Frocks & ‘Farewell my Queen’

Faced with the lack of costuming events in Wellington, one of the things we costume enthusiasts like to do is dress up in full frockery to see period movies.  I noticed that the French film ‘Farewell, My Queen‘ (Les Adieux à la Reine) was playing at one of Wellington’s fabulous little boutique theatres, so off we went to see it.

On Saturday I mentioned to Mr D that the girls and I were going to watch a film on Sunday afternoon.  We had this conversation:

Mr D: “What movie?  Why didn’t you ask me”

Me: “It’s called Farewell, My Queen”

Mr D: (dubiously) “Oh”

Me: “It’s about Marie Antoinette”

Mr D: (with disgust) “Oh”.

Me: “It’s a costume movie.”

Mr D: (slight horror) “Oh”

Me: “It’s in French”

Mr D: (with fervent gratitude) “Thank you for not asking me!”

Alas, most of us who weren’t scared by costume movies in French were too worn out to dress up, but I put on my pet, and the Sewphist borrowed my chemise a la reine, and the whole group had lovely time.

Frocks at Farewell, My Queen

Thanks to Sarah the Photographer for being camera guru with my camera

Double alas, the movie wasn’t that good.  It’s yet another take on Marie Antoinette’s story.  Based on Chantal Thomas’ novel of the same name, it’s a look at four days at Versaille from the storming of the Bastille from the perspective of a servant who reads to the queen.  The back-stairs perspective is novel, but I doubt the accuracy of a very lowly servant, one who wears the same dress for four days, reading, much less being able to get within wiff distance of Marie Antoinette on a daily basis.

The film wasn’t strong on history either: it revolves around Marie Antoinette’s ‘crush’ on the Duchess de Polignac, and the film, while not explicitly claiming a lesbian relationship between the two, definitely describes a friendship (at least on the queen’s side) that is significantly more…ummm…devoted than the usual close female friendship.  I have to wonder how closely the film adheres to Thomas’ novel, as Thomas is supposed to be a reasonable historian, and the rumorous of lesbian relationships been pretty clearly proven to existing only in anti-monarchist propaganda based on everything recent I’ve read.  Resurrecting that dreadful old chestnut does nobody any favours.

And the costumes?  Oh dear

I was a bit dubious based on the poster, but all the reviews described it as a visual triumph.  Clearly the reviews weren’t written by anyone with any background in historical costuming.  Tons and tons of embroidered dupion.  Lots and lots of dresses criss-cross laced down the back with great honking metal eyelets.  Acid green.  Jackets worn fully buttoned over full dresses.  Servants with lace trimmed chemises.  Rose Bertin wearing the exact same outfit three days in a row.  And a ‘chemise a la reine’ inspired thing that is just…just…just oh dear.

Finally, the costume designer  was inexplicably attached to 1980s organza roses stuck to the wearers upper right bodice.  Here is Marie Antoinette with some.  And de Polignac with some.  And Rose Bertin with some.  And oh look, de Polignac with more of them (and more of that embroidered dupion)!

Frocks at Farewell, My Queen

The best part of the film came when an upper servant informs our reader heroine that she is wanted by the Queen and hurries her along with an urgent ‘Allons-y’.  Our whole row burst into giggles, and as Madame O said later “a Tardis showing up at that point could only have improved the movie!”  It was definitely a little slow in places.

Frocks at Farewell, My Queen

The HSF Challenge #24: Re-do

Hurrah!  It’s the challenge you’ve all been waiting for: the Re-Do challenge (due 2 Dec).  This one is super easy.  Pick any previous challenge and re-do it (or do it for the first time).

It could be one that you didn’t finish, one that you wish you’d had more time for, or any time for, or one where you loved the theme so much you want to do it again.

1780s pet-en-l'aire and pleated petticoat

The challenges so far have been:

