Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Books I Love: Two Essential New Books on Versailles to Collect for a Lifetime of Pleasure and Inspiration

Fashion and Versailles’ and ‘Versailles A Private Invitation’ speak volumes about French influences, French ideas, interior design, fashion, décor, architecture, and our eternal fascination with French history, culture and style.

This week, I invite you to take a closer look at ‘Fashion and Versailles’ by Laurence Benaïm (published this month by Flammarion) a superbly illustrated book that traces two centuries of style and design influence from the courts of Versailles.

It details the kings and queens and courtiers. It’s fascinating to see how royal fashions, obsessions, portraits, furniture, fabrics, décor are still vividly influencing fashion, movies, makeup, hairstyles, shoes, eveningwear and even contemporary trends and fashions today.

And let’s inspect ‘Versailles A Private Invitation’ which at 320 pages is an impressive book, indeed. It’s endlessly fascinating—with rooms and furniture up-close, and dazzling details of art, gardens, vistas and architecture. 

‘Fashion and Versailles’

The palace of Versailles—a hub of power and seduction, and the most legendary royal residence of all—is undisputedly the birthplace of fashion, for both men and women.

The world’s first dress codes were established at Versailles under Louis XIV. Entwined with the whims and humors of queens and royal mistresses—from Madame de Montespan’s “innocent″ dress that was adept at concealing pregnancies, to Marie Antoinette’s extravagant wigs, to bejeweled courtesan slippers—the world’s eyes stayed riveted on fashion trends as they evolved at the French château. 

‘Fashion and Versailles’ — Sketch by Christian Lacroix, c.1990.

‘Fashion and Versailles’ — Marie Antoinette with a Rose, painted by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun in 1783,hanging in the Petit Trianon at Versailles.

Why I admire ‘Fashion and Versailles’

Sartorial style at Versailles remains a vast source of inspiration for fashion designers, photographers, interior decorators, and film directors today.

From haute couture’s current Sun King, Karl Lagerfeld, to cinema princess Sofia Coppola, to the golden hues of Dior’s perfume campaigns, Versailles offers endless ideas and inspirations and wit, and color and decoration takes center stage.

A selection of images from historical documents, fashion house archives, and the latest runway shows and fashion exhibitions accompanies the excellent text.

The spirit of Versailles continues to thrive in contemporary fashion inspiring passions and vocations in a new generation.

“Versailles is where fashion finds new beginnings, always, etche in the footsteps of the lovely ghosts that spark the dreams of couturiers,” says Catherine Pégard in her introduction.

This book brings together cultural and social history and fashion at their very best all set against the dramatic background of the most spectacular palace in the world.

A must for Francophiles.

‘Fashion and Versailles’ — Doutzen Kroes modeling a dress in the Christian Dior haute couture Fall/Winter2007–8 collection by John Galliano, presented at Versailles.

‘Fashion and Versailles’ — Sketch by Karl Lagerfeld, a new year’s greeting for 2006 to Laurence Benaïm; Collection Stiletto, Paris.

About the Author, Laurence Benaïm

Laurence Benaïm, a journalist and writer, has written authoritative biographies of Yves Saint Laurent, Marie Laure de Noailles, and Jean-Michel Frank (Grasset, 2017) in her native French. 

A fashion expert, she has published many books, including Women in Dior: Portraits of Elegance (Rizzoli, 2016), Lancel: Parisian Maison since 1876 (Flammarion, 2016), and Christian Dior in the South of France: The Château de la Colle Noire (Rizzoli, 2017). She is the editorial advisor for Almaviva, the lifestyle supplement of the French newspaper Le Figaro.

‘Fashion and Versailles’ — Decorative detail from Marie Antoinette’s Belvedere Pavilion in the gardens at Versailles. Built between 1778 and 1781, the Belvedere Pavilion was used as a music room by the queen; according to the Prince de Ligne, its decorations were “the height of perfection, taste, and craftsmanship.”

‘Versailles A Private Invitation’

The largest château in the world has been a source of interest and amazement and inexhaustible beauty since the reign of Louis XIV. 

A portion of the palace and its grounds has remained inaccessible to the public.
‘Versailles A Private Invitation’ takes the reader through unknown and unseen and recently refurbished regions of the famous palace and its gardens on a private tour, noting each detail.

Photographer Francis Hammond was given carte blanche to the entire property and this volume includes previously unseen images of the newly restored Cabinet de la Meridienne, Marie Antoinette’s boudoir, and the Salon d’Aurore, as well as rare objects that are not on public display. He has detailed them superbly.

‘Versailles A Private Invitation’ — Spiral staircase seen from the northern tribune (or gallery) of the second floor of the chapel.    

‘Versailles A Private Invitation’ — The Hall of Mirrors seen from the War Room.  

From the Royal Opera to the Grand Trianon, and the Orangerie to the Queen’s Hamlet, this volume features hundreds of photographs of the entire domain. Close-ups of ornamentation and artwork are also included, drawing attention to artistry in such details such as exterior walls, door bolts, ceilings, parquet, carving, fabrics, marquetry, and more.

By examining the history of the palace, the history of France is also explored. The secrets of the royal families who lived in the palace and the mysteries of the great nation are revealed in quotations from true accounts of life at the palace in the eighteenth century, extracts from Marie Antoinette’s personal letters, historical memoirs, and references to the château in classical literature.

The text is multi-layered and full of details that will enrich a later visit to Versailles.

‘Versailles A Private Invitation’ — Marie-Antoinette’s Cabinet Doré—or Gold Room.    

‘Versailles A Private Invitation’ — View of the Gallery of Battles from the central colonnade.    

‘Versailles A Private Invitation’ — The Royal Opera  

About the Author and Photographer

Guillaume Picon is a historian and specialist on the kings of France. He is the author of A Day at Château de Fontainebleau (Flammarion, 2015). Francis Hammond’s photographs have been published in A Day with Claude Monet in Giverny (2017), Empire Style (2016), Private Houses of France (2014), and Historic Houses of Paris (2010), all published by Flammarion.

‘Versailles A Private Invitation’ — The interior of the Belvedere.    



By Laurence Benaïm
Foreword by Catherine Pégard
Published by Flammarion


By Guillaume Picon
Photography by Francis Hammond

Published by Flammarion