SNARK WEEK RECAP: The Empress (2022), Ep. 1

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Apparently many of you have written in to ask if we’ll be reviewing The Empress (2022), Netflix’s offering amongst a spate of Empress Elisabeth of Austria/Sissi films and TV series out right about now. And because enough of you have said the costumes are terrible, and because Trystan is a big meanie, she suggested I go ahead and recap this for Snark Week instead of doing my usual thing of asking you what I should review. Now, I already hate mid-19th century (the death of fashion), although thankfully this is set in Europe and not some dusty American small town, but just know that I am cursing you as I watch/write this!

Episode one takes place in 1853ish (Elisabeth married Franz in 1854), so let’s take a look at mid-1850s fashions first:

1853-54 fashion plates

Skirts are full without being huge (hoops don’t come in until 1856, so these are filled out with petticoats). Day bodices have high necks or are filled in with a chemisette; evening bodices are lower but not off-the-shoulder. Sleeves are full towards the wrist. A LOT of gowns have a characteristic V line going from the outer shoulder down to the waist. Jacket bodices (far right) have skirtings | Fashion plates, 1853-54, Costume Institute, Metropolitan Museum of Art

1853-54 fashion plates

Bonnets are de rigeur and round; hair tends to be full on the sides of the face with an arrangement in back | Fashion plates, 1853-54, Costume Institute, Metropolitan Museum of Art

The costumes in The Empress were designed by Gabrielle Reumer, who’s done a lot of German-language titles but not much that’s period. For extra laughs, I give you this review of her work by Collider.com:

“The costuming of The Empress is a sumptuous feast for the eyes; from the intricate dresses worn by Elisabeth, to the exquisite details of the gentleman’s refined wardrobe and military regalia. Gabrielle Reumer, the series’ costume designer, has a keen eye for not only layering colors and textures to convey deeper meaning in each scene and episode but to explore the full breadth of what Austrians were wearing during the period. So often historical productions will limit themselves to drab, lifeless colors and patterns, failing to recognize just how vibrant the aristocracy dressed. With The Empress, these dramatic sparks of color and ostentatious designs stand in stark contrast with the rebellion brewing beyond the palace gates.”

Now, please to enjoy the “full breadth of what Austrians were wearing during the period,” which, apparently, is a whole lot of WTFrock:

 

The Empress: Episode 1

A bunch of people in derpy bonnets are watching a wedding:

2022 The Empress
2022 The Empress

VERY sparkly!

We cut to … it’s 1853ish, per Wikipedia, and the Duchess of Bavaria, aka Elisabeth’s Mom, is pissed because she can’t find her eldest daughter, Elisabeth aka Sisi. Elisabeth is a handful, and Elisabeth’s Mom is trying to marry her off but she keeps refusing perfectly good suitors. Elisabeth’s Mom finds a younger sister, who says that Elisabeth said she wants to marry someone who speaks to her soul (or something like that).

2022 The Empress

Elisabeth’s Mom/The Duchess (right) has a LOT of cleavage for daywear in the 1850s. Her sleeves on this dress seem more 1830s?

Elisabeth has snuck off to ride her horse and commune with nature.

2022 The Empress

Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria is practicing fencing, but is called to see his mother.

2022 The Empress

Franz’s mom, the Archduchess Sophie (aka Franz’s Mom), and he have a tense conversation about how there’s going to be an execution. He’s stressed because things are hard on the people right now, she’s all “buck up buttercup.” She’s clearly running things in the Austrian Empire. Franz’s Mom is giving ALL KINDS of alien queen vibes:

2022 The Empress

She will suck your brains out through your eye sockets.

2022 The Empress

Those sleeves are late 1890s-early 1900s, 100%.

Elisabeth goes to find her father, because her horse has been spooked by a snake and broken its leg. Dad is passed out post-orgy. He kills the horse (because the leg will never heal), telling Elisabeth that she likes to break the rules and these are the consequences.

2022 The Empress

Elisabeth’s Mom tries to distract Elisabeth’s potential suitor with her boobs.

2022 The Empress

Rocking the Vera Wang for Kohl’s statement necklace.

At the execution, we finally see that Franz’s Mom is dressed for an entirely different movie, set in probably the 1890s-1900s and styled after A Series of Unfortunate Events, Penny Dreadful, or something starring Eva Green. The condemned give a speech about how they are dying for the people and the people will rise up etc. etc.

2022 The Empress

Other than the too-early HUGE hoop, this is a whole lot of WTFrock.

2022 The Empress

That hat is Edwardian. It’s fabulous! It’s just about 50 years too early.

