Why the First Still From Marie Antoinette Chaps My Ass

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Sometimes the three of us who write for Frock Flicks have varying opinions on costumes in historical movies and TV shows. For example, I admit, I thought Trystan was overly meh about the semi-historically accurate but not-train-wrecky costumes in Becoming Elizabeth. But now it’s me who is vastly underwhelmed by what I’ve just seen of the not overly terrible, but still sad trombone-y for me, costumes in the forthcoming Marie Antoinette TV series being made by BBC and Canal +. I honestly wasn’t originally going to say a word about my reaction, but then I thought it’s been a few days since we overreacted/nitpicked something, so what the hell!

The series is being created by Deborah Davis, writer of The Favourite, which makes me hopeful. And it’s being filmed in France, including at the palace of Versailles, which is also a good sign. The costumes are being designed by Marie Frémont, a French designer who’s only other lead designer credit is for a modern-set film, but who worked on Versailles and The Last Duel, among others.

For a while, the only glimpse we’ve had of the series was the back shot above of German actress Emilia Schüle in the title role. “A decent robe à la française, I shall reserve judgement,” I thought. I’ve occasionally gone to look for more from this forthcoming series and seen nada, but I’ve bided my time. Then finally this image popped up:

2022 Marie Antoinette

To which I went:

lucille-bluth-unimpressed Arrested Development gif

And here’s where I may lose 90% of you, because yes, that’s a nicely made, well-fitted costume that is totally in the realm of the year 1770. So what’s my irritation?

In general, it’s that this story has been done so well by Sophia Coppola (and many others before), and in particular, Milena Canonero’s costumes did such a nice job of balancing the period with subtly tweaked design elements that heightened the story. So if you’re going to take on this story AGAIN, I either want to see something totally stylized à la The Favourite, or super historically accurate, which I don’t know that anyone has done.

Instead, we’ve got what looks like a Cinderella take on Marie-Antoinette. Let’s start with the hair, which is a light reddish brown. Sure, it’s decently styled in a not-too-high style with ringlets, and that red tinge references the fact that the real Marie-Antoinette was a strawberry blonde. But there’s not a drop of the powder that would be absolutely required not only by French fashion but also Austrian. And I’m girding my loins for “foreign princess from a less-fashionable court comes to Versailles and is shocked by the formality.” Which, yes, absolutely happened, but the girl didn’t come from Peoria. The Austrian court was slightly less rigid than Versailles, but it wasn’t a potato patch. They had hair powder, and they used it. In fact, her mother spent a ton of time making sure Marie-Antoinette’s fashion was up-to-snuff and had several portraits painted of her in the French style until they found one that they thought was good enough (the Ducreux painting below). Whether or not she was emotionally prepared for her new role, her damn hair would have been on par when she arrived.

2022 Marie Antoinette

Decent height and ringlets, no powder in sight.

Archduchess Maria Antonia of Austria, the later Queen Marie Antoinette of France by Joseph Ducreux, 1769, Palace of Versailles

The real deal | Archduchess Maria Antonia of Austria, the later Queen Marie Antoinette of France by Joseph Ducreux, 1769, Palace of Versailles

Next, I’ve got all kinds of problems with that standing lace collar. Yes, Renaissance revival fashions were a thing in this era (they were called “Spanish” or “troubadour”). But I feel like this isn’t the time or place for it and makes this ensemble read even more Cinderella-y. I’m nitpicking here, people!

2022 Marie Antoinette

See how the neckline lace gets higher in back?

The salon of the Duke of Orléans (sitting); he is with his son (standing) by Louis Carrogis Carmontelle, c. 1770

It’s absolutely something that was done in the period, but it just rubs me the wrong way in this instance | Detail from The salon of the Duke of Orléans (sitting); he is with his son (standing) by Louis Carrogis Carmontelle, c. 1770

Then you’ve got the machine-embroidered fabric. This is TOTALLY a Kendra-specific nitpick coming: machine-embroidered fabrics just scream “MODERN UPHOLSTERY FABRIC” to me. Yes, they absolutely wore embroidered fabrics. But it generally wasn’t tone-on-tone, and it was embroidered to shape the pieces of the dress (you wouldn’t waste time embroidering fabric that would be cut away). It would be ludicrously expensive to hand-embroider fabric for modern filmmaking. But it annoys me.

2022 Marie Antoinette

Machine-embroidered like nobody’s business.

