Sunday, May 3, 2015

Reincarnation — Empress Elisabeth of Austria Lives Again

Close-up of Elisabeth of Bavaria, Empress of Austria by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1865

Fashion is often the application of history, and the Chanel Pre-Fall 2015 “Paris-Salzburg” presentation is a notable example of this phenomenon. Every year for the pre-fall collection, Chanel head designer Karl Lagerfeld picks a new locale to inspire him and holds a spectacular destination fashion show there. He studies the history and rich culture of these foreign cities and creates collections that are deeply inspired by the landscape and the people. For the 2015 edition, he and his model muses jetted up from Paris to Salzburg, Austria, for a decadent night at the Hotel Schloss Leopoldskron. When it-girls like Lindsey Wixson and Kendall Jenner strutted through the Baroque manor they wore lederhosen and Tyrolean hats that were to be expected from an Austrian-inspired collection, but Lagerfeld was not only inspired by the costumes of the Von Trapp children. His main source of inspiration was the Empress Elisabeth, affectionately known as Sisi, whom he brought back to life for the evening with the help of fellow muse Cara Delevingne.

In the collection's accompanying short film, “Reincarnation”, Delevingne transforms from lowly barmaid to the reincarnation of the Empress herself, in true Cinderella fashion. Singer Pharrell Williams joins her as Emperor Franz Joseph I for a fantastical waltz in the middle of the night as they sing about Sisi and “CC” (as in Coco Chanel and the famous interlocking C logo of the esteemed French fashion house).

It is enchanting to see the empress come alive—and in the form of Cara Delevingne, who seems to be the world’s most talked-about model/actress these days—but one wonders what it is about Empress Elisabeth that so enchanted Karl Lagerfeld, and furthermore, how does his interpretation of the empress influence how modern audiences respond to the monarch?

Marie Antoinette — Hair Up To There

Kim Kardashian's platinum-blonde hair | Portrait of Marie Antoinette by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1783
When Kim Kardashian dyed her hair platinum blonde a few weeks back, it seemed like everyone had an opinion on the matter. Memes were created, think pieces were written, and fashion police, official and self-appointed, made judgment calls. The moment Kim stepped out in Paris with her white-blonde locks the world was atwitter (on Twitter), but let’s face it: Kim’s testing the hypothesis of whether or not blondes have more fun wasn't going to start any wars or plummet the economy.

But what if it had?

What if Kim Kardashian’s hair choice changed the political landscape of America? What if public outcry for her unnatural color created actual, palpable change in the economy or in government? To even imagine such a world is a ridiculous task, and one can't help but laugh at the idea. But a little over two hundred years ago, one daring hairstyle could hold a lot of political power.

Just ask Marie Antoinette. You probably know the girl from her unfortunate role in the French Revolution (you know, where the people shouted “Off with her head!” and the French monarchy all had not-so-good dates with the guillotine) or the dreamy reimagining of her life in a Sofia Coppola film. As an important figure of the French Revolution, Marie Antoinette is someone you either love or you hate. A figurehead of the frivolities of the absolutist French monarchy, Antoinette was known for her daring style and her preference for the finer things in life. She was also the subject of many a political scandal, and much was gossiped about her and her lifestyle. If you think modern-day gossip rags are ridiculous, you won't believe how outrageous some of the rumors about Marie Antoinette were.

What does this have to do with her hairstyle, you may be asking? You'd be surprised just how seriously people took coiffures back in the day.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

The First Fashion Designer — Charles Frederick Worth & His Royal Clientele

Photograph of Charles Frederick Worth | Portrait of The Empress Eugénie (wearing one of Worth's designs), 1854, by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Karl Lagerfeld. Raf Simons. Marc Jacobs. Phoebe Philo…and so on goes the list of the leading fashion designers of today. If you are interested in the fashion industry you know these names, and even if you are just a casual observer of the fashion world chances are you can name off top designers. Whether you are deeply invested in the world of fashion or not you recognize the important role that fashion designer play in shaping trends and inspiring the very things you wear, no matter if they are from Target or Barney’s.

Did you know, however, that there was a time when fashion designers—and fashion brands, for that matter—were not a thing? It’s true! Back in the day there were no department stores to shop from, no all-important creative forces who dictated the trends du jour. Quelle horreur!  So who started this whole fashion designer thing? Who was the one to make that a trend?

