The second instalment of Rihanna’s collaboration with German sportswear brand Puma was unveiled during Paris Fashion Week. The inspiration behind the collection: Marie Antoinette. The result: street-style-cum-gym-class versions of Madame Déficite (and a couple of Messieurs). In Milan, Fendi had a few flowery, Marie Antoinette moments as well. A reminder perhaps that the French queen is celebrating her 10th anniversary as a contemporary fashion icon – since Sofia Coppola put her on screen in her 2006 biopic and Vogue on the cover of its September issue. While never entirely absent – Madonna masqueraded as Marie Antoinette for a 1990 MTV performance of ‘Vogue’ and later in the promotional material of her 2004 ‘Reinvention’ Tour, while John Galliano featured his version of the queen in his Fall 2000 collection for Christian Dior – her aura arguably reached new heights. As The New York Times’ Alix Browne put it at the time: ‘M.A., it seems, is officially a brand.’ This is yet another comeback.
These Marie Antoinette vibes come on the heel of the Autumn/Winter 2016 shows’ 18th century-inspired collections. Rei Kawakubo devised an 18th-century version of the punks for Comme des Garçons. John Galliano at Maison Martin Margiela revived his ties to the Incroyables – the dandified, aristocratic youth of France’s Directoire years (1795-1799) and the theme of his seminal graduation collection of 1984. Shayne Olivier of New York label Hood By Hair also seemed to riff on their legacy. Assessing these 18th-century/punk revivals, T Magazine’s Alexander Fury argued that the Incroyables were in many ways the rebellious precedents of the rebellious 1970s movement. If not message, they shared means – dress as a form of protest. Fury noted:
‘The Incroyables emerged in the shadow of the revolution and the deaths of the Terror; punk sparked during the crippling recession of the early 1970s, alongside the oil crisis, the fall of Nixon and three-day week in Great Britain. Perhaps these echoes of the Incroyables are emerging now in reaction to similarly unsettled times…’
If 18th-century revivals can be read as a desire for dissent, what role does Marie Antoinette play in it?
In her modern guises, Marie Antoinette epitomises an assertive individuality that befits contemporary cravings for uniqueness and fashion’s promise to help achieve it. In the wake of Coppola’s film for example, she was heralded as a rebellious teen ‘who rocked Versailles’ for the purpose of selling ‘dramatic new silhouettes.’ If her body had been the site of ‘crucial political and cultural contests,’ it was now the site to express, in too diluted ways perhaps, teenage alienation – and a highly profitable highbrow rebelliousness.
But perhaps the stylistic extravagance she embodies has indeed re-emerged as a tool to manifest, if unwittingly, a form of (mild) dissent. Against the enduring lure of a lofty minimalism, Marie Antoinette offers excess as a counter-model. And excess, it seems, is a trend (think Gucci). A Marie Antoinette inflected wardrobe is an excuse to pair – as in Rihanna’s collection – pink lace, brocade, ribbons, ruffles, heels, pearls and so on, all at once. This time, however, to stroll the streets rather than VIP parties (at least in theory).
Thanks to Pop star royalty, Marie Antoinette has resurfaced as a potential street style star.
On Marie Antoinette:
Dena Goodman and Thomas E. Kaiser, eds., Marie-Antoinette: Writings on the Body of a Queen (New York: Routledge Member of the Taylor and Francis Group, 2003).
Caroline Weber, Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution (New York, NY: Holt, Henry & Company, 2006).
On the lasting appeal of minimalism:
For a discussion of minimalism in high fashion:
Rebecca Arnold, ‘Luxury and Restraint: Minimalism in 1990s Fashion,’ in The Fashion Business; Theory, Practice, Image, ed. Nicola White and Ian Griffiths (Oxford and New York: Berg, 2000), 167—81.