PARETZ, Germany — First it was “Working Mother,” then “It” girl and now “Fashion Victim.” The three-show cycle commemorating Queen Luise on the 200th anniversary of her death is winding up to a stylish close with “Luise: The Queen’s Clothes.” The intimate exhibit is made even more so by its setting in Schloss Paretz, Queen Luise and King Friedrich Wilhelm III’s charming yet surprisingly modest summer residence about an hour’s drive from Berlin. The show runs through Oct. 31.
On display are eight dresses and assorted accessories from the wardrobe of the famously beautiful Prussian queen. With the exception of the Robe de Cour, a grand pale blue evening gown for official court occasions whose intricately silver embroidered Moiré train dwarfs the summer palace’s cozy rooms, the other dresses and objects are shown just where Luise may well have worn them. They offer a firsthand view of the Empire style of which Luise was one of the key proponents — from the white lace afternoon-early evening dress of embroidered cotton muslin, imported at great expense from India via England, to the late afternoon-evening dress of blue silk serge decorated with garlandlike bows, or the tiny white linen batiste blousette, which would have topped a robe for the early morning hours.
Lightweight, gathered under the bust and easy to move in, the Empire style — which didn’t vary much between the main European capitals — was particularly well-suited to Luise’s 10 pregnancies. But at 5 feet 7 inches, the monarch “had a great figure and looked well in clothes,” said the exhibit’s curator, Bärbel Hedinger. And apart from her size-41 shoe (U.S. size 10-10.5), the other most surprising aspect, Hedinger told WWD, was how “incredibly well informed” of fashion developments Luise and her aristocratic peers were.
Luise subscribed to numerous illustrated fashion journals — from the French “Journals des Dames et des Modes” to the English “Gallery of Fashion” and German titles like the “Leipziger Mode Magazin” and “Journal des Luxus und der Moden.” Most were published every two months, and “the quality of information was extremely good. Besides illustrations of the newest trends and technical instructions, there were also notes on how to wear the clothes,” Hedinger pointed out. In addition, Luise’s sister Friederike, who was in Paris with her husband, the king’s brother Prince Ludwig, supplied the queen with the latest fashion news.
Luise wasn’t the only fashion-oriented member of the Prussian court. King Friedrich Wilhelm III not only openly expressed his views on what his wife wore — sending her off to change if he didn’t approve — but is credited with introducing long trousers for men to the European court. He designed his army’s uniforms, and the exhibit includes his detailed sketches of uniforms plus a caricature he drew of himself for the Russian Czar Alexander I.
There are also caricatures of Luise when the French press ridiculed the queen for donning a uniform herself. For patriotic motives, the king made her the leader of a dragoon regiment shortly before her 30th birthday, and had a uniform specially tailored for his consort.
Fashion in this period was indeed political — in the form of diplomatic gifts. Napoleon was particularly lavish. In a move to cement relations — or to veil his military aspirations — he had Josephine send Luise “12 hats and bonnets, a box full of flowers, a box with a lace dress of tremendous value, a black lace dress and a ball gown embroidered in steel….Who would ever have believed it?” she wrote to her brother George. On view in Paretz are two Belgian linen lace fragments from one of the dresses. The gift was made in 1803, three years before Napoleon defeated Prussia at the Battle of Jena, and the royal pair had to take flight. They returned to Berlin in late 1809, but the queen took ill six months later, dying at the age of 34 on July 19, 1810.