BECOMING: Marie Antoinette
Aside from Queen Victoria – and both Elizabeth’s – there has been no Queen more notorious than the wife of King Louis XVI of France, the near-mythical Marie Antoinette. It was her wanton extravagance that led to her demise and the disillusionment of the people with the French monarchy who lost their heads (…!) over her spending, loyalty with her native Austria, and her rumoured extra-marital affairs. A ‘marmite’ character in French history, her life has been a source of fascination since her entry into French nobility at age 14 upon her marriage to the then Prince Regent Louis-August, up to and beyond her execution under the Guillotine in 1793. A lover of books, plays, music, fashion, and – of course – luxury, she epitomises the “Culture” section on the app, and so we have had a think about where she might visit should she have escaped the baying anti-monarchists in Paris to London.
QU’ILS MANGENT DE LA BRIOCHE
It has often been said that the infamous quote “let them eat cake!” from the 1782 autobiography of Jean-Jacques Rousseau – “Les Confessions” – is nothing more than journalistic cliché. It is not hard to imagine, however, someone of Marie Antoinette’s character enjoying some sweet over-indulgence.
Nearest Station: Covent Garden / Camden Road
Starting life as two friends baking cupcakes for their children’s birthday parties, Martha and Lisa soon realised that the cupcakes they were making were more popular than those that other parents were buying (while being popular amongst the adults too.) From being the first home kitchen to supply Selfridges Food Hall, there are now three Primrose Bakeries, as well as 5 bestselling cookbooks and a baking app. Still very much a family business everything is baked in small batches, hand iced in store, with only local and seasonal ingredients used. You can try a cake in the café with a lovely coffee, or book into one of their popular cupcake decorating classes.
A TASTE OF HOME
Born in the sumptuous Viennese Hofburg Palace in 1755, Marie Antoinette’s allegiance to her native Austria – an enemy of France during the ancien regime – contributed to the public’s dislike of her throughout her public life. Should she have escaped to London she would have found plenty of options to find memories of home in the numerous of Viennese restaurants.
Nearest Station: Regent’s Park
From the Schnitzels to the Strudels, Fischer’s is a wonderful step back in time to a classic Viennese café from the 1920s. Yet another successful project from distinguished restaurateurs Corbin and King – of The Wolseley, Brasserie Zédel, and The Delaunay fame – Fischer’s does everything just right; from the wood panelling and oil paintings of old Vienna to the Mitteleuropean wine list, the community feel permeates from the classic Gröstl breakfast to the Brötchen at dinner, and wouldn’t go amiss in a classic Wes Anderson film. The monogrammed cutlery adds a nice touch to a subtly classy affair, evoking the Art Nouveau Vienna of Klimt.
“As you know, I have always been of the opinion that fashions should be followed in moderation but should never be taken to extremes. A beautiful young woman, a graceful queen, has no need for such madness. On the contrary, simplicity of dress is more befitting and more worthy of a queen.” Although her mother wasn’t a fan of how much her daughter spent on keeping up with – and setting – the latest trends, it was unofficial fashion etiquette for the Ladies of Versailles to show a conspicuous consumption of wealth by never repeating one of their ever-outlandish outfits in Court. One way of doing this was to continuously modify their clothing to make subtle changes and create new outfits from old.
WALL & JONES
Nearest Station: Hoxton / Cambridge Heath
This really is wearable art. A creative boutique and fashion emporium, Wall and Jones work with artists to create artisanal, bespoke, and downright quirky items of clothing, jewellery, and accessories. The distressed wooden flooring and collection of antiques spread sporadically throughout the shop add to the air of eclectic eccentricity. Many of the clothes are vintage with an added modern twist, or crafted completely from scratch. A creative space for artists to work and design, see the pieces being created in store and meet the person behind the purchase.
ATTRIBUTES OF A LADY
The C18th was the Golden Age for the fan, an essential attribute for any lady, in any class of society. With just the flick of the wrist a fan could be opened to not only mask a woman’s emotions, but also to instantly show social status and wealth. A fashionista such as Marie Antoinette would not be seen without one.
THE FAN MUSEUM
Nearest Station: Greenwich
Set within two stunning Grade-II listed townhouses in Greenwich dating back to 1721, The Fan Museum is the world’s first – and only – museum dedicated to the humble fan. With a collection numbering over 4,000, in order to upkeep their preservation the collection displayed is rotated three times a year. Intricate pieces of art, each fan on show is a wonderful artefact detailing images from contemporary society or highlighting the fashions at the time. The oldest fan dates back to the C10th, with the collection containing many examples from around the world. The museum also offers fan making classes should you be so inspired, while you can enjoy a wonderful (and very reasonably priced) afternoon tea in their painted Orangery with adjacent Japanese-style garden.
OFF WITH HER HEAD!
Things didn’t look good for Marie Antoinette from c. 1784 where she was implicated in a crime to defraud the crown jewellers of the cost of a diamond necklace, worth around £12m today. Although research suggests she wasn’t guilty, her prolific and public spending habits still didn’t endear her to a public suffering from great poverty. Leading to the eradication of the French monarchy in 1792 – and beheading of her husband, King Louis XVI in 1793 – a tragic end was inevitable. On the 16th October 1793 in the Place de la Concorde, Paris, Marie Antoinette met her fate at the sharp end of the Guillotine. Upon her death, the now infamous Madame Tussaud was tasked with creating a death mask to put on display in her wax museum, the callous French version of the Daily Mail sidebar of shame. Taking a cast from the head of a corpse soon after death has been a form of honouring and remembering the dead since the time of ancient Rome, where the heads of your ancestors would be displayed on the walls of the home. Although a modern resurgence is slow coming, you can see some historic examples in the National Portrait gallery.
THE NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY
Nearest Station: Charing Cross / Embankment
In 1856 the world’s first gallery dedicated to portraits was opened in London. Moving to its now-permanent location next to the National Gallery in 1896, the National Portrait Gallery has an incredible display of paintings, photography, and sculpture dating back at least 500 years. Seeing famous and important British personalities through the eyes of an artist is a fascinating experience, with contemporary figures often shown via one of the annual NPG blockbuster exhibitions. Get up close and personal with the famous Chandos portrait of William Shakespeare, or enjoy a cocktail and bite up in the restaurant overlooking Trafalgar Square (or a quick coffee in the 3rd floor café.) There are over 11,000 paintings, drawings, sculptures, and miniatures on show, as well as 240,000 photographs and negatives. If you’re into family history, consult the Archive to see if you can look into the eyes of your ancestors somewhere in the collection!
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