  • #0 (the bonus challenge): Starting Simple - due 31 December NZT.  Finish a project, make a very simple garment, or something you have made before.
  • #1: Bi/Tri/Quadri/Quin/Sex/Septi/Octo/Nona/Centennial – due 14 Jan.  Sew something from __13, whether it be 1913, 1613, or 13BC
  • #2: UFO - due Jan 28.  Let’s get something off our UFO pile! Use this opportunity to finish off something that’s never quite gotten done, or stalled halfway through.
  • #3: Under it all – due Feb 11.  Every great historical outfit starts with the right undergarments, and, just in time for Valentines day, here’s you’re excuse to make them. Chemises, corsets, corded petticoats, drawers, garters, stockings…if it goes under your garments, it qualifies.
  • #4: Embellish -  due Feb 25.  Decorations make the historical garment glorious. Whether you use embroidery, trim, pleating, lace, buttons, bows, applique, quilting, jewels, fringe, or any other form of embellishment, this challenge is all about decorative detail.
  • #5: Peasants & Pioneers – due March 11. As wonderful as making pretty, pretty princess dresses is, the vast majority of people have always been poor commoners, whether they were peasants working the land, servants in big houses, or (later), pioneers carving their own space in new lands. This fortnight let’s make something that celebrates the common man.
  • #6: Stripes - due March 25. The stripe is one of the oldest patterns, appearing in the earliest textile fragments and visual records of garments, and its never gone out of style since. Celebrate stripes with a striped garment. Will you go for grand baroque stripes, pastel rococo stripes, severe neoclassical stripes, elaborately pleated and bustled Victorian stripes, or something else entirely?
  • #7: Accessorize - due April 8.  Accessories add polish to your outfits, helping to create the perfect historical look. This week is all about bringing an outfit together. Trim a bonnet, paint a fan, crochet an evening bag, sew a shawl, or dye and decorate a pair of shoes to create the perfect period accessory for yourself.
  • #8: By the Sea - due April 22.  The sea has inspired and influenced fashion for millennia. This challenge is all about nautical fashions, whether you make something to wear on the sea, by the sea, or in the sea (or lake or river).
  • #9: Flora and Fauna – due May 6.  Textiles and the natural world are inextricably linked.  Until very recently, all textiles were made from flora (linen, raime, hemp) or fauna (wool, silk, fur), and dyed with flora and fauna.  Flora and fauna also influenced the decoration of textiles, from Elizabethan floral embroidery, to Regency beetle-wing dresses, to Edwardian bird-trimmed hats.  Celebrate the natural world (hopefully without killing any birds) with a flora and/or fauna inspired garment.
  • #10: Literature - due May 20. The written word has commemorated and immortalised fashions for centuries, from the ‘gleaming’ clothes that Trojans wore before the war, to Desdemona’s handkerchief, ‘spotted with strawberries’, to Meg in Belle Moffat’s borrowed ballgown, and Anne’s longed for puffed sleeves.In this challenge make something inspired by literature: whether you recreate a garment or accessory mentioned in a book, poem or play, or dress your favourite historical literary character as you imagine them.
  • #11: Squares, Rectangles & Triangles - due June 3.  Many historical garments, and the costumes of many people around the world, use basic geometric shapes as their basis. In this challenge make a garment made entirely of squares, rectangles and triangles (with one curve allowed), whether it is an 18th century kimono, a flounced 1850s skirt, or a medieval shift.
  • #12: Pretty Pretty Princesses - due June 17.  Channel your inner princess and her royal wardrobe. Pick a princess, queen, empress, arch-duchess, or a de-facto queen as inspiration for a fabulously royal frock (or other garment). The occasional prince is also most welcome.
  • #13: Lace and Lacing - due July 1.  Lacing is one of the simplest and oldest forms of fastening a garment, eminently practical, and occasionally decorative.  Lace has been one of the most valuable and desirable textiles for centuries, legislated, coveted, at times worth more than its weight in gold, passed down from one garment to the next over centuries. Elaborate and delicate it is eminently decorative, and rarely practical.  Celebrate the practicality of lacing, and the decorative frivolity of lace, with a garment that laces or has lace trim, or both.
  • #14: Eastern Influence – due July 15.  The East has had a profound influence on Western fashions for millenia, from the Chinese silks that were worn in Ancient Rome, through the trade in Indian chintzes from the 17th century onward, 18th century chinoiserie, Kashmiri shawls and paisley, 19th century Japonisme, and early 20th century Orientalism and Egyptian revival.  In this challenge make an item that shows the Eastern influence on Western fashion.
  • #15: Colour Challenge White - due July 29.  White has carried many connotations as a colour, from defining culture and social boundaries, to denoting status, to implying purity, or simply cleanliness.  For this challenge ‘white’ is defined as anything in the white family – from brightest white, through to ivory and cream and all the shades between. Whether you make a simple chemise or an elaborate ballgown, your item should be predominantly white, though it may have touches of other colours.
  • #16: Separates - due August 12.  Make a non-matching garment which can be paired with other items in your historical wardrobe to extend your outfit choices.
  • #17: Robes & Robings - due August 26.   Make a robe-shaped garment, from a biblical robe, through a medieval robe, an 18th century banyan, a Regency evening robe, a 19th century wrapper, or an early 20th century kimono.  Or, make one of the frocks called robes by modern English speaking fashion historians, such as a robe volante, robe battanterobe à la coerrobe à la françaiserobe à l’anglaise (+ turquespolonaises, & circassienne), and the 1920s robe de style.  Or, make something with robings (read the event page for a description).
  • #18: Re-make, Re-use & Re-fashion – due September 9.  Sew something that pays homage to the historical idea of re-using, re-making and re-fashioning.  Turn one thing into another.  Re-fit or re-fashion an old gown into something you would wear again.  Re-trim a hat for a new outfit, or re-shape a modern hat to be a historical hat.  Re-purpose the fabric from an old garment (your own or a commercial one) into a new garment.
  • #19: Wood, Metal, Bone – due September 23.  Cloth may be the most obvious material in historic costuming, but wood, metal, and bone are just as important to creating the right look and silhouette.  For this challenge, make anything that incorporates wood, metal, or bone.
  • #20: Outerwear – due October 7th.  Make one of the layers that get added on to your basic outfit to protect you, and it, from inclement weather.
  • #21: Colour Challenge Green – due October 21.  Make a historical garment or accessory in any shade of green from palest spring green through to darkest pine green, and from barely-there eu de nil, to vibrant chartreuse.
  • #22: Masquerade - due November 4th.  Create something inspired by historical fancy dress and masquerade that takes you out of reality, in to another world (purely historical, fantasy, steampunk etc are all allowed).

