SNARK WEEK RECAP: The Empress (2022), Ep. 3


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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!

Make sure you’ve read my recap of episodes 1 and episode 2!

First, the Sisonscreen Tumblr has a translation of an interview with costume designer Gabrielle Reumer from Vogue Germany. Here’s a few tidbits I enjoyed:

Today it is desired in period dramas that everything is modern and different in terms of film making or production. That is a great undertaking and not easy to do. But you have to adapt a bit to the present and adapt the story for the eyes of today because a lot just doesn’t work anymore. About 1850, women were like furniture. They were adorned, one could say decorated, so you look at them. The most important thing was that it was a lot. Actually this is unbearable, the women were like dolls. At this time, the crinolines, a kind of hoop skirt, were like a sphere and gave the women this doll likeness. But this didn’t fit the story of Sisi for me, this woman, that emancipated herself and freed herself from the oppression and power plays. So I asked myself how could one dress women more dynamically. So I changed the shape of the crinolines towards something that came into fashion in the 1870s: flat in the front and a bit elliptical in the back. I used this shapes for Sisi and Sophie.

Vogue: So did you also see the originals clothes of Empress Elisabeth?

Reumer: Yes, at Schönbrunn, but I found them awful. Everything was so tacky. I’m usually very minimalistic when it comes to my costumes.

Vogue: Then why did you agree to be the costume designer after all?

Reumer: At the beginning, I wondered what I was actually doing here. But the I viewed it as a challenge. There are also very nice great from this time. The men’s clothing is awesome with its frock-coats from great materials and high tophats. It is crazy what one can do with shapes.

Me, reading Vogue‘s last question:

RuPaul, Max "Status Update: Dead"

This episode focuses entirely on the wedding day and night, so there’s not a lot of costume changes. We begin with a whole lot of dimly-lit shots of Elisabeth in her wedding dress, waiting around, walking down the aisle, and at the ceremony:

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I lightened the shit out of these for you.

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She walks outside the church to be presented to the cheering crowds and we can finally see what the hell she’s wearing:

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The veil motifs were placed really nicely.

So how does it compare to the real wedding dress of Empress Elisabeth of Austria? On the one hand, we don’t really know! According to Palaces of Europe, no clear images of the wedding survive, and definitely no photos! This is the best we’ve got:

Cérémonie de mariage de l'Empereur François-Joseph, Wiener Zeitung 1854

A contemporary illustration from a German newspaper | Cérémonie de mariage de l’Empereur François-Joseph, Wiener Zeitung 1854

Wedding dress Empress Elisabeth according to the "Journal de Mode et d'Arts" 1854

A contemporary fashion plate | Wedding dress Empress Elisabeth according to the “Journal de Mode et d’Arts” 1854

Elisabeth d'Autriche en mariée, 1854, Wiener Zeitung

Another newspaper illustration | Elisabeth d’Autriche en mariée, 1854, Wiener Zeitung

One part of the actual gown does survive, and that’s the train, which appears to be satin and is is richly embroidered with gold and silver:

Wedding Train of Empress Elisabeth, 1854, Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien

You can zoom this image on the museum’s website | Wedding Train of Empress Elisabeth, 1854, Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien

Wedding Train of Empress Elisabeth, 1854, Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien

Wedding Train of Empress Elisabeth, 1854, Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien

So what do we get instead of an actual 1850s-style wedding dress? A beautifully made, but completely 1950s-style, gown:

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The shiny bits are white sequins.

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Pretty! Just, not Victorian.

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Layers of tulle.

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The wedding dress, along with many of the other gowns, was made by Costumes Couture.

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The detail is pretty! It’s just very 20th-21st century. And yes, she has giant honkin’ diamonds hot-glued into her hair.

At one point she goes outside, and the neckline changes a bit:

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Is that her special Going Outside Collar?

Most of the other key characters are wearing what they were in the last shot of episode 2, like:

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Franz’s Mom in a vintage-style necklace that’s totally modernized and something you’d buy at Macy’s.

Luckily, Franz’s ex-floozy shows up to BRING THE DRAMA in a LUDICROUSLY ugly dress:

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Hideous gold floral lace.

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With giant sleeves and faux-mohawk hair (ooo she’s so edgy!)

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And a very modern, geometric-motif skirt with high fitted belt … but that high waistline actually makes her look pregnant.

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Behind the scenes.

