Keeping up with the Bourbons: Dressing Louis XIV in Versailles

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The steamy and elaborate £21m series Versailles caused controversy in the UK when it first aired in 2016 with Sam Burnett of Mediawatch UK commenting “Dressing up pornography and violence in a cravat and tights doesn’t make it cultural.”

Unfortunately for Burnett “dressing up” fails to do any justice to the massive effort of costume designer Madeline Fontaine and her team who clad the cast in far more than just neckwear and hosiery. Indeed Fontaine struggled to maintain the Sun King’s ever-changing wardrobe as a leading arbiter of taste in the sumptuous costume drama.

No Corners Cut

Versailles dressing George Blagden as Louis XIV

“Previously you would see similarities to German fashion and some from the Dutch,” she told The Huffington Post. “But Louis XIV looked very different from rulers in other countries. When you see him and the queen of Spain, you see two very distinct styles. Fashions change from season to season in Versailles. We had to keep changing the things we made. We had to find a way to transition from the beginning to the end of each period. At the end of the first season, Louis was wearing a short vest. We had to change to a longer vest. Comfort was not the first prerequisite. Most of it was not comfortable at all,” she said.

Star George Blagden has confirmed that view. “No one was willing to cut any corners,” he said. “We were filming outside in summer, it was 27 degrees and I was dripping with sweat.” He recalled telling Fontaine: “I’m wearing five layers and you can only see two of them. Can’t I take some off?” Her response was not sympathetic. “No, George. If you do that, the jacket won’t sit right.”

Heels Do Wonders For Your Confidence

No one was spared the layering of vital undergarments. “It’s a series where characters get undressed quite often. Women were wearing three layers of skirts, coined ‘la discrète,’ ‘la friponne’ in silk and ‘la secrète,’ which was quilted from the above to the under side,” said Fontaine.

However the famous red heels won favour from Blagden. ““Now I understand why people wear them. They do wonders for your confidence,” he said.

Despite Blagden’s comment on no half-measures in Versailles, Fontaine has said she took a bold move for aesthetic reasons to shift the style by a few years so that viewers were not deterred by rather extreme fashions of Louis’ accession.

Monarch’s Colours

“For the main characters, we assembled embroideries and lace. For official occasions, the king wore embroideries that were made with silver, gold and gems,” she told GFY. “There’s the red, blue and gold garment, the monarchy’s colors. For these, it was important to be faithful to historical imagery. His reign was based on pageantry. For other pieces, I allowed myself some freedom with history. In 1661, when Louis XIV ascended the throne, style was ridiculous to a contemporary eye: Men were wearing “rhingraves” — like culottes, short boleros, cascades of lace — so I slipped and set it a few years later. I’m trying to take the spectator to the era.”