At the age of 10, I drew Juliette Récamier lying on a chaise longue, trying to copy David 's painting . I was very proud of this drawing, because I had managed to capture the pose. I came across it again recently. Well... it was a child's drawing, with all its faults.... But since this episode, Madame Récamier has preempted in my memory all the representations of women from the 1800s. The mere mention of the empire dress summons immediately this image.
This woman fascinated an enlightened audience, by synthesizing around her all the artistic and intellectual agitation of the early 19th century during the first empire. She is therefore a key figure in this pivotal period. We are emerging from the French revolution. The dark years of terror are behind. It is the time of reconstruction, the new century opens with the promise of a new world, carrying the hopes of the Republic. Fashion, as always, reflects this creative tumult through a new, quite revolutionary feminine silhouette. No more corsets, more baskets, less fabric but a return to simplicity and fluidity with dresses inspired by Greco-Roman Antiquity.
Juliette Récamier, whose spirit, beauty and charm are praised, quickly became an icon of this fashion, at the same time as she established herself as a major figure of the intelligentsia and the opposition to the Bonapartist regime. She runs a salon on Rue du Mont Blanc, now Rue de la Chaussée d'Antin, and welcomes major figures from the literary, artistic and political world. A fervent republican, she did not hide her disapproval of the imperial and hegemonic regime of Napoleon Bonaparte, future emperor. This led to her having to close her salon in 1803, and later to being moved away from the capital.
The dress that Juliette Récamier will anchor in fashion history is elegantly simple. It's a shirt dress with short sleeves and a square neckline. Made in fine, vaporous and flowing fabrics, often in cotton muslin, it can have a train. The short, slightly balloon sleeves play on transparency, revealing the flesh of the arms or revealing the body free to move under the fabric.
The modernity of this dress illustrates the wind of freedom and renewal that blew in the first years of the century. This dress will establish itself as THE feminine silhouette for at least a decade. All representations of Juliette Récamier present her wearing this dress, invariably white, her favorite color.
Then the waist will come down, hugged again in a corset and held by stays, the crinollines will reappear, the dresses more cumbersome, according to the numerous political upheavals of this fascinating century. But the empire dress has left its mark and we find evocations of it every year on the catwalks of the fashion shows. And his image of Epinal,this portrait of Juliette Récamier by François Gérard , in her totally timeless white and vaporous dress. All her life, Madame Récamier remained faithful to this silhouette, sacrificing no other fashion.