2022 The Empress s01e01

I have many questions about that fabric. Art Nouveau, maybe?

Of course the real Archduchess Sophie/Franz’s Mom wasn’t insane and dressed like a reasonable person in this era:

Archduchess Sophie by Franz Schrotzberg, 1858, Bundesmobilienverwaltung

Archduchess Sophie by Franz Schrotzberg, 1858, Bundesmobilienverwaltung

Elisabeth finally turns up. Elisabeth’s Mom is pissed, ranting about how her other daughter, Helene, is perfect and never causes trouble. Elisabeth’s Mom has an ulcer. She reminds Elisabeth that they’re going to marry off Helene to someone important, and Elisabeth can come along but she can’t cause trouble, and maybe if she’s lucky some crumbs (ie a loser younger son) might fall her way. Elisabeth just wants to write poetry, man.

2022 The Empress

Helene (right) is reasonably dressed for the era.

Franz’s Mom reveals a portrait of the girl she wants Franz to marry: Helene. The Archduchess and Duchess are sisters, so the girls and Franz are cousins.

2022 The Empress

Another one for the shitty historical portraits list.

En route to visit the imperial family for Franz’s birthday and the hoped-for betrothal, Helene clearly fancies herself in love already and Elisabeth vows to behave.

2022 The Empress

VERY paint-by-numbers, although I like the frame.

2022 The Empress

Elisabeth is dressed reasonably in a blouse, skirt, and Zouave jacket with wide sleeves over full undersleeves. Helene’s jacket bodice is a little too tuxedo-coaty in the lapels, and I guess the hat works if I think of it as like a riding/outdoorsy hat?

2022 The Empress

Where are the bonnets??

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Behind the scenes. Mom’s got a striped skirt and mantle, which are decent.

Now that we’ve gotten a good look at Elisabeth and family, let’s compare to the real deal:

Elisabeth of Austria by Eduard Kaiser, c. 1855, via Wikimedia Commons

Elisabeth of Austria by Eduard Kaiser, c. 1855, via Wikimedia Commons

Hélène (left) and Elisabeth, possibly by Augusto Cesare Colla, c. 1853, via Wikimedia Commons

Hélène (left) and Elisabeth, possibly by Augusto Cesare Colla, c. 1853, via Wikimedia Commons

Elisabeth's Mom (Princess Ludovika) and her younger children, c. 1860, Austrian National Library

Elisabeth’s Mom (Princess Ludovika) and her younger children, c. 1860, Austrian National Library

One of the Bavarians’ trunks hasn’t arrived. Elisabeth’s Mom and Helene are freaked out that all they have are mourning clothes.

2022 The Empress

Me, every morning.

Franz goes for an early-morning ride; Elisabeth for an early-morning walk and bird rescuing. The two meet and have a stilted yet meaningful conversation.

2022 The Empress

She’s still wearing her blouse and skirt from yesterday.

2022 The Empress

Franz’s younger brother, Archduke Maximilian, returns from a tour of the provinces with an Italian floozy in hand. His mom, the Archduchess (Franz’s Mom), doesn’t bat an eye. Maximilian tells Franz that The People don’t like him, and everyone says Mom is running the show (true). Franz asks Maximilian to come to Vienna to be his advisor.

2022 The Empress

Okay, I quite like the Floozy’s dress! The tiers and the print are great, and the sheer works assuming it’s summer.

2022 The Empress

I’m not sure what’s up with the high high hair though — does she think it’s the 1770s? 1960s?

2022 The Empress s01e01

Behind the scenes.

Dress, 1858-60, Victoria & Albert Museum

It reminds me a bit of this: Dress, 1858-60, Victoria & Albert Museum

Franz’s Mom is dressed like a whack-job:

2022 The Empress s01e01

SHEER YELLOW blouse showing her CORSET underneath; weird appliques at the neck and bottoms of the sleeves; I guess the skirt is okay comparatively, even if those motifs look Middle Eastern?

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TONS of skirt hiking, naturally.

2022 The Empress

Her hair is ALL Evil Alien Queen. That blouse is 2000 kinds of WTF.

Blouse, 19th century, RMN-Grand Palais (domaine de Compiègne)

Yes they wore sheer blouses in the mid-19th century, but they were generally white or ivory and the trimmings had a totally different aesthetic | Blouse, 19th century, RMN-Grand Palais (domaine de Compiègne)

The Bavarians (Elisabeth’s Mom, Elisabeth, and Helene) are introduced to Franz and family. There’s a lunch where Helene and Franz sit with the two moms, while Elisabeth sits with Maximilian, his floozy, and a younger brother. Afterwards, we all go for a walk in the garden. Maximilian clearly has the hots for Elisabeth, who is spunky.

