Thursday, August 18, 2011

Going Baroque

By the mid-1600's, French styles reigned supreme, thanks to the passion for fashion of King Louis XIV.  His reign - 1643 to 1715 - rang in an opulent glamor called baroque that focused on fuss, rather than fabric. 

  Louis XIV

Let the Renaissance keep those magnificent textiles, those plundered jewels and gold.  Baroque fashionplates avoided such frank displays of wealth for sheer volume of ornamentation. Everything was gussied up with gleaming ribbons, rows of ruffles, bows, and buttons - and lace, lace, lace. 

In fact, lacemakers lured from Italy by Finance Minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert, single-handedly revived the French garment industry.  Soon lace showed up everywhere - on collars and cuffs, trimming hems and seams, peeping out from low-cut bodices, adorning doublets, hats and boots.  And it soon wormed its way into chic French homes as well, where even the bathtub may be draped in lace.

Any space not trimmed with lace was embellished with embroidery.  Designs grew highly sophisticated, often derived from the paintings of contemporary artists such as Rubens and Van Dyck.  Favorite styles included stumpwork, with stitches etching patterns in padded white satin, and Richelieu work, named for the French cardinal, with cutout designs connected with embroidered bars. 

Spanish Stumpwork

Madame du Pompador

The stitching craze became so extreme that, in 1656, French Cardinal Mazarin tried to curb excesses with a decree banning the use of gold and silver thread.  However, an outraged public bent on beauty threatened to storm the palace of Louis XIV - and so the edit was quickly rescinded.