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Joining me at the Women of Chapman's "Fashion in the Age of Louis XV" event at AnQi Gourmet Bistro was the speaker, Maxwell Barr, and his model Megan Smith

Joining me at the Women of Chapman’s “Fashion in the Age of Louis XV” event at AnQi Gourmet Bistro was the speaker, Maxwell Barr, and his model Megan Smith

Fashion historian Maxwell Barr, who has studied the fashions of 18th century Paris for many years, recently presented “Fashion in the Age of XV” to a rapt audience of 114 members and guests of the Women of Chapman, a support group of Chapman University. Held at AnQi Gourmet Bistro at South Coast Plaza, Barr used a powerpoint presentation to augment his talk, but the real impact revolved around a live model, who was dressed in fashions worn by a bourgeoisie lady in 18th century Paris. These ladies were from the elite class of merchants and bankers, who were one step below royalty, and were the monied class. Many of them married into royalty, much like the Downton Abbey story, with rich bourgeoisie women marrying men with titles and no money.

According to Barr, who handmade all the fashions worn by the model, these ladies changed clothing from four to eight times a day. He demonstrated what she would wear for her morning toilet, lunch, dinner, and a masked ball. The MORNING TOILET included taking a sponge bath or being seated on scented pillows in a bath, which included washing her hair. After washing, she was dressed in a linen chemise, knit silk stocking with silk ribbon ties and a handkerchief linen corset (see photos). Barr said the boning used in the corsets of the time was called baleen, which were bones from a whale’s mouth. Next, a linen under petticoat and decorative top petticoat were added, and a floor-length powdering jacket with silk satin ties was put on for hair and makeup.


Barr confided, “Madame Pompadour, Louis XV’s mistress, was considered a style-setter in her day, and her hairstyle was copied by the bourgeoisie ladies.” He said it entailed combing the hair with tallow (bone marrow cooked down to tallow and scented with hazelnut, lemon or orange), pumped up in front and fixed in a long braid down the back, which was then brought forward and pinned to the top of the head, with rolled horizontal curls on each side of the face. When the hair was powdered, the tallow made it adhere. Barr said a lady’s makeup was purchased at art supply stores and was the same paint artists used. There was no eye makeup, only rouge and lip color. “The ideal was a white face with flaming red lips and lip color,” Barr said. “However, the bourgeoisie lady always wore less rouge than royalty – that was the rule!” After hair and makeup were completed, she donned a silk taffeta jacket, often with silk satin ribbon embellishment and a ruffled edge, to which a matching silk taffeta skirt was added over the petticoats. She was now ready to view the latest fabrics from various designers, embroider or make pillow lace for gifts. Barr said she took sustenance from broth and bread.

If the bourgeoisie lady was going out to LUNCH, she removed the plain silk taffeta jacket and skirt and wore a fitted silk taffeta coraco brocade jacket (coraco means jacket with a flair), with the peplum a popular enhancement, and an embroidered silk taffeta skirt (not matching) over her petticoats. Barr said the lady’s jacket sleeve was cut for a bent elbow, since that was the way she held her arms at all times. Her accessories included a bergere (a flat-brimmed straw hat tied to the back of her head with a silk satin ribbon), beige kid leather three-quarter-length gloves, a small cross necklace on a ribbon, a triangular lace fichu (shawl), and silk taffeta brocade mules.


In preparation for DINNER, the bourgeoisie lady put on panniers, or side hoops, underneath her petticoats and, in this case, a shot silk taffeta sack-back gown or robe de la francaise. The iridescent fabric was woven one way in apple green and the other in apricot so that the green showed in natural light and the apricot shimmered in candlelight. Barr said the robe featured 130 embellishments with 20 yards of silk satin ribbon – rosettes, mimi-bouquets and triangle drapes in a lattice design. Her accessories included a pompom flower head ornament, a neck decoration or choker of silk ribbon and lace, ivory kid leather three-quarter-length gloves, and embellished lachet silk shoes with a Louis heel. The embellishments were diamonds and/or paste, depending on the lady’s wealth.


If the lady was attending a MASQUERADE BALL, she would wear the aforementioned robe de la francaise without the flower head ornament and neck decoration. A silk taffeta hooded cloak, or domino, with silk ribbon embellishments and matching ribbon ties was worn over the robe with an accompanying eye mask and fan.

FAN LANGUAGE: Barr said there was a complete fan language among ladies of that era so they could display a fan at a ball that would signify their intentions towards a gentleman. Examples were: Opening a fan slowly meant ‘Wait for me’; Striking a fan on your left hand meant ‘Write me’; Holding a fan closed meant ‘Do you love me?‘; Fanning slowly meant ‘I am married’; and Fanning rapidly mean ‘I am engaged.’

I want to thank WOC member and private jeweler extraordinaire Mona Nesseth for introducing my program co-chair Donna Calvert and I to Maxwell. Our membership is still talking about his presentation and how informative and enlightening it was. He created “Fashion in the Age of Louis XV” for the Getty Museum’s “Paris Life and Luxury Exhibit” and has lectured at the Royal School of Needlework at Hampton Court in London, where he is currently studying embroidery techniques and application from the Renaissance to the present. The Royal School of Needlework is under the patronage of Queen Elizabeth II and is considered the best in the world. The school produced the appliquéd lace worn on Kate Middleton’s wedding gown. Early in his career, Maxwell worked with Romeo Gigli in Rome and Bob Mackie in Los Angeles before he segued into a 26-year career in the movie and television industries, working at most of the major movie studios and professional costume houses.

After retiring from the movie/tv industry to teach, Maxwell concentrated on Costume History at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) and has lectured for the LACMA Costume Council, the UCLA Louis XIV Fashion Conference, aswell as for many other prestigious entities. He currently teaches and mentors at Woodbury University in Burbank in Period Design and Costume Construction, as well as at Los Angeles City College, and is continuing his studies of the French Royal family, specializing in Marie Antoinette, Empress Josephine and Madame de Pompadour. Who knows, a future program may be in the offing! The last thing I will say about Maxwell is that he is such a lovely person. We all loved him!

A big thank-you is in order for Elizabeth An, one of the powerhouse women in the An Restaurant dynasty. She was more than gracious to provide the restaurant for our program and to oversee a really delicious luncheon presentation. Mona’s friend, sommelier Margaux Kugelman, spoke about the superb wines offered for the occasion, which she made possible at a much reduced rate, and, thanks to Mona, were underwritten. Kudos are also due to Mona for underwriting Barr’s appearance. She is our WOC angel!!

Photos, courtesy of John Saade/Chapman University


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