The Girl Who Gave Her Life To Dress The Most Hated Woman In History

The Girl Who Gave Her Life To Dress The Most Hated Woman In History

By: Eduardo Limón -

What is beauty? The answer to that, either the standard definition or the broader one, has always been controversial. Who has created these frameworks? What is the process of definition behind it? Which authority is tasked with limiting its specific functions?

The democratic consensus leading to the understanding of what beauty is meant clarifications on theories on art and aesthetic. Fashion is an arena that needs to be evaluated in order to create the limits of what is considered pleasing. Since its beginning, this realm of art has dictated what is beautiful, attractive, and awe-worthy.

versailles rose bertin designer marie antoinette

The opinions from fashion designers and directors regarding what’s in and what’s out are quite diverse. Each one proposes an alternative vision of the present. These interpretations can change without notice. However, there was a time when one person chose what was beautiful and the population had to follow.

This is the case of Marie-Jeanne Rose Bertin, fashion pioneer and trailblazer of haute couture as we know it today. She went from being one of many women working for the French court to becoming the highest authority in design. The mind behind the theatrical style of the queen’s wardrobe, she turned Europe’s taste into an eccentric endeavor.

rose bertin violet

Born in 1747, and later hired to be Marie Antoinette’s personal dressmaker, Bertin created a system that became the foreground for high fashion.For almost two decades, with the help of hairdresser Léonard Autié, auteur of the queen’s famous hairstyle, Rose Bertin came up with exotic outfits for the young ruler. So, she would turn her mistress into France’s most elegant, beautiful, and unique woman.

The seamstress’s decadent fascination for color and luxury, mixed with the queen’s extravagance, gave way to an artistic movement that eventually would spread through the continent.

rose bertin sunglasses

Bertin became very close to the young queen from Austria. She saw herself not as an employee or a lesser person beneath the nobility. She considered herself to be someone who worked directly with the crown.

This ultimately resulted in those in Versailles to think of her as despot and arrogant. But for Marie Antoinette, she was her minister of fashion, a charge of world acclaim, since it was not long before Bertin had commissions from Russia, Sweden, Austria, and England.  

Several have made the comparison between Rose Bertin and Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel. Her life was that of an ordinary girl who then became the fashion designer for the French court. At the age of 16 she moved to Paris to begin her studies in design and ended her days as the greatest symbol of style of the era.

rose bertin cupcake

She opened her own boutique, Le Grand Mogol, while still in her teens. It wasn’t long before French society was enamored with her color patterns, lace neckerchiefs, embroidered gloves, silks, and muslins that revolutionized the human experience of generations to come.

While detained in 1792, in the midst of the French Revolution, Marie Antoinette told Rose Bertin of a dream she had: "You were bringing me ribbons of all colours, my dear Rose, and I chose several. But as soon as I had taken them in my hands, they turned black, and I threw them back into your boxes in horror.”

portrait of rose bertin

Rose Bertin continued to make small alterations and commissions for her muse, and was even meant to design her mourning dress after the King's death.

Bertin fled from France when most of her clients had been killed or disappeared, a large amount never having paid their bills. She moved her business to London; however, she would not be as famous or influential as when she served the Queen of France.


Harper’s Bazaar

Translated by María Suárez