Robe a la polonaise, c 1780, Met Museum

Most embroidery was done to suit the shapes of the dress | Robe a la polonaise, c 1780, Met Museum

Sack 1760s-70, Victoria & Albert Museum

Even when it was more all-over, it never goes into the seams, because why would you embroider if you’re just going to cut away? Sack 1760s-70, Victoria & Albert Museum

Woven Silk, 1730-69, Victoria & Albert Museum

The all-over patterns most modern machine embroideries are trying to reproduce were actually woven in the period | Woven Silk, 1730-69, Victoria & Albert Museum

And finally, CAN WE TALK ABOUT THAT BEADED LACE ON THE STOMACHER AND ALONG THE FRONT EDGES OF THE GOWN, WHICH ARE IN NO WAY AN 18TH-CENTURY AESTHETIC:

2022 Marie Antoinette

100% Cinderella.

Sack, 1755-60s, V&A

I was all set to say I didn’t even think that they beaded lace at all, but I found this sack with glass beads added. Nonetheless, the aesthetic is totally different | Sack, 1755-60s, Victoria & Albert Museum 

Court dress 1750 Met

I think they were going for something like the metallic embroidery and lace on this British court dress, but to me, it’s a very different result | Court dress, c. 1750, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Stomacher 1750 V&A

Here’s an example of an embellished lace stomacher from the period | Stomacher, 1750, Victoria & Albert Museum

All of this is total nitpicks from someone who spends far too much time looking at real 18th-century fashion, I fully admit!

 

Can you stop yourself from nitpicking when you know an era well?

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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.

44 Responses

  1. florenceandtheai

    I’ve learned stuff from reading Frock Flicks! I didn’t clock the hair, but my first thought was “is that a front opening dress with lace only on one side? And is the standing collar funky and asymmetrical (couldn’t see the other side due to her hair)?” Some of it has finally sunk in!

    I’m not a clothing specialist, but I have a really good ear for non-American (better term?) Rs. Australian actors seem to be the biggest offenders. Their accent may be otherwise spot on, but they’ll lose me by adding an R where it doesn’t belong. It’s a stupid talent, but it’s mine.

    Reply
  2. Kat

    It’s the tiniest of nitpicks for me but the stones in the earrings and necklace also look like turquoise stones – which to my knowledge was not super commonly used in Europe during that time period – especially when the real life MA favored pearls and diamonds for her jewelry. But could someone correct me if I’m wrong – was it the norm to sew the dress and then hand embroider it afterwards? I feel like I’ve seen it in multiple films but was never sure about the process (embroidering, then sewing vs sewing, then embroidering).

    Reply
    • Aleko

      What was normal was to buy the fabric, cut the pattern pieces, mark out where the embroidery was to go on each piece and turn it over to the embroiderers. That was far more practical than trying to embroider a finished garment*. And it was not only more economical of expensive materials ans skilled labour than embroidering the multiple yards of whole fabric, but it was also more elegant, since every motif was placed just so. (Generally, where an extant gown has embroidery that has been cut into, it’s a clue that the gown has been at least re-sized or even completely re-fashioned during its working life.

      Another procedure was standard for men’s waistcoats. You cut two equal lengths just long enough for a waistcoat from a piece of silk or other luxury fabric that was just wide enough for one waistcoat front piece, then you did the embroidery for the front and lower edges and the area surrounding the pocket all in one, and the embroidery for the pocket flap in the upper outer corner of the fabric. Then to make up the waistcoat you’d cut out the front pieces to your client’s measurements, attach them to back pieces of plain material, and put in pockets and the pocket flaps to cover them. This meant that the embroidery didn’t have to be bespoke; an embroidery business could offer a variety of ready-made embroider panels for clients to browse and choose from. One result of this practice is that many of these panels survive uncut: here for instance –

      https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O117866/pair-of-waistcoat-unknown/

      Reply
      • susan l eiffert

        Yes! I have 3 never-sewn waistcoats of the period and they are a good illustration of the process. One is woven, but another is beautifully embroidered in multicolored flowers on cream silk, the last is linen-on-linen in tiny trapunto quilting and is frankly my favorite because it’s just so intricate.
        Lastly, I have to share one of my peeves in some modern clothing and on that stomacher which was also an immediate clanger for me as well: That awful flatly applied lace piece on the stomacher. It never looks good anywhere, any time, on anything!

        Reply
    • grimildemalatesta

      The design of the necklace is also quite off. Or at least I’ve never seen anything like that on paintings and such. Anyway, they did trace the pattern piece on the fabric, they mounted on a frame and then embroidered it. Then the piece was cut out and sewn. But the embroidery was designed for that shape of fabric, for that specific measurements and dress. It would have looked more or less like this, during the process: https://www.metmuseum.org/-/media/images/blogs/now-at-the-met/2015/2015_06/elaborate-embroidery/2.jpg?sc_lang=en&hash=67FB3EF40C7754C21EC074BAE88FFBAD

      Reply
    • Kendra

      I was wondering about the turquoise too, but then worried it was more that I’m not a personal fan of the color/stone, as I’m not an expert.

