Early History of Fashion

If you love fashion, be it designer handbags and purses or haute couture shows, you are probably interested in its history. There are two candidates for the position of the very first designer. While Charles Frederick Worth is considered the first designer in the modern sense of the word, Marie-Jeanne Rose Bertin was the very first to become celebrated. This is a short story about the origins of fashion and the first person to be celebrated for creating a piece of designer clothing.

Marie-Jeanne Rose Bertin was a dressmaker and milliner to Marie Antoinette. Most royalty and nobility had both milliners and dressmakers, but Bertin was the first to become celebrated and to make fashion popular.

Bertin came from a modest family and, once she came of age, was sent to Paris as an apprentice to a milliner, Mademoiselle Pagelle. Bertin was a quick study and very ambitious and soon became a partner in the business. Her partner status helped her to expand her business and set up relationships with some very influential people. In 1770, Bertin opened her own dress shop, Le Grand Mogol. She was so skilled and successful that many customers of Mademoiselle Pagelle, including Princesses de Conti and De Lamballe and Duchess de Chartres, followed her. These women eventually introduced Bertin to Marie Antoinette.

Soon after the coronation of Louis XVI in 1774, Bertin became milliner to Marie Antoinette, which meant biweekly visits. The fashion at the time was for very extravagant hairstyles, called poufs, which often involved modeling hair into various shapes and decorating it with ornaments. As extravagant as the fashion already was, Bertin took it to new extremes and created poufs of up to three feet high.

All that time spent together meant that the two women developed a close relationship. Marie Antoinette soon asked Bertin to create dresses for dolls to give as gifts to her mother and sisters. Some of these dolls were life-size and, in effect, were the first mannequins. The Queen adored the dresses and used them to express herself.

Bertin, thus, became influential at court and was even called the Minister of Fashion by some, usually detractors. The gowns she made were extravagant and ostentatious, making the women look imposing. Soon, they became famous outside Paris and were sent to London, Saint Petersburg, Vienna and Venice as well as other centers of style and influence.

The sartorial style and extravagance of the Bertin gowns, under the patronage of Marie Antoinette, became synonymous with Paris, establishing it as the center of fashion and designer clothes. To this day, Paris remains one of the fashion centers of the world where modern-day designers come to showcase their clothes, handbags and other accessories.

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