The 18th century dress is complemented by the shoes which are painted not only with identical floral sprays but also on a darker pink ground that would have corresponded to the original hue of the dress, which has faded more with time. The figure revolves on a central pole in order to display the dress from all angles. The dress is a typical robe à la française, a model derived from traditional Louis XIV court dress of three parts (the grand corps or main dress, the jupe or skirt supported by hoops and the bas de robe or train) that evolved into a simpler dress without a train for everyday wear and had conquered European fashion by the second half of the 18th century, see Gorguet Ballesteros, ‘Caractériser le Costume de Cour. Propositions’, p.58-59).
The history of mannequins in the 18th century remains a largely unexplored subject; they are a natural evolution from smaller fashion dolls or poupées de la mode known to have been in use for displaying new styles since the late 14th century, see Barbara Spadaccini-Day ‘La Poupée, Premier Mannequin de Mode’, in Fastes de Cour, p.226-29.
At the court of Louis XIV dressing dolls were in vogue among Madame de Scudéry and the Précieuses, and the use of such dolls for diffusing new fashions had apparently grown so much in importance that during the trade embargo between France and England during the War of Spanish Succession of the early 1700's an exception was made for poupées. A contemporary observer wrote, ‘les ministres des deux cours de Versailles et de St James’s accordaient en faveur de ces dames un passeport inviolable à la grande poupée’, which was described as a ‘figure d’albâtre de trois à quatre pieds, vêtue, coiffée suivante les modes les plus récentes pour servir de modèle aux dames du pays’. At three to four feet (90 – 120 cm), these dolls were already significantly larger than a toy and were beginning to approach actual average heights of the period.
When mannequins finally metamorphosed into actual life size is unclear, but Spaddacini-Day speculates it was in the latter half of the eighteenth century with the rise of the marchand-merciers and the luxury retail trade in Paris, epitomised in boutiques like that of Rose Bertin, the celebrated couturière of Marie-Antoinette. By the 1780's a foreign visitor was able to marvel that:
'La fameuse poupée…enfin le prototype inspirateur passe de Paris à Londres tous le mois et va de là répandre des grâces dans toute l’Europe. Il va du Nord au Midi: il pénètre à Constantinople et à Pétersbourg, et le pli qu’a donné une main française se répète chez toutes les nations, humbles observatrices du goût de la Rue St Honoré'; ‘The famous doll… the inspirational prototype travels from Paris to London and thence imparts grace throughout Europe. It goes from North to South reaching as far as Constantinople and Petersburg, and pleats invented by French hands are copied by every nation in humble tribute to the taste of the Faubourg Saint-Honoré.’ Sébastien Mercier, Tableau de Paris, 1782-3 p.227.
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