by Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell. Yale University Press, February 2015. 352 p. ill. ISBN 9780300154382 (cl.), $60.00.
Reviewed July 2015
Alexandra Gregory, Cataloguer Librarian/Collection Development Specialist for Slavic Studies, University of Ottawa, email@example.com
As visually sumptuous as the fashions it details, this title offers a well-rounded assessment of the factors that influenced fashion at the culturally whimsical but politically tenuous royal court in France in the two decades preceding the French Revolution. While fashion of the court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette has hardly been neglected in the literature, Chrisman-Campbell's work appears to be the first substantial socio-historical, highly illustrated English language treatment of the topic in nearly a decade.
The title itself is a thought-provoking double-entendre. During the reign of Louis XVI , members of French society were surely "victims" on many levels in being subjected to the ever-changing sartorial demands and whims dictated by their era. Fashion was not only a practice of personal adornment but a matter of national, social, and political expression. It was also "big business." Status and occasion could necessitate several wardrobe changes per day, each one more elaborate than the next. In an ever more fragile economy, this very visual form of excessive conspicuous consumption would alienate the privileged classes from the rest of society, leading some, as disgruntlement led to out and out Revolution, to become eventual victims of financial ruin, exile, and even of the Guillotine itself.
With the ingenious use of contemporary quotes and illustrations, Chrisman-Campbell details the myriad (and often outlandishly outrageous) influences that played upon La Mode at the time. While social functions and life events were the chief dictators of style, political, ecclesiastical, or cultural events could find homage in clothing or hairstyles of pre-revolutionary French society. While a twenty-first century society might not think to incorporate a model of the Exxon Valdez into one's up-do or walk down Fifth Avenue in Grizabella's stripes a la Cats, in a Paris of 1779, one could be walking about with replica of the frigate Junon entangled in one's hair or flitting about dressed as Suzanne from Mozart's Marriage of Figaro.
Fashion Victims is lavishly illustrated with high-quality, color reproductions of contemporary source materials, as well as photographs of surviving fibers and clothing of the era. The select bibliography is extensive, while notes and an index are highly detailed.
As the title explores fashion with a multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary approach, Chrisman-Campbell's work would appeal to scholars across various subject areas, not only to those concerned with textiles in an art historical context. The visual appeal of the monograph also makes it a candidate for a coffee table book for a more general audience.