In the 17th century France became the undisputed leader of European style. The modern fashion industry is rooted in France, Paris of the 1670s, when new fashion journals and boutiques promoted seasons, looks and novelty as drivers of change. This process is sinonymous with King Louis XIV, who reigned from 1643 to 1715, but also with the influence of his finance minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, who funded state sponsorship of the textile industry, conducted Louis's wars, and created the wealth that the king and his courtiers wore on their backs. Colbert himself was rarely seen out of black and seemed a reflection of the glorious king as seen in the painting by Henri Testelin "Colbert Presenting the Members of the Royal Academy of Sciences to Louis XIV in 1667". King and his clothes reflect the power, grandeur and wealth of the monarchy. Meanwhile the king's finance minister, Colbert - dressed in black - wears a lace collar and cuffs. The son of a draper, Colbert understood the allure of luxury products, such as silk, tapestry and become the center of fashionable luxury consumption. The Gobelins tapestry workshop in Paris weaved portraits of Louis's feats for the palace at Versailles and created furnishings for chateaux across France. Traders of luxury accessories and jewels were encouraged to establish shops in the newly built royal squares of Paris. Lace workshops were established in Alençon in 1665 and their output included lace accessories and lace ornaments. These high-quality materials became required trimming for all formal court dress.
Court dress achieved an unparalleled level of splendour and from 1661 to 1789 made France the model for other European monarchies. Access to the French court was theoretically open to all subjects, but one had to be properly attired. For occasions such as coronations, marriages and balls, this meant wearing the grand habit (as you can see in the picture above) that was the pinnacle of sumpturay clothing, displaying the wealth and status of both - the wearer and the state that produced it.
Le Mercure Galant
The combination of court and commerce created the modern fashion industry because couturiers could respond more rapidly than court tailors to what women wanted to wear. In 1675 couturiers gained guild status and were able to market their goods effectively. Their business was helped in 1672 by the birth of the fashion journal Le Mercure Galant. Reporting on who was wearing what, where and how, it sparked fashion trends and the concept of seasons. Female fashion merchants also took over accessorizing, a business once monopolized by the male haberdasher. Women paved the relationship between France and fashion leadership in the 7th century. They consumed French luxury goods, acted as fashion plates, and created the supply and demand for the new and the sartorially fantastic. [1.]
Le Mercure Galant was founded by the journalist Jean Donneau de Visé. The name refers to the Ancient Roman god Mercury, the messenger of the gods; the title is also echoing the Mercure françoys which was France's first literary gazette, founded in 1611 by the Paris bookseller J. Richer.
The magazine's goal was to inform elegant society about life in the court and intellectual/artistic debates; the gazette (which appeared irregularly) featured poems, anecdotes, news, marriages, gossip, theatre and art reviews, songs, and fashion reviews. At that time it became fashionable and sometimes scandalous to be mentioned in its pages. Publication stopped in 1674, but began again as a monthly with the name Nouveau Mercure galant in 1677.
Le Mercure Galant was not only the very first fashion journal, but also a significant development in the history of journalism. It played an important role in the dissemination of news about fashion, luxury goods, etiquette and court life under Louis XIV to the provinces and abroad. It really helped to spread France's reputation as a fashion trendsetter throughout the Western world.
While it included articles on various topics of interest to the elite, many pages were devoted to “describing the fashions of the king and royal family and discussing the impact of royal authority on French fashion.”It also included discussion of the roles on artisans, merchants and high-class consumers in the development of France’s fashion culture, revealing the inner workings of the French fashion system.
The articles varied in length, some being brief blurbs to others ranging from 30 to 40 pages. The editor of the journal, Jean Donneau de Visé wrote his articles in “a light conversational style” as if he was simply discussing the fashions with court members. Merchants and their stores were also noted in the article besides their corresponding products, giving the merchants advertising and allowing readers to easily locate clothing they wanted to purchase. The journal made a point to go into great detail on certain aspects of clothing, like fabrics and lace. Various accessories, like shoes and jewelry, led to extensive discussion. Certain shapes of clothing were sometimes described, but the focus remained on the writing about the textiles and accessories.
In the 1670s, articles on the new season's fashions were also accompanied with engravings which was also an important novelty. It established the importance of fashion in society by displaying not only the trends, but also the relationships between all sectors of the fashion industry.
1660 - Louis XIV of France marries the Spanish infanta Maria Teresa. The marriage unites French style with Spanish formality.
1665 - Colbert becomes chief finanse minister and funds the French luxury industries of lace, perfume, silk and tapestries.
1672 - The journal Le Mercure Galant is launched. It reports on court and Parisian fashion for a largely provincial audience.
1675 - Female seamstresses gain guild status and the right to design and make non-formal court dress. It marks the birth of the boutique.
1678 - "Fashion seasons" are described for the first time in Le Mercure Galant.
The ending note:
Jean-Baptiste Colbert once made a comment that "fashion is to France what the gold mines of Peru are to Spain". Indeed, the state sponsorship of the textile and decorative arts industries, and the consolidation of the court at Versailles as a carefully managed symbol of absolutism, utilized the idea of French fashion as a means of control and self-promotion. [2.]
References and further reading:
1. Fashion - The Whole Story./general editor Marnie Fogg. - London: Thames & Hudson, 2013.
2. Breward Ch. Fashion. - Oxford University Press, 2003.