1740-1780

ISABEL UMEKUBO

Madame de Pompadour: 1750-1760

Madame de Pompadour (Jeanne Antoinette Poisson) was born on December 29th, 1721 in Paris, France. She was a member of the French Court but was more prominently recognized as the chief mistress of King Louis XV, from 1745 until 1751. Her name might sound familiar, as she has a popular hairstyle, “pompadour” named after her. In many of her portraits, she is painted wearing beautiful, silk-patterned gowns that are adorned with flowers and lace fabric. Pompadour is often painted with backgrounds that match her outfit, such as plants or silk curtains. Pompadour was a woman of authority who faced scrutiny as a mistress, due to France’s strained political climate under King Louis XV’s reign. As a beautiful and favored mistress, Pompadour was sexualized and criticized for being able to gain the attention of the king. She became a powerful political figure for, in many people’s eyes, succeeding in power and influence over the king. By supporting the tapestry industry and a royal porcelain factory, among being an artist, she held a crucial role in the French Enlightenment. 

“She did etchings, cut gems, played music, staged court amusements and curated and commissioned artists to produce works that were displayed in her private collection and at the court...Women who could interpret and curate artistic and scientific innovation played an important role in the French Enlightenment. That’s true for Pompadour–she knew and patronized Enlightenment figures like Voltaire” (Smithsonian).

Madame de Pompadour
 

Madame Geoffrin: 1750-1760

Madame Geoffrin (also known as Marie Theres Rodet Geoffrin) was born on June 26, 1699 in Paris, France. She was most famous for being a salon holder and being a powerful figure in the French Enlightenment. She held association with numerous figures in Europe that were considered influential and public. As a salonnierre (a person who hosts a salon or a group of people), Madame Geoffrin already served as an example of elite status and socialability in France. When social life began to move from the French courts to the French salons, Madame Geoffrin had her moment in the spotlight. As an “institution of the Englightenment”, Geoffrin’s salon acted as a place for her mentorship and model for other salonnieres. It became famous and held space for philosophers and artists, who Geoffrin was a guide to. 

“In this way she can be considered as the responsible and inventor of the Enlightenment salon. She held dinners twice weekly, one day was specifically for the artists and the other to the men of letters. Madame Geofrfrin is the perfect example of the politeness and other qualities that were required for the participation in French high society. She devoted herself completely to the organization and management of her salon and of the patrons that frequented it” (Women N’ Art).

While Geoffrin may not have had direct influence on fashion like Pompadour, her place as a woman of high status during the French Enlightenment is deserving of recognition. Geoffrin definitely held an impact on fashion as she was a key figure in the French Englightenment. 

Madame Geoffrin
 

Kitty Fischer: 1760-1770

Catherine Maria Kitty Fischer was a British courtesan who was born June 1st, 1741 in Soho, London. She died young, at the age of 26, but remained influential throughout her teenage years. Fischer held status as a public figure as her reputation was boosted by powerful artists such as Sir Joshua Reynolds. She was “elegantly dressed” and was recognized for her beauty and charming personality. At that time, Kitty was able to reach status as a celebrity by collaborating with well-known artists, ultimately gaining wealth through her fame. She was often painted with pastel silk patterns, lace wear, and signature white pearls. Kitty served as a sort of model for Sir Joshua Reynolds, who painted more than four portraits of her. The quote below refers to the painting above.

“The cat, however, can be interpreted as “representative of Fisher herself, the playful, feminine and kittenish courtesan; but also as a predator” (Thom). Visible for all to see through the glass, the “goldfish, like celebrated ‘women of the town’, are shimmering, ephemeral, and easily replaceable” (Thom). Thus, at the same time that Hone’s portrait promotes Fisher’s beauty and celebrity, it also comments on the courtesan’s vulnerability that, in her case, was her death at age 29” (Majer). 

Although her career was brief, Kitty Fischer made a name for herself in London society and maintained elegance and power, even in a patriarchal society that held extreme expectations of women, especially those with social power. She was the definition of fashion icon, and her unique legacy will always remind us of powerful female figures in history.

Kitty Fischer
 

Marie Antoinette: 1770-1780

Marie Antoinette, more commonly known as the Queen of France from was born on November 2nd, 1755 in The Hofburg, Vienna, Austria. She was an archduchess of Austria and the last Queen of France before the French Revolution. Arguably a widely discussed (and controversial) figure, it is without doubt that Antoinette was a fashion icon and held immense power and influence over French history and fashion history. She was a trendsetter, with many of the women in the court of Versailles following in her suit with their style choices and fashion interests. A “fashion-obsessed” queen, Antoinette often made excessive purchases of clothing, ordering at least 172 gowns in one year. She also adopted a variety of new styles, including the pouf (volumounous hairstyles with ornaments), the redingote (coat & dress mixed fused together inspired by menswear), and tbe chemise which was an informal, lacy, undergarment. 

“Marie Antoinette well understood the power and symbolism of dress and throughout her tenure as queen, her sartorial choices, while ultra-modish, also conveyed carefully calculated messages to those around her...Ironically, however, the last view that her former subjects had of their despised queen was in a style of dress that fully accorded with Republican sartorial ideals of simplicity, transparency, and virtue” (Majer). 

Marie Antoinette was an incredibly complex figure in history, but contributed nonetheless to the women’s movement and women’s history. She opposed formal wear and created new forms of wear for women, innovating a new era of fashion for women to come into their status and high power. Her contraversy as a queen added to her legacy, but the world of fashion remains touched by Marie Antoinette. 

Marie Antoinette