The Royal Exchange Mish-Mashes the Early 18th Century

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The Royal Exchange (L’echange des princesses) is a 2017 French film that’s based on a novel by Chantal Thomas (author of the source material for Farewell My Queen). It’s about early 18th-century royal marriage matchmaking: set in 1721-1725, it tells the real story of Mariana Victoria of Spain, who was engaged to French King Louis XV; and Louise Elisabeth d’Orléans, daughter of the French regent who was married to Spanish King Louis I. As there are no spoilers in history, I’ll tell you: Mariana was only 4 (or 3?) years old, sent to France, and eventually returned to Spain as the French didn’t want to wait to marry off Louis XV. Meanwhile, Louise was 11. Her husband ascended the throne about three years later, but died shortly thereafter of smallpox; Louise was sent back to France.

Holy crap, a super interesting real-life story that hasn’t made it to film yet — I’m pleasantly surprised and will watch the shit out of this movie when it finally makes it to the states! (It was released in late December in France, but hasn’t yet made it’s way elsewhere).

There’s a (subtitled) trailer and a series of three clips (only in French) to whet your appetite:

I’m a little irritated that they’ve cast actresses who are too old for their parts — Anamaria Vartolomei (Louise, who should be 11 to 15) was about 18 during filming, and Juliane Lepoureau (Mariana, who should be 3 or 4 to 7 or 8) was about 9. Of course, seeing a 9-year-old in any way considered marriageable is crazy, but not as crazy as her real age; and Louise seeming to be in her late teens definitely undercuts the age factor in that story! On the other hand, yeah, it would probably be hard to find someone in the 3 to 4-ish age range who could carry the part.

 

Costumes in The Royal Exchange

The designer is Fabio Perrone, an Italian designer who has done a number of historical films that are either French or I haven’t heard of them, including Young Blades (2001), Paradise Found (2003), and Black Venus (2010). Before that, he worked under Caroline de Vivaise, who designed a number of historical films, including The Princess of Montpensier and The Cat’s Meow.

Of course, the budget was limited (in an interview, the director said that the budget was 7 million euros, but he knew the film would only work if the costumes were realistic and well done). According to an interview with the designer, this was the first time he used online sources (Instagram, Pinterest) for his work; did research at museums including the Louvre and Prado; and spent six months preparing the costumes.

Let’s take a look at what we can see so far! In general, I think they’ve done a nice job with a limited budget. Basically, I’m seeing the proverbial “general 18th century” mishmash without some of the important elements that would make these costumes 1720s-specific. On the other hand, there are some things they did really well!

Basically, you should see four basic styles of women’s dress (at least for French dress; I don’t know enough about Spanish dress in this era to comment intelligently).

 

Style #1: Formal Court Dress

First, you have formal court dress. This was based on late 17th-century gowns, and consists of a fitted, boned bodice with rounded neckline that hits on the shoulder point (not above, not below); elbow-length sleeves that often featured rows of gathered lace; wide skirt over hoops, which were recently introduced and transitioning from rounded to side emphasis; and an overskirt that is pulled back on the hips and extends into a long train. Read more in my rant about back-lacing in the 18th century.

Portrait of Marie Leszczynska (1703-1768), Queen consort of France by
François Albert Stiémart, I’m guessing late 1720s

Some of what I think is court dress is great! Check out how ca-UTE Lepoureau/Mariana is in her formal robe de cour!

The Royal Exchange (2017)

Looking at Mariana on the left, yep, she looks great! LOVE the hair!

And then they’ve got a scene of Mariana and Louis being painted for a portrait:

The Royal Exchange (2017)

Cute cute!

The Royal Exchange (2017)

Which looks like it’s referencing this real-life portrait:

Portrait of Louis XV of France with his "fiancée" Mariana Victoria of Spain by  François de Troy, 1723, Pitti Palace

Portrait of Louis XV of France with his “fiancée” Mariana Victoria of Spain by François de Troy, 1723, Pitti Palace

On the other hand, I’m not sure what Louise is wearing:

The Royal Exchange (2017)

The stomacher is all wrong, as is the neckline.