What am I going to do…oh my!  I’d really, really, really like to do the project I’d meant to do for Flora & Fauna, but practically speaking I should finish Chinoiserie, or make the 1900s blouse from White, or that set of 1860s undergarments.  Not sure, but I’m certain I’ll have NO problem making someone, and I hope EVERYONE else is able to participate!

Shake city

There have been two earthquakes that measured over 6.5 on the Richter scale in Wellington in the last month.

The first one hit on Sunday evening July 21.  I was making dinner.  Mr D had just gone out to pick up his brothers for family dinner at our place.  I’d put rice on, chopped some vegetables, and then went to the bathrooms to wash my hands.  As I walked out, the earthquake started, and since it seemed pretty big, I stopped in the doorway and held on.  Standing there, I saw the only piece of damage in our house happen: the last embroidery hoop on a whole stack stuck on a nail in the wall fell off.

When it ended I thought “Hmmm…I think that was the biggest quake I’ve ever felt.”

Felicity bounded through the cat door, ears back and hair raised.  She’d never shown the slightest concern at any earthquake previously.

Still, I went on with my day, pretty unconcerned.  Then the in-laws called to check if we were OK, and asked if I’d managed to get ahold of Mr D.

Oops.  I hadn’t even thought to check.  Bad wife moment.

(aftershock as I write this.  I’m guessing 5.2)

Still, he called on my cell just as I was talking on the other phone, and was fine.  We had our family dinner, watching the news reports of shattered windows and a few fires, but luckily, no serious damage or injury.  A few buildings were shut down, and people camped with friends.

It didn’t stop shaking.  There were small aftershocks over the next weeks.  Instead of “Rain dying out in afternoon” or “Strong Northwesterlies” or “Scattered showers” the Dominion Post newspaper wrote in their daily weather section “Who cares, as long as it stops shaking.”

Some of us shrugged it off.  Some of it got a little tense and irritable.  Some, those who had lived through Christchurches quakes, or lost friends and family in them, or were not used to earthquakes, were very affected.

It hasn’t been too bad for me.  I’ve lived with earthquakes all my life.  Hawaii has active volcanos: earthquakes, usually small and minor, are not uncommon.  I went to university in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Earthquakes happened.

(tiny aftershock)

Still, they get on your nerves after a while.  You worry.  Will there be a big one?  After Christchurch, we’re apprehensive.  They survived the first, despite all the damage.  It was the second that killed people.  I was there between the two.

The second hit this afternoon.  It was 6.6.  Shallow.  I didn’t even feel it.  I’d just gotten in the car on my way to an appointment for my back.  I must have just started the car, or been turning, and missed the shaking.  It wasn’t until someone started signaling traffic and pulling us over that I realised something had happened.  I figured they were exaggerating (after all, I’d felt NOTHING), so I continued to head into town.

The CBD was strange.  Crowds of people outside.  Everyone on their cellphone.  And then the sirens started, and the traffic began to get heavy.  I managed to park.  Got a text from my appointment, but didn’t quite understand it.  I went to the building.  Lifts were down.  Climbed 7 flights of stairs.  All the offices were closed.  I stood there for a moment.  An aftershock hit.  I GOT OUT.  Even a tiny aftershock 7 flights up in a not particularly safe building on the reclaimed land of the CBD wasn’t fun.

Seven flights down, and I couldn’t tell if my weak legs were from the stairs or the quake.  I tried to get ahold of Mr D.  Network was down.  Got a cocoa at a cafe that was still open (thank you!).  Watched the crowds of people.  More sirens.  Mad traffic.  Got texts from Mr D.  Was he leaving work?  Yes, no maybe…

(tiny aftershock…getting stronger…wow…this is long….finally over.  Probably 4.7)

Went out to the street, to wait away from buildings.  Ran into brother-in-law.  Invited him over for dinner – I was pretty sure at this point no students would want to come to my evening class, so I’d have to cancel.  Our house would be safer than his apartment.

Mr D finally showed up, and we fought our way through traffic.  40 minutes for what would usually take me less than 15.  More aftershocks as we drove.  I saw a woman driving, her cheeks wet with tears.  I hope she’s OK.

We’re all sitting in the lounge now, watching the news as dinner cooks.  I’m writing, documenting aftershocks as they happen.  There has been damage in Seddon, where the quake was centred, but Wellington, despite all the aftershocks is OK.

I hope this is the last. I hope this is over.  I’m worried now.  There was a documentary on TV about New Zealand’s other big earthquake, in Napier in 1931.  My neck hurts and I’m tense.  I don’t want it to shake anymore.  I don’t want anyone to be hurt.

(tiny aftershock).

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Leimomi Oakes is the Dreamstress, a textile historian, seamstress, designer, speaker and museum professional. Leimomi is available for educational and entertaining presentations, textile and fashion advice, special commissions and events. Click to learn more

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