Napoleon, he was FRENCH!

I have two new fashion books, both of which are awesome for different reasons. The first one is Napoleon and the Empire of Fashion, 1795-1815 by Cristina Barretto and Martin Lancaster (Skira) 2010. It was published for an Italian exhibition of period clothing. The translation into English is rocky at times, but this book has some of the most amazing pictures I’ve ever seen. There are close ups of the fabrics that are just luscious. There are frustrations, too, in that some pictures are just too small.

I tried reading the text but found it hard going and then downright strange. As mentioned, the translation is not very good, but some of the history struck me as not trustworthy and I’m still struggling to understand why there’s a picture of a bare-busted porn star. Yes, she has big tits, but she’s in a book on Empire and Directoire fashions, why?

I just rolled my eyes at the concluding remarks which more or less blamed the CIA for Modern Art. I blame Matisse, but that’s just me.

Anyway, the gowns in this book are beautiful and the book is worth it for the pictures. Incoherent political ramblings are just a side benefit. (Napoleon was amazing! The Best Dictator General Ever!!! He was Sicilian French!!! Vive La France) OK, so he had that little thing at Waterloo that didn’t work out so well, but LOOK! Here’s an amazing purple velvet royal cloak and . . . That cloak is amazing. It’s worth the price of the book.

You can flip through this book– I don’t recommend reading much, it will only give you a headache and make you hate American Cultural Imperialism (that’s an anagram for the C.I.A., did you notice that?] French, you know, was the language of diplomacy until some how English got free of the Norman Cultural Imperialism (which any student of irregular English verbs can tell you still haunts us today) and now everyone speaks English even though French is way better –and really get a sense of how idiosyncratic gowns could be.

One point made early in the book before I was sobbing in hot tears about how Jackson Pollock ruined art all because of the Marshall Plan (which idea the US stole from Napoleon) was that gowns were custom-made and therefore fit the wearer precisely. Then they said the female form was actually different and that somehow between Napoleon and the rise of the CIA, women’s boobs moved lower on the torso. And I kept waiting for them to clarify that they meant foundation garments gave the female shape a different form, but no. Then I flipped back to the porn star picture and her boobs didn’t look like they were lower on her chest, but there was silicon involved I think, plus she had her arms crossed underneath all that bounty so maybe she was pushing them up the way they did in the Regency.

Regency woman had porn star boobs I guess.

Anyway, I couldn’t stop thinking about all those Modern Artists like, Marcel Duchamps (Oops French! but Joyce Kilmer totally hated him for Nude Descending a Stair) and that Pablo Picasso guy (lived in PARIS!), that Ce n’est Pas Une Pipe dude, Magritte (FRENCH!) that I started getting distracted about art.

The other book is The Art of Dress, Clothes and Society 1500-1914, by Jane Ashelford. (Abrams 1996). It covers a much broader period, but there are good photographs of actual clothing along with description and explanation. I wish there were more pictures. Or at least a world view unaffected by anything like facts.

Napoleon vs. Chuck Norris. Call it folks. Who wins?

(The answer is Jet Li.)

About carolyn

Carolyn Jewel was born on a moonless night. That darkness was seared into her soul and she became an award winning and USA Today bestselling author of historical and paranormal romance. She has a very dusty car and a Master’s degree in English that proves useful at the oddest times. An avid fan of fine chocolate, finer heroines, Bollywood films, and heroism in all forms, she has two cats and a dog. Also a son. One of the cats is his.
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Artie Mesia
11 years ago

Carolyn, Wow! Is really all I can say. I saw this amazing art show about modern art when I lived in the UK in 2002. It was called “Paris: 1900 to 1960: Birth of Modern Art” or something like that (It’s been 9 years…a woman can forget). I guess these people haven’t seen that show.

I have been eagerly awaiting you to post because I was reading a Regency set book the other day and the child in the book was coloring with crayons. That seemed odd to me, but according to wordnik the word crayon existed in 1803. Did kids really draw with crayons? I figured with your love of useless knowledge you might know. There were many mistakes in the novel so I just didn’t know.

Amanda McCabe/Laurel McKee

I recently bought the “Empire of Fashion” book too! I sit and stroke the pictures and whisper “So pretty….”

(I also really love the “Fashion: A History” books from the Kyoto museum)

Isobel Carr
11 years ago

This is hilarious. Best book review evah!

@Artie: Yes, a Regency-era child could have been drawing with a crayon, but it wouldn’t be a modern stick of colored wax, it’s simply a colored pencil or stick of colored chalk.

Artie Mesia
11 years ago

Thanks, Isobel. I need to remember my saying that you can’t place modern day ideas on other time periods. I was picturing my box of Crayola crayons. Now it makes much more sense.

Diane Gaston
11 years ago

I blogged about this exhibit in April on Diane’s Blog

Nice videos there. I thought it odd they didn’t know that fashion was alive and well in England at the time…

And I promptly bought the book, but I confess to just admiring the pictures. The clothes are beautiful and the presentation of them is absolutely wonderful.

11 years ago

I don’t wish to be pedantic but Napoleon was Corsican. Politically part of France but they do not think of themselves as French.

Susan in AZ
11 years ago

Hysterical! Who needs facts when writing a historical fantasy/fairy tale/mashup/shapeshifter/romance novel anyway?

So color with your Crayolas, eat Corsicans for lunch, and laugh at your historical research material. Fun post today, thanks.

Louisa Cornell
11 years ago

What a hoot! A perfect example of something losing quite a bit in translation! Or perhaps gaining quite a bit – either is possible!

But for a book of really lovely pictures of nineteenth century fashion I am so there!

Checking out your blogpost, O Divine One!

Love visiting the Riskies. You never know what you might learn! Or laugh at!

Jane O
11 years ago

The French they are a funny race. (For you youngters, that was the title of a book in my youth.)

11 years ago

Fun post. A sense of humor is always welcome. I don’t get the inclusion of the porn star in the book.
We should all tae these e

11 years ago

@Anonymous: This is totally the blog post to be pedantic on.

Sicilian, French, Corsican . . . the point is, he was Napoleon! And the purple cape, Oh my gosh.

I will be looking through that book many more times. It’s not the commentary that matters so much as the pictures and they are amazing.