Monday, July 25, 2011


Madame Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, 
later Princesse de Bénévent (née Noël-Catherine Verlée, 1761–1835)
by François Gérard, called Baron Gérard.

To the world of Western fashion, the ‘cachemire’ motif is synonymous with Napoléon Bonaparte’s reign and the stylish excesses of his first empress, Joséphine de Beauharnais.

Once a personal gift to his love –and a former loot from his failed Egyptian campaign– the cachemire shawl and motif arose as one and the same as the fashion item of the day, and coincidently the generational “it” sartorial accessory throughout much of the 19th century.

To view its importance on Napoléon’s court, go see the life-size portrait of Madame Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, later Princesse de Bénévent, on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In this official portrait painted by Baron Gérard, she echoes herself as another Joséphine, having gone as far as copying one of the empress’ court dresses down to the buttoned shoulder detail. From the walls to the floor-treatments to the fireplace to the Klismos chair by Jacob frères, the décor screams Percier-Fontaine’s delft hand on the Napoleonic style.

The icing on this cake for paisley enthusiasts is the nonchalantly place scarf on the fashionable chair. The shawl came from India, cost way more than its weight –and wait– in gold. It was also a political coup considering the enforced embargo against England. She enjoyed one, others couldn’t!

Unbeknownst to many, Madame Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord was born Noël-Catherine Verlée in India. She, of all people, understood too well the motif’s multifaceted cultural importance from its origin in the ‘Orient’ down to the French court. 

Stéphane Houy-Towner
Creative Fashion Consultant and Director of Inside Fur Blog Development and Content.

Friday, July 15, 2011


French silk scarf from the Collection of Deanna Littell

When my mother's aunt Flora came from Drayton Plains to visit us in Detroit one cold fall, she forgot to pack a head scarf.  The four of us, my father staying in the parked car, made the nearest Montgomery Ward's our one-stop shop for a new scarf.

Flora, a no-fuss-woman,  expertly reached into the counter's neat pile of 36-inch silk squares and fished out a print, shook it open, then refolded it into a triangle and tied the ends under her chin,  "A paisley is always good", she explained when paying for it.

"What is a paisley?" I wanted to know. I have no idea how old I was, maybe 9 and as usual, when I asked a question of adults I walked into a bubble of empty, airless silence. No one ever acknowledged or answered, so I discovered that the best route was to pretend it didn't matter.  But obviously, it really did.

Decades later, I found out that Flora's father, François, was from Farbersviller, a small commune in the Lorraine region of France and that Lorraine's twin region, Alsace, was famous for the Mulhouse commune where some of the world's most uniquely beautiful paisley (cachemire) motifs were printed onto fabric. Perhaps one day in a Lorraine market of the mid 19th century, Flora's grandmother picked out a Mulhouse fabric and contemplated turning it into an apron to wear over her Sunday skirt.  She may have also explained: "Le cachemire est toujours un bon choix." JP