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.