The Bavarians are all in mourning clothes, as that’s what was in the trunks they do have.

2022 The Empress

It’s hard to see specifics, but why are Helene’s sleeves so short? Elisabeth’s Mom’s sheer blouse with opaque underbodice seems much more period-appropriate.

2022 The Empress
2022 The Empress

Elisabeth’s Mom buys her earrings at Cost Plus.

2022 The Empress

Elisabeth’s dress has sheer panels. Her hair is in a complicated braid.

2022 The Empress

Franz’s Mom puts on a giant 1960s Audrey Hepburn hat for some reason. Maybe because her attendants are loving the bouffant?

Helene has embroidered a handkerchief as a gift for Franz, but when she appears hot he gives it right back to her. Later, she complains about this and that he didn’t really ask her anything about herself. Her/Elisabeth’s Mom tells her that’s not what she’s there for.

2022 The Empress

Skirts. Hiked.

say anything gif

^^ Franz, except without the heart part ^^

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I actually didn’t hate this Battenberg lace parasol. It’s less shitty the ones we usually see?

Franz comes across Elisabeth laying on the floor. She explains that it was hot and the floor was cool. He’s intrigued and lays down with her, enjoying her pixie dust.

2022 The Empress

Elisabeth keeps tucking her yellow feather fan into her waistband.

Franz’s Mom takes a bath with her extremely-weirdly-hairstyled attendants. They’re already plotting to plant some insiders as attendants to Helene when she is Empress.

2022 The Empress

I’m pretty sure we’ll get some clearer views of this hair fuckery in future episodes.

After her bath, Franz’s Mom watches someone (Maximilian? Franz? A total rando?) get it on.

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Rocking the 1960s caftan and bouffant/French roll updo.

2022 The Empress

Who is this? I don’t think Franz or Maximilian had a long queue in their hair, right??

Elisabeth is awake, doing something with poetry, wearing a chemise, petticoat, and shawl. Someone knocks at her door, so she takes OFF her shawl to answer the door, therefore making herself more undressed?? An attendant says the Emperor wants to see her, so instead of grabbing said shawl, she goes to see him, uncorseted and boobs a-flying. He wants to drink champagne with her and celebrate his birthday. He’s felt dead for months, but she has made him feel alive again. He goes to kiss her and she first protests, but goes for it.

2022 The Empress

It’s Franz’s birthday. He announces he’s going to propose to a lady … Elisabeth. Everyone freaks out. Helene runs out, pissed. Elisabeth chases her, and Helene tells her off, saying she’ll make a horrible empress.

Elisabeth’s Mom is back in her first dress; Franz’s Mom is in an early 1900s stripey number with giant statement sash:

2022 The Empress

Franz’s Mom’s sleeves are SO Edwardian, and the angled stripes are just weird.

2022 The Empress

Elisabeth’s Mom’s outfit is actually a blouse and skirt, I now see. Meh.

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Behind the scenes.

2022 The Empress s01e01

And a promo pic.

2022 The Empress

Helene and Elisabeth actually look like normal people of the 1850s! Okay so Helene’s sleeves are about 10 years out of fashion.

2022 The Empress

Hoops or crinolines, what do we think?

2022 The Empress

Floozy is rocking a 1980s/1780s hair mashup. She’s wearing a ballgown in the middle of the afternoon.

2022 The Empress

And those flowers are just wrong for the era.

The moms and Franz go talk to Elisabeth. Elisabeth’s Mom is trying to convince Franz that Helene is much more suitable. Franz’s Mom is running the show and asks Elisabeth if she wants to be Empress. Elisabeth says yes.

2022 The Empress

See what I mean about the stripes? It’s all fun and funky, which the Victorians were NOT.

2022 The Empress

Elisabeth checks out an inlaid floor map of Austria. Franz’s Mom leaves, discussing with her attendants how things that won’t bend (i.e., Elisabeth) will break.

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An unwashed woman and man in a shitty part of town hear that the Emperor is getting married and discuss how this is their chance, For The People (cue ominous music).

2022 The Empress s01e01

 

 

Apparently the costumes will get even crazier (and, hopefully, shittier!) in future episodes, so strap in and join me tomorrow for episode 2!

 

 

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23 Responses

  1. Susan

    Hated it. Actors are not right. Prefer the other recent Sisi actors and costumes (alothough not quite right, evokes Sisi’s style and the period better) and THE ROMY SCHNEIDER one.