The Royal Exchange (2017)

And, shockingly, it SHOULD be laced closed in back!

 

Style #2: Fitted Jacket-y Bodices

The next style is a holdover of the late 17th-century fitted gowns. Often it has a jacket with a short skirting. I’m including a bunch of examples because it’s a style you don’t see represented very much today:

The Escaped Bird by Nicolas Lancret, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Dance before a Fountain by Nicolas Lancret, c. 1724, Getty Center

Portrait of Mariana Victoria of Spain (1718-1781) by Alexis Simon Belle, c. 1725-6, Palace of Versailles. This is the real Mariana Victoria of Spain.

Dance in a Pavilion by Nicolas Lancret, 1730-5, Charlottenburg Palace

Is that what these are supposed to be?

The Royal Exchange (2017)

The ladies in the background, I mean. These are the Spanish.

The Royal Exchange (2017)

 

Style #3: Robe Volante

The third main style of this era is the robe volante or robe battante, which was the precursor of the robe à la française/sack-back style. It looks like a super loose version of the française, with wide pleats in front and back. Read more in my rant about back-lacing in the 18th century.

The Declaration of Love by Jean François de Troy, 1731, Charlottenburg Palace

Dress (robe volante), France, 1720s, Kyoto Costume Institute

You don’t see a WHIFF of the robe volante in the film, and that’s a BIG miss. I can see why — to modern audiences it would just look like a whole lot of muumuu. But it’s the key style for this era.

 

Style #4: Hybrid Between the Manteau and Robe Volante

Don’t ask me what the hell to call it, but in art of the period you see gowns that basically look like slightly more fitted/formalized versions of the manteau, which was essentially a dressing gown worn open in front with a sash that turned into an actual dress (Read more in my rant about back-lacing in the 18th century). They look like more fitted versions of the robe volante, and so I think show the transition from manteau to robe à la française:

Figures de modes by Antoine Watteau, c. 1720, Bunka Gakuen Library

Figures de modes by Antoine Watteau, c. 1720, Bunka Gakuen Library

Figures de modes by Antoine Watteau, c. 1720, Bunka Gakuen Library

Figures de modes by Antoine Watteau, c. 1720, Bunka Gakuen Library

I guess if I think charitably, all of these dresses might fit into this category, but they look like mid-century robes à la française (or English nightgowns) to me:

The Royal Exchange (2017)

Is that a cape or part of the dress?

The Royal Exchange (2017)

All those dresses are too fitted and structured to suit the 1720s. Try 1740s.

The Royal Exchange (2017)

Nice wide pleats on the lady on the left, but otherwise all those fitted backs are all wrong. Also, no engageantes (sleeve ruffles) yet as worn on the left-hand lady.

The Royal Exchange (2017)

This lady-in-waiting’s dress is a straight-up 1740s-50s robe à la française. Which didn’t yet exist.

The Royal Exchange (2017)

Can’t see enough to judge.

The Royal Exchange (2017)

Are we in Spain here? Not sure.

The Royal Exchange (2017)

oooo that’s clunky and not in a good way.

 

Bonus Style: Riding Habits

Women’s riding habits were very much based on menswear styles, although worn with skirts:

Henrietta Cavendish, Lady Huntingtower by Godfrey Kneller, 1715, National Trust (UK). Ok, so it’s English, but it’s very similar to what was worn in France too.

The Royal Exchange (2017)

LOVE THIS RIDING HABIT. Not commenting on lady on the left, with her front opening/stomacher gown…

The Royal Exchange (2017)

…with inappropriate back lacing. Also, wtf with the ball fringe snood?