Franz’s younger brother Maximilian gets her into the wedding, just to stir shit up. He’s pissy about not getting to shag Elisabeth and also clearly wants to replace his brother as emperor. Ex-Floozy watchdogs Elisabeth throughout, enough that Elisabeth asks Franz who she is. He denies knowing her. Eventually various ladies-in-waiting let spill that she’s Franz’s ex-mistress. Elisabeth gets upset because Franz ditches her and ludicrously manages to lose all her ladies-in-waiting and wander around on her own. She has a tense meeting with Ex-Floozy in a STUNNINGLY pretty room, finds her dad outside drunk and as a result sends her family away, including Helene — who she first informed everyone would be the new head of her household, but she reconsiders.

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The ladies-in-waiting get new special dresses for the reception:

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Ugly lace that looks like a bad skin condition.

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The curvy maid gets sleeves?

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The matron BRINGS IT with the GINORMOUS and ugly hair.

Another sub-plot not worth screencapping because again, it’s all the same outfits, is that matron is pissy because Elisabeth wants to replace her with Helene. She complains to Franz’s Mom, who is busy reconnecting with her ex-boyfriend the Count of Vasa. She basically confirms to him that Franz is his son, getting on her knees in what I thought was going to be an Our Son Just Got Hitched Blowjob but no dice. Vasa asks Franz’s Mom to run away with him, she prevaricates, he snarks that she’s always been more into the royal family than him. Vasa runs into Franz in the hallway, introduces himself, and the two have a moment. Later the matron tries to comfort Franz’s Mom in a way that implies maybe the two have been sexual in the past; Franz’s Mom rebuffs her.

The Empress

Back at the start, the reception kicks things off with various courtiers performing a dance for the newly married couple. It starts with some badly dressed extras waltzing, and then TURNS INTO SOME KIND OF POSTMODERN OVERWROUGHT BULLSHIT:

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Note MULTIPLE buns of various sizes on the chick, and the guy seeming to think it’s Glitzy Rockabilly night?

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Jazz hands!

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Bad choreography!

It’s worth watching just to see HOW BAD IT IS:

After this Franz ditches Elisabeth to go negotiate his railroad. At first the elders of the banking family say no, but Greasy Son slimes in later to say yes because Franz’s Ex-Floozy has talked him into it as a means of inserting herself into the equation. Meanwhile, Russian troops are at the border and everyone is pressuring Franz to mobilize. The French ambassador gets offended that Franz won’t come into the war on the French/British side.

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Greasy Son rocks the polka-dot cravat.

Elisabeth is hurt and pissed and even interrupts one of the meetings to say she needs to talk to Franz. He says no, hence all her wandering mentioned above. Finally the night is over and they are both dressed for The Act (Elisabeth, hilariously: “I can’t take this nightgown off or I will go to hell”). She tells Franz off, he says sorry, and he won’t do it again, instead of explaining that sometimes the country needs to come before her/his personal life, which seems like a bad setup.

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Elisabeth’s nightgown looks like something out of the 1920s, although I can see the Central/Eastern European influence.

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Franz’s robe is VERY Middle Eastern-influenced.

The two shag on the floor in front of the fire. And we’re done with episode 3!

Stay tuned tomorrow for episode 4!





31 Responses

  1. Joanne Renaud

    Hahahahahhaha that dance scene wtf I can’t even

    I watched 28 seconds before I had to stop. This is the most idiotic, pompous pseudo-historical nonsense I’ve watched recently. Too bad Falco isn’t alive to turn this into a fun, bearable dance video.

    Also, that interview. With the designer not even bothering to hide her disdain of historical styles, no wonder these costumes are such an absolute clusterfrock!

    • M.E. Lawrence

      Is Reumer an actual professional-designer-type person? If so, of what? I hope she intended the non-Elisabeth dresses to be ugly, because they are undoubtedly the nastiest-looking wedding-party gear I’ve ever seen, and I survived the era of polyester double-knit. (It’s not even witty/stylized, just…yuck.)

    • Jennifer

      Oh, my lord, I’m STILL laughing. It looks like it was a parody created by Contemporary Eric and his assistant Bich.

      • Aleko

        It looked like it. The only logic I can see in that dance and her reaction to it is ‘see the courtiers setting out to get the bride into the mood for her wedding night’. Which is bat-sh*t crazy for pretty much any European court at any time.

    • Roxana

      This is the mid 19th century when the waltz was still slightly risque! The Austrian Court was nothing if nor stiff. Probably nothing but quadrillion at Sisi’s wedding ball.
      Her wedding night may have been somewhat traumatic, being forced to breakfast with her mother in law the morning after definitely was!

  2. Frances

    The dance actually reminded me of Wednesday’s dance, which was fine for a young goth girl, not Austrian courtiers. Weird.

  3. Saraquill

    How are those eyesores at all minimalistic or symbols of throwing off oppression and power plays? These costumes are as bad as “denim is relatable.”