    Reply
  2. Nicole

    OMG, I actually own that “Vera Wang for Kohl’s statement necklace” that Elisabeth’s mom is wearing. I got it in a ModCloth Secret Surprise like eight years ago. It’s incredibly heavy and awkward and pokey, and basically is only good for wacky costumes. So…fitting, I guess?

    Reply
  3. Nzie

    Ah, yes, the classic mother of the bride wrap top dress look for Elisabeth’s mother. Sure, that makes sense. Also hadn’t ever given a thought to alien queen hair but once you identified it I realized that’s exactly what it is. OMG.

    Seems like this is just.. meh and cliche. Oh she’s so unique and headstrong… she lays on the floor in palaces and writes poetry. Sure.

    Reply
  4. Coco

    If I remember correctly, the Dowager Empress is spying on the lady-in-waiting whom she lusts after. But I haven’t seen the first few episodes since they were released, and didn’t finish the show, so I don’t know if that goes anywhere.

    Reply
  5. Aleko

    Everything they do here is just so weird they have to have MEANT it to be anti-historical. As in ‘OMG, we’ve accidentally given Sisi a half-ways-credible Zouave jacket! Quick, take this big saggy tote bag and sling it across her body so she looks as though she were going to the beach.”

    Reply
  6. Mina van Berh

    What the fucking fuckery was that!? When I saw the dude with the crazy hair-tail-thingy I was out.
    I watched the other TV version Sisi recently and thought the costumes were meh, BUT they were nowhere as shitty as this and the actors are very well! Omg can‘t wait for the rest of the recaps, maybe there is a plot twist that the Dowager Empress is a time traveller or something!

    Reply
    • Mina van Berh

      Also! Also: Sisi, the woman known for her corseted waist goes to see someone in just a chemise and petticoat?? Never ever!! To the trash with this free-spirited, connected-to-nature-and-therefore-not-dressing-as-a-sane-person nonsense!!!

      Reply
  7. Esmé

    As a side note about this show getting things wrong, wasn’t Helene actually the older sister? I may be wrong in that but I could swear that was the case

    Reply
    • Roxana

      Yes, Helene was the elder sister. Elisabeth was only sixteen and suitors weren’t exactly lining up for any of the sisters – yet. They became very desirable matches only after becoming sisters in law to the Emperor. Left to herself Elisabeth might never have married at all, she may have been asexual if not aromantic. She didn’t like sex but she did love Franz Joseph as much as she was capable of loving anybody.
      Helene would have been a much better wife and empress, it’s really a pity that Elisabeth was there to mess up the arrangements. Helene survived being passed over and was the only one of the Bavarian sisters to have happy marriage, though alas cut short by her husband’s early death.

      Reply
    • SmallCatharine

      Yes, you are right. Helene was two years older and had just been presented at the Bavarian court in Münich, and was getting her first suitors. Helene would be allowed several years to select a suitor in 19th century German-speaking aristocratic circles.

      Sisi still had a governess and needed to work on her languages before coming out, this became a problem when she suddenly became Empress. IRL, Ludovika probably brought Sisi along to distract and amuse Franz Joseph’s sickly child brother Karl, who appears to not exist at all in this series.

      Reply
    • Alexander

      Oh dearie, dearie me… what were they thinking? Just when you think you’ve seen it all, productions like this just pop up out of the woodwork. I actually felt sympathy for the poor female cast – then I saw the behind the scenes shot of the two Mums together, obviously having a high old time… perhaps they were just plain hysterical at being dressed in their ill-conceived mish-mash. It is a period when style was pretty dour and dire but they seem to have managed to make everything so much worse – quite an achievement! What on earth is going on with Franz’s Mum’s bizarrely huge sash? What is Franz’s Mum wearing in general? Cruella Deville meets bride of Frankenstein. What is going on with the hair and headwear? Every outfit seems to consist of various decades piled on top of the other and I just find my head sizzling in complete confusion. Please can designers do proper research, get the aesthetic and silhouette of the defined period in their heads and just STICK TO IT! If your going balls out wtf, then just commit to it and go wild: if not then don’t try and play with hideous and anachronistic colour combinations and fabrics, cut and fit, whilst still attempting to convince us that this is historical and how they actually dressed – it would make everything a lot less confusing for all involved… and breath lol.

      Reply
  8. gendermuse

    Oh my god, thank you for doing this post because i had ALL of these thoughts when watching the show! I can’t get over how bizarre it is to watch because SOME costumes are like, perfect spot on for the period…and then Archduchess Alien Queen Sophie walks on and my brain explodes.

    (speaking of which, just WAIT until you get to the giant houndstooth print monstrosity she wears in a later episode!)

    Reply

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