Fashion in the XVIIIth century

Embellishment and textile

Robe à la française [Sack-back Gown] BackMusée des Arts Décoratifs

Since Louis XIV's era, Lyon's large manufacturers have dominated the market of luxury textile, both in France and throughout Europe. The XVIIIth century was its first golden age. The reputation of silk from Lyon must not make us forget the production in other regions; especially Tours but also Paris.

French fabrics that are woven, embroidered and printed by hand are not only characterised by the innovation of the designs but also by the invention of new weaving processes, the creativity of embroidery stitches and, at the end of Century, the improvement of printing techniques.

Piece of fabric (1700-1730)Musée des Arts Décoratifs


In 1715, a Persian ambassador, entrusted with gifts, was received with great pomp by Louis XIV at the Hall of Mirrors of the Chateau of Versailles. If the political benefit is mediocre, the exuberance of costumes and textiles worn by the ambassadors will arouse fantasies awakened by the translation of the Thousand and one Nights tales by Antoine Galland in 1713. The Persian ambassador of 1715 also inspired the Persian letters by Montesquieu published in 1721.

Fragment of fabric (1700-1730)

Fanciful « Persian » patterns are then developed, mixing realistic or imaginary plants, flowers, leaves and fruits with motifs imitating costly lace.

Three-piece suit Dressing gownMusée des Arts Décoratifs

Dressing gown as part of a three piece set

These textiles are worn by both sexes, as evidenced by this male dressing gown, a stylish and comfortable form of interior wear.

Shawl (1740-1750)Musée des Arts Décoratifs

« Bizarre » silk

Tired of the symmetry of Louis XIV classicism, the early XVIIIth century prefers asymmetry and invents the so-called « bizarre » style. Exuberant motifs derived from a fanciful treatment of naturalistic motifs spread in curves and counter-curves, mixed with embellishments common to goldsmiths or gilded bronzes, as evidenced by Pineau's beam of light. Swirls, where imaginary fruits and leaves cling, typical of the whimsical penchant of Rococo style, are cut out against a monochrome backdrop that enriches the main motif.

Fragment of fabric (1740-1750)

The plant world is the favourite subject of textile designers. At the end of the XVIIth century, velvet gardens initiate a naturalistic treatment of flowers. In the Age of Enlightenment a taste for the sciences continues the quest for a more real representation of nature. Served by progress in weaving it allows the colourful nuances of plants to be modelled. At the same time, the city of Lyon has set up a teaching system to train "flowers designers" for the needs of the manufacturers. In addition to the traditional collections of embellishments, models are also drawn from botanical boards.

Chest of drawers (Epoque Louis XV (1715-1774)) by Lacroix (Roger Vandercruse dit)Musée des Arts Décoratifs

Dresser, Roger Vandercruse known as Lacroix, cabinetmaker (1755)

If curved framing is still typical of Rococo style, such as in the manner of the Lacroix commode, the slender treatment of garlands and search for symmetry corresponds to a transition style, a prelude to the neoclassical spirit.

Dress FrontMusée des Arts Décoratifs


Wood block printed, sometimes enhanced with a brush, exotic patterns of a new kind ; the « Indians » fascinate Europeans. The technique, like the material, comes from less remote lands than the Chinese fashioned silks, yet they only spread in the XVIIth century. The East India Company has largely contributed to making known these light fabrics with vivid colours. So much so, that spy missions are carried out in India in order to discover the secret of their implementation.

Dress SideMusée des Arts Décoratifs

Skirt and camisole (1775-1790)

Their success is immediate but brief because printed cotton is banned in 1686. Importation, domestic production, trade and even the donning of an Indian garment are therefore prohibited, particularly under the pressure from silk producers.

Dress BackMusée des Arts Décoratifs

After the ban is lifted in 1759, local Indian trade and production can finally resume. The most famous factory is then created by Jean-Philippe Oberkampf in Jouy near Versailles. It must be emphasised that many sumptuous edicts have punctuated the history of textiles, but never had a royal decision weighed for so long.

French-style outfit BackMusée des Arts Décoratifs

Louis XVI male accessories

Piece from an outfit (1770-1779)Musée des Arts Décoratifs

Front of coat piece (1775-1780)

Woven at your disposal, this strip of velvet bears witness to the production of patterned decorations that imitate embroidery.

The colourful plant motifs guide the tailor's scissors, who only then has to adapt the piece to his client's measurements.

Even buttons are provided !

Outfit SideMusée des Arts Décoratifs

« A la française » clothing, coat, waistcoat and trousers (1785-1790)

These luxurious silks can be exported, enabling the whole of Europe to dress in the manner of French aristocrats.

Typical of Louis XVI neoclassicism, small rhombic geometric patterns form a rigorous counterpoint to the rich vegetal decoration, as in « the French embroidered coat » and Riesener's commode.

Dresser with shutters FrontMusée des Arts Décoratifs

Curtain commode, stamped by Jean-Henri Riesener (1775-1780)

Outfit BackMusée des Arts Décoratifs

« A la française » clothing, coat, waistcoat and trousers (1785-1790)

The vegetation border, whether woven or embroidered, emphasises the architecture of the garment, like bronzes magnifying the geometrical structure of the commode.

Dresser with shutters FrontMusée des Arts Décoratifs

Curtain commode, stamped by Jean-Henri Riesener (1775-1780)

French-style outfit FrontMusée des Arts Décoratifs

« A la française » clothing, coat, waistcoat and trousers (1800-1818)

This type of over-ostentatious decoration was banned at the time of the Revolution but was revived a few years later.

French luxury textile enjoys further boom times from the beginning of the XIXth century...

Credits: Story

Text and choice of images: Corinne Dumas-Toulouse, Art historian and speaker at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs

Editorial coordination of the virtual exhibition: Maude Bass-Krueger, assisted by Alexandra Harwood and César Imbert

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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