      Reply
      • Kat

        I had to go looking (I’m by no means an expert but very into historical jewelry trends/history); turquoise had been introduced to Europe via trade in Turkey by that point but it still largely seems to be most popular in Middle Eastern and Latin American countries until the 20th century – possibly owing to a decree by the Roman Catholic Church (which went away in the mid-1400s but still lingered around) that turquoise was only meant to be used for sacred, religious ornaments.

        Reply
  3. SarahV

    Shit like this is why I love this blog and the work that you, Kendra, do! All of these, shall we call them, nitpicks are things that never once in a zillion years would have occurred to me, but you have scalpel like sharpness to your observations and now I sit back and think things like how DARE they! Where is the hair powder? She’s not a field hand! She’s a Hapsburg princess!”

    Reply
    • M.E. Lawrence

      “Most embroidery was done to suit the shapes of the dress | Robe a la polonaise, c 1780, Met Museum” Nitpickery or not, I appreciate Kendra’s point that a good designer/artist married embroidery to shape and silhouette. And Emilia Schüle’s make-up! She looks like she’s going to a high-society costume ball, c. 2022.

      Reply
  4. Damnitz

    I can understand your problems with the clothing. The fabric and details are just looking poor. Maybe she is shown without powdered hair because she is on a voyage? But that makes no sense really as we would suppose that the Archduchess would have had to make a nice impression on the court and the king in particular.

    Reply
    • Aleko

      You’re right, it doesn’t. Sure, she might very well not have had herself coiffed and powdered daily on her journey from Austria, but of course she wouldn’t have worn full-dress court clobber either: she’d have had a warm travelling cloak or habit.

      Reply
  5. Nico

    Can we talk about the pic the lead actress emila schuele posted on her instagram account? The one with crazywig??
    😱😱

    Reply
  6. Boxermom

    I literally just screamed ” What the f**k is that !? ” When I saw the first photo. Of course, it doesn’t help that I’m tired (working & training for a new job) and having had two cocktails. :)

    Reply
  7. Saraquill

    Empress Maria Theresa had many other children. Can’t we have more flicks about any of them, of of the Empress herself? Heck, a series on Marie Therese, Marie Antoinette’s eldest daughter and the only one to make it to adulthood.

    Reply
    • Kendra

      EXCELLENT point! Wasn’t there one who was destined for greatness and then had her looks ruined by smallpox? And another who was close in age to MA and the two were considered almost twins, I’m pretty sure she married an Italian…

      Reply
      • Nico

        Her most famous sister was Maria Carolina who married the king of Naples and was much more involved in politics and bossy than MA. The two were very close. I think there are some Italian and German series about her but she would clearly deserve more. She also had her « dark » side as she went heavy on repression of local supporters of the French Revolution after MA’s execution.

        Reply
  8. Mrs. D

    I’m actually from Peoria (or close enough) originally, and I’ve been sitting here trying to come up with a clever comment, but I got nothing. The best I can say is, “Not another Marie Antoinette movie.”

    Reply
    • Elle Jay

      Haha.. same.. actual Peorian here (the Illinois one, not Arizona) & usually the most we get is the old “but will it play…?” comment. On SO many levels—probably not. Love this blog!!

      Reply
  9. Mary

    I am not an expert on historical fashion but the first thing that hits me when I see this is “Sofia Coppola did it better” and “Ah Marie Antoinette (because you immediately know who they’re trying to portray), but cheap”

    Reply
  10. Kari Gluski

    I was kind of surprised that you were OK with the robe à la française in the very top photo since the pleats look like they were tacked on across the shoulder blades like a curtain hung there and not integrally folded into the back fabric up to the neckline.

    Reply
  11. Will

    I’m actually pretty intrigued with this one. Marie-Antoinette’s story (and ESPECIALLY its supporting characters, Louis XVI, Madame Elisabeth, Gabrielle de Polignac, Princesse de Lamballe, who have been invariably short-changed) has been dying for a TV series. Sure truncated versions are all over, but I’d argue her character hasn’t been accurately conveyed since 1938. Coppola’s film got the look right. Im hoping more for accuracy when it comes to events and personalities here (and from her comments, I think Emilia Schüle is a great choice who really gets the naturalistic, charming, dignified side of Antoinette that Kirsten Dunst simply couldn’t or made no attempt to).

    Reply

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