Kirsten Dunst (extreme right) as Marie Antoinette in the 2006 film by the same name
Marie Antoinette has been dead for more than 200 years, but people continue to be fascinated by her. Looking beyond her extravagant habits and trip to the guillotine, she shaped the world of style in ways that today look contemporary but were scandalous in the late 18th century.
Marie was the subject of a Sofia Coppola movie in 2006 and a couple of recent books.
The queen defied tradition and set trends the fashion world loves to revisit. MAC cosmetics is calling its holiday collection Antiquitease and packaged make-up palettes in ornate gold and silver cases. Sephora and Juicy Couture also have done campaigns influenced by Marie Antoinette.
While people have an image of the queen as an empty-headed party girl, she used fashion in a radical and political way, said Caroline Weber, an associate professor at Barnard College, Columbia University, who wrote Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution (2006, Picador). She inaugurated the dawn of the aspirational fashion age.
Like Princess Diana, she appealed to the public by cultivating her image. She was the first celebrity of that kind, said Weber.
Maries practice of wearing male riding gear, the white furs and diamonds she donned for sleigh rides, and her monumental hairstyles were more than vanity, Weber said. There were limited vehicles for women to use to express themselves in her day, so the queen picked one that was available to her. The trappings identified her as a woman who could dress, spend and do exactly as she pleased, Weber writes.
And she also had some famous flops, perhaps setting up her enemies in the process. As a fashion statement, wearing mens equestrian gear backfired because it was perceived as masculine, Weber said. She hadnt been able to bear children, so she was seen as not moral, and criticised for her Germanic Austrian background.
Still, while her riding coats might have been railed against, they were soon copied by fashionable women in Paris and beyond.
Marie defied the French court by throwing out the royal dressers and having her own couturier, Rose Bertin, and hairdresser, Leonard, visit Versailles and tend to her needs.
The queen also allowed Bertin to release details of her clothing so outfits could be copied as long as they werent revealed for at least two weeks.
Later, perhaps because Marie had taken her wardrobe, hairstyles and parties to such excess, she went in the opposite direction with the unstructured chemise dresses she wore at the Petit Trianon.
It was a backlash, wearing these pastoral clothes and ballet flats, to feed her fantasy of a private life at Trianon, Weber says.
Marie continued to follow her own muse even as the French Revolution began dismantling the monarchy. She wore royalist green and purple instead of the red, white and blue tricolour clothes and hats.
After Louis XVI was executed, Marie wore mourning black in her jail cell as she awaited trial. That, too, was subversive because in the revolutionary mindset, it was a good thing the king was dead. But the queen had a simple white dress to wear to the guillotine. It was virginal, pure, Weber said. It was her statement that even though she had been dragged through the mud and accused of horrible things, she was going to do things her way. It was her last act of defiance.