The career of the milliner and dressmaker Marie-Jeanne Bertin, called Rose Bertin, took off when she was introduced to Marie-Antoinette, the young queen of France, for whom she became her “Minister of Fashion”. Alongside the queen, the dressmaker was to have a considerable influence on the fashion scene of her period and lay the foundations of haute-couture.
Entrusted by Louis XVI with organising the pleasures of the Court, Marie-Antoinette took a passionate interest in all matters relating to fashion. To ensure the success of her appearances, the queen did not hesitate to receive the commoner Rose Bertin in a tête-à-tête to hear her fashion advice, in breach of the Court’s Etiquette.
Rose Bertin influenced the fashion of her time by constantly launching new trends such as the Formal Court Dress, high hair styles and the muslin country gowns worn by Marie-Antoinette at Trianon. She quickly became known as the “Minister of Fashion”.
An intimate friend of the queen, this position enabled her to become the leading fashion supplier of the kingdom and to amass a considerable fortune. Her customers included the royal family, the portrait painter Elisabeth Vigée-Le Brun, the Marquis de Lafayette and foreign queens. As the Revolution approached, while people were dying of starvation, numerous pamphlets denounced Rose Bertin as a “corrupt and corrupting maker of luxury goods”.
During the early days of the Revolution, milliners and dressmakers took their inspiration from the events to introduce new designs, such as the garters “à la Mirabeau” and hats “à la Desmoulins”. Rose Bertin was reticent, however, to design dresses “à l’égalite” or headscarves “à la Constitution” and produced only some cockades. But, after the arrest of the royal family, the dressmaker continued to deliver garments to Marie-Antoinette, although more modest in their design. The last outfit worn by the queen during her transfer to the Conciergerie prison were made by “Le Grand Mogol”, the Paris shop of Rose Bertin.
After the execution of Marie-Antoinette, Rose Bertin went into exile in London to escape from the Terror and did not return to France until February 1795. But the Revolution swept away her celebrity and completely changed fashion: her articles, symptomatic of the abuses of the monarchy, were rejected. Rose Bertin had long been forgotten when she died on 22 September 1813.