  4. Ester

    So it would seem that the wedding dress originally had the clunky appliqué all around the neck? They shot one scene, after which the actress or director or whoever found it irritating or ugly and they ripped a piece off the front?

    The neck decoration kinda makes sense to me now, after seeing the picture taken in the sewing studio. I hadn’t noticed the one outside scene with the lace and beading intact. Without the front piece the placement of the appliqué seemed like a very weird and very modern design choice. But even with it the dress is totally whackadoodle for the period. As are all the others.

  5. Boxermom

    That dance…words fail me. I can say, however, that Franz is looking pretty tasty in his wedding finery. :)

  6. Susan

    Crap. More crap. Still more crap. The production team is still flunking history. And the costume designer needs to read Austrian Court Dress for Dummies: Volume I: 1840-1870.

  7. Coco

    Maybe “The Favourite” and “Marie Antoinette” are the only historical films the makers of this episode have ever seen, so they thought an anachronistic dance sequence was necessary.

  8. Nzie

    I genuinely didn’t realize that bizarre dark tiara was her HAIR. I mean, cool to be able to do that with hair, but also, can you really do that with hair? And if you want to keep it that long, you won’t be gluing jewels into it.

    That dance, wow. None of this makes sense.

    • octopusgrrl

      IKR? Surely if it was real bling, you wouldn’t be Gluing. It. Into. Your. Hair! And if it was paste, that would be pretty tacky for a Kaiserin at her wedding, trying to impress with power and wealth.

  9. ktkittentoes

    This makes me feel like I forgot to take my meds this morning. And hot glue is not good on hair.

  10. octopusgrrl

    I’m hate-watching this while reading the recaps, and I think each episode had me yelling at the screen about something. I swear they were vogueing during that hideous dance number, and the hair: dear gods, the hair. It’s so annoying that so many of the background crowd are much more appropriately dressed for the period. Thanks for the recap Kendra, now every time I see the Dowager Empress, I’m thinking “Oh boy, Sophie’s on her postmodern bullshit again?” 🤣

    • Rachel

      I am mad at the designer for that interview in general… I can’t imagine trying to design for a period you have nothing but contempt for…. but specifically regarding the wedding dress, like you have a golden opportunity to design a period-appropriate wedding dress (since there aren’t records of the original) for one of the most stylish women of the era (can’t remember exactly when Charles Worth first set up shop, but it was around this time and he made a number of things for Sisi, including her 1867 coronation gown) …. And you go with the bullshit “oh we have to MODERNIZE historical figures and fashion so they’re “RELATABLE” “ and arrghhh, no, I hate it so much!

      • Susan

        And Sisi and Franz married in the early 1850s and Worth earliest is I believe a 1858 Fancy Dress Costume. But yeah, dressing a young and beautiful empress would have been a big deal. And her wedding gown train is gorgeous

  11. Gosia

    An acquaintance of mine, who is very interested in the Habsburgs of the 19th century and hence trashed this series, called the nightgown of Franz Joseph, we see on the last screenshot, “pontifical robe” :-D. I think that hits the nail on the head! But on a more serious note, how could this shitty series, where neither the costumes nor the customs and not even the chronology are presented correctly, get such good reviews from professional critics????? They must have been bribed by the producers, I just can’t explain it otherwise.

  12. Roxana

    Awful dress, awfully hsur, nice lace veil. One out of three is pretty bad. The actor playing Franz Joseph is adorable.

  13. Mina van Berh

    I can’t even… How is it possible that this bullshit is still getting worse?

    • Mina van Berh

      The interview… When she hated the original pieces so much WHY DID SHE TAKE THE JOB? Why??

      • Gosia

        That is, what I’m wondering about too … And yes, this shit gets even worse.

  14. Christine

    I watched this over Christmas and noticed the costume weirdness. I had wondered if the difference between more historically accurate costumes worn outside the Palace circle and ‘designer’ costumes worn inside the world of the Palace was meant to suggest a message: the artificialty of Palace life, perhaps? But the interview with the costume designer shows that there is no such complexity. It’s very sad that she has such contempt for the reality of women’s lives. Women lived and worked in such clothes. They adapted these fashions in various ways to suit their bodies and lifestyles, and sometimes decorations that may seem strange to us were part of these adaptations. Just because she does not like the fashions is no reason to assume that the women who wore them were mere dolls. I have to ask with Vogue: why did she take a job for which her disposition and opinions make her so unsuited?

  15. Bee

    So what I’m gathering from this interview is that the designer heard you call the 1850s the death of fashion and said, “Hold my beer…”