, dramatic entrances
Gowns were ostentatious and wide, giving the person who wore it more space, and they were always beautifully detailed.
They allowed women to make a dramatic entrance and to have a much more assertive presence.
Eventually her dresses were sent all over the Europe as well as France.Bertin’s gowns, were, as you can imagine, very expensive and this did not bode well with the lower classes.
It was associated with so much of the excesses of Antoinette’s reign.It also provides a valuable insight into the political and social times of this fractious period in history.
Even when Antoinette was imprisoned she still continued to send orders to Bertin and provided the Queen with her mourning dress following the execution of her husband Louis XV1.
A move to London
Bertin sensibly moved to London during the French Revolution as many of her most valuable customers were either executed or fled abroad.Her dolls continued to be popular and she ran her dressmaking business successfully from her London base.
She would return to France towards the end of the 18th century and still continued to design, but the fashion excesses of Antoinette’s reign were over.As she got older she passed on her business to her nephews and passed away in 1813.
Rose Bertin was the first big French designer that captured a lively era of ostentatious dressing matched by excessive living.The dresses were expensive and matched with personally designed hair and accessories for the most important of French aristocracy.
It isn’t that far removed from what we recognise today.Celebrities may have replaced the aristocracy, but designers, the expensive dresses, the exclusivity and the one off designs are the same.
Rose Bertin robe with beautiful detailing
Dress by Rose Bertin