Hollywood Take Note: Rose Bertin Rocked

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Hollywood take note: Rose Bertin (1747-1813) needs a costume movie to be made about her. She was the 18th century couturier to the STAHS, baby, including Queen Marie-Antoinette, but she’s been sadly neglected on the silver screen.

Writers, directors, and producers, here’s what you need to know:

  • Rose Bertin was the first famous fashion designer and helped catapult Paris to the center of European fashion
  • She rose from obscurity — the daughter of a sick nurse — to dressing the Queen of France (Marie-Antoinette) and all of the leading figures of French society like the Princesse de Lamballe
  • She was at the forefront of two new, important dynamics in fashion: the rise of women (it was in this century that women seamstresses began to overtake male tailors), and the rise of the marchande de modes (women whose job wasn’t so much to make clothes, but to design them conceptually and trim or retrim them)
  • She was a business powerhouse, opening her own shop called “Le Grand Mogul” in 1772 in Paris
  • Bertin visited Marie-Antoinette twice a week to discuss fashion
  • She had her critics, who called her Marie-Antoinette’s “Minister of Fashion”
  • She never married (but I’m sure some writer can create a star-crossed lover for her, if she didn’t already have one)
  • She continued to serve Marie-Antoinette while the French queen was imprisoned
  • She survived the French Revolution, working in other European capitals like London and St. Petersburg

Most importantly, Rose Bertin has only even APPEARED on screen in THREE movies or TV shows (not including documentaries). How is this even possible??

Hollywood seems to love to make the same stories over and over. Looking at the list of costume movies and TV shows in the works, more than half of them are either remakes, or subjects that have been filmed before.

But, here, I hand on you a silver platter, a subject that has BARELY MADE IT TO SCREEN. And, one that hits a number of proven money making themes: rags to riches, Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves, fashion, Marie-Antoinette, the 18th century, Versailles, Paris, All the Single Ladies.

Now, yes, she’s on the curvy side, but come on, how often does Hollywood cast someone who actually looks like the historical person? If Miss Praying Mantis Keira Knightley can play the Duchess of Devonshire, she can play Rose Bertin.

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The real Rose Bertin, after Fragonard, at the Met

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The real Rose Bertin, by Pierre Adolphe Hall, via Drouot

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Supposedly the real Rose Bertin. This image is all over the web, but I’ve never seen the real source. If anyone knows, I’d love to hear more!

As I said, she has only appeared on screen THREE TIMES:

Si Paris Nous Etait Conté (1956)

I haven’t seen it, but apparently it’s a film that shows scenes in French history that center on Paris, told in impressionistic, not necessarily chronological order.

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Marie Antoinette (2006)

It was such a small part, not only did she not have lines, you can only see her face in the mirror!

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Farewell, My Queen (2012)

This was actually great casting — a curvy, regal lady! It’s not her fault the costumes were kind of wonky in this movie (but that’s another post).

Rose Bertin is a minor, yet substantial character in this film, which tells the story of Marie-Antoinette’s final days at Versailles through the perspective of her (fictional) reader. The main focus is on Sidonie (the reader), Marie-Antoinette, and the Duchesse de Polignac. However, a sub-thread of the film shows Bertin coming to Versailles to discuss the queen’s next gown, and then working with Sidonie (randomly) to embroider a sample based on the queen’s design idea.

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Rose Bertin on the left.

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Marie Antoinette looks at real fashion plates of the era.

Marie Antoinette looks at real fashion plates of the era.

 

SO, HOLLYWOOD, TAKE IT AWAY. I won’t even ask for credit, or a finder’s fee, or anything!

 

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About the author

Kendra

Website

Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

5 Responses

    • Kathleen

      “How about Melissa McCarthy playing her straight?”

      *high 5*

      I came here to say the same thing!! She would be perfect! I’d watch that film!!

      Reply

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