 

Side Note

Looks like you’ve got older characters with higher hair and veils that are reminiscent of the fontage headdress, popular in the 1690s-1700s:

The Royal Exchange (2017)

 

And the Boys

Fine? I wish there was a bit more fabric in the coats, as this was a VERY full-skirted era for men’s jackets.

For comparison: check out how full the below-the-waist portion of these jackets is:

Philippe, duc d’Orléans, Régent, et son fils le duc de Chartres au château de Meudon, 1715-20, Palace of Versailles

And then in the film:

The Royal Exchange (2017) The Royal Exchange (2017) The Royal Exchange (2017)

Also, most of the wigs look good — although there’s a lot of tousled, un-wigged hair throughout! No one ever owned a comb, historically! Side note, EVERYONE’S hair should be powdered up the wazoo, at least the French for formal occasions.

The Royal Exchange (2017)

 

What’s your thoughts on The Royal Exchange?

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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.

12 Responses

    • picasso Manu

      Agreed. This was more or less a dressing gown at the beginning, NOT something you’d wear at court. Versailles was it’s own little world, with it’s own rules, and even styles highly fashionable in Paris would be frowned upon in Versailles. Marie Antoinette paid dearly for not taking this into account. Otherwise, if the background and/or dresses are black with crosses on it? We’re in Spain…French historical cliché.

      Reply
      • Kendra

        Fair point, but I’ll bet the volante was worn at court for non-formal occasions – the princess palatine complained about dressing gowns worn at a ball in 1699 for example.

        Reply
  1. Saraquill

    That portrait by Francois de Troy makes Mariana look like a scaled down adult. Louis XV doesn’t look much better.

    Reply
  2. Susan Pola Staples

    Goes on my to see list. Also wasn’t the Mantua style court dress popular at French Court? I seem to remember the Victoria and Albert with a few on display.

    And yes children were dressed as small adults.

    Reply
  3. Clara

    OOOOH a story that includes the Spanish Bourbons! (I have a certain weakness for Philip V and his family, specially the love story between Ferdinand VI and Barbara de Braganza.)
    Sees the Spanish
    Sees them all in black
    Sideyes HARD
    One of these days we will stop being depicted as the people who only wore black.

    Reply
    • Clara

      ETA: well, not all exactly in black. But really.

      Also, I think the ball snood might be supposedly a maja snood? If it is, it is totally out of place. (and time, if I remember well)

      Reply
  4. Lisa

    Wow those kids look adorable. I’m very interested to see small children in a court setting, as they were expected to look like adult and almost act like them too. I don’t mind them aging up the girl because a better performance makes it worth it. She does look very young.

    Reply
  5. pandorrah

    Are you sure that’s lacing up the back of that delicious ruby red riding habit and not just a stripe of gold trim run up the back as a detail?

    Reply
    • Ester

      Yes, the riding habit seems to open at the front and the golden line is just a trim, but the other dress in the picture is the one with the back lacing.

      Reply
  6. Kelly

    I just saw this film, which was a stately procession through a period of history about which I knew nothing; I confess to being a bit confused by some of the in-fighting in the early scenes (you get a lot of names thrown at you in rapid succession), and more than a bit exasperated by little King Louis XV’s “feather blown with all winds” approach to decision-making. Especially where it concerned his completely adorable fiancee, who looked about six–she effortlessly steals every scene she’s in without doing anything at all cutesy, and she looks wonderful in the mini-adult formal gowns. I love the way she curtsies, sticking out her little bottom and looking down as if she’s dropped something on the floor. There’s a line in Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend, where the doll’s dressmaker remarks on the difficulty of finding dolls’ waists–sort of the same situation when you’re dressing six-year-olds to look as if they are corseted–but that scene when she was having her portrait painted looked amazing. She also has little dabs of powder in her spiffy hairdo!
    Not a great film–very slow-moving–but the frock coats (and the dress Mariana wears as Infanta of Spain) and the frothy lace pieces were lovely.

    Reply

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