For that answer, we turn (of course) to the city of Paris.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

A Lasting Reign — Marie Antoinette's Influences on 21st Century Style

Wildfox Couture Fall 2014 Ad Campaign channelling Marie Antoinette
Over two hundred years since her death and Marie Antoinette is as popular as ever—perhaps even more so than when she was alive.

Why is it that we are still obsessed with her? Did Sofia Coppola’s dreamy biopic ask the world to look at Marie Antoinette through rose-colored glasses? Is rococo just back in style? Or is there something about Marie Antoinette—her style, her biography, her personality—that appeals to the modern woman?

First, let’s look back at some of the most memorable Marie Antoinette-inspired fashion moments of the twenty-first century so far.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Empress’s New Clothes — Making Fashion AND Political Statements

Detail of the Empress Theodora mosaic from the church of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy
Image is everything. Hate to break it to you, but whoever said “don’t judge a book by its cover” never had a job interview. We are making first impressions all the time, and nowadays with the prevalence of the internet it’s important to cultivate a clean public image if one wishes to promote oneself in the best light possible. Who you are on the inside matters too, but image is the thing people will judge first.

This isn't a new concept, though. Actually, constructed public images have existed for thousands of years. Roman emperors would disseminate portrait busts throughout the empire in order to show citizens of the Empire what their ruler looked like and remind everyone that they were under the leadership of a very important individual. Busts didn’t always physically resemble the rulers they were meant to be; portrait busts of Augustus, for example, showed him as eternally youthful even though he ruled until he was in his seventies. Other rulers preferred veristic portraits that emphasized their flaws and wrinkles since they believed those traits showed wisdom and experience. We think that people only started to alter their images when Photoshop came around, but to be truthful, people in the public eye have been manipulating their image in order to emphasize certain traits and leadership qualities for ages.

Another example of a public figure who fashioned their image to their advantage: Byzantine Emperor Justinian and his wife, Empress Theodora.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Welcome to the Monarchy of Style Blog

Empress Eugénie With Her Ladies in Waiting by Franz Xavier Winterhalter, 1855 | Street style via

The more I study fashion the more the following becomes abundantly clear: fashion is cyclical. 

Every season we see references to the past, both near and far, and reiterations of the same clothes over and over again. Consider fall's continued love affair with the bohemian styles of the 1970s or the Shakespearian influences at the Valentino Spring 2015 couture show; modern fashion is simply a way to make the styles of the past relevant once again.

This is the purpose of Monarchy of Style: to bridge the gap between the trends of history with the styles of today. From inventive new clothing shapes to some of the first widespread trendsetting movements, historical ladies with power had large influence over the fashion world in the same way that celebrities and fashion bloggers influence our fashion choices today.

Fashion may seem trivial and frivolous in today's busy world, but those who know better understand that fashion plays an integral part in any society, past or present. We all wear clothes every day, and even when we don't feel as if we are consciously putting effort into choosing what we wear, we are all playing a part in the world of fashion (if you're not convinced, this scene from The Devil Wears Prada tells you everything you need to know).

Even if you don't work in the industry, chances are you've flipped through a fashion magazine or questioned a celebrity's interesting outfit. In the same way that we love our best and worst dressed lists and seeing what our favorite celebrities will wear next, people of the past paid a lot of attention to what the celebrities of their day wore—and by celebrity, I mean royalty. The Kardashians may be the queens of television and celebrity style today, but not too long ago it was real queens and princesses who were the public figures of the day, and they were the ones who were being judged by the Fashion Police.

Marie Antoinette's ostentatious ensembles created civil outcry; Queen Elizabeth I inspired a whole generation of women to pluck their foreheads high and stay indoors to avoid the harsh rays of the sun (ugh, take me back to the days when being pale was in style); Cleopatra may be the reason why we are all still trying to perfect the flawless cateye look. Talk about fashion icons—these women had true power over fashion, and they used this power to their advantage.

Monarchy of Style is a blog that explores the relationship between these influential royal figures and the clothes they wore; how they dressed, how they influenced others with their fashion, and how others perceived them. For these women of power, fashion was perhaps their biggest tool, and we can all learn something about how these women used fashion to influence others and project their own self-image.

The next time you post an #OutfitOfTheDay picture on Instagram or stand before your closet deciding what to wear, think about what the Monarchs of Style would do. Don't just wear clothes; use them. They're one of the most powerful weapons we all have.