Like soldiers outfitting for battle, women once filed into a fashionable shop in the rue St. Honore in Paris hoping to find the right armor to protect them against the razor sharp wits and critics of the French Court. The shop was the Grand Mogul and it was owned by the most-sought after and highly talented dressmaker Madame Rose Bertin.
Madame Bertin had been the modiste for several fashionable and noble women including the Duchesse de Chartres, but when her grand designs caught the eye of Marie Antoinette, her popularity with the upper-crust soared. Madame Bertin became Marie Antoinette's chief dressmaker in the 1770s and designed most of her gowns. On average, Marie Antoinette purchased 150 gowns a year and most of them were from Rose Bertin. Madame Bertin would visit the queen twice a week, where they would discuss plans for new gowns. Madame Bertin would bring sketches and fabric samples and make suggestions. Oftentimes, Marie Antoinette would alter the designs, proving she was a talent in her own right.
When Marie Antoinette began patronizing the modiste, early in her reign, she helped to make her an immediate sensation. Predictably, Bertin raised the price of her gowns to staggering heights. When a woman would complain about the outrageous cost of a gown (Many of her gowns cost more than the average worker in France made in a year!) she would respond by comparing her gowns to masterpieces in art. Most fashionable women willingly paid Bertin's high prices because they realized she was a skilled milliner with a true artistic flair for fashion. Her designs either accentuated or camouflaged the figure of the woman wearing the gown. (The gown pictured on the left is believed to have been made by Mme Bertin for Marie Antoinette. To learn more about the sumptuous creations of Mme Bertin, I recommend you visit the blog of novelist Catherine Delors; she has some spectacular photos of various 18th century garments)
Rose Bertin suffered right along with her royal clients. When the nation declared bankruptcy, so did she. She went into exile during the French Revolution, hiding away in England and opening shop in St. James.