• Jill Lasersohn

Dr. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell is an art historian specializing in fashion and textiles. She has worked as a curator, consultant, and educator for museums and universities around the world. She is a frequent contributor to books, scholarly journals, and magazines, as well as an experienced lecturer. Her areas of expertise include European fashion and textiles and French and British painting and decorative arts of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries.

Jill Lasersohn, TDJIFoundation board member and one of America’s pre-eminent collectors of antique textiles recently caught up with Kimberly Chrisman Campbell and was able to ask her a few questions…

Jill - Thank you so much for sharing your expertise of the material culture of France,England & America in the 18th c.! Much of the excitement of the past is hinged on overlooked details that reveal details of cultural life centuries ago so my first question to you is what period of 18th c France would you like to visit and whom would you like to spend a day with?! What would you ask? (Who would you be?)

Kimberly - I’d love to hang out in Paris in the late 1770s and 1780s—the period between the two Revolutions—and obviously my first stop would be Au Grand Mogol, Rose Bertin’s boutique. It would be fascinating to watch her work and interact with her customers—and, of course, to try on the clothes! We have mouth-watering descriptions and paintings of her clothes, but very little costume from that period actually survives, and there is rarely any way to connect what does survive to a specific maker or wearer.

One of the few surviving dresses by Rose Bertin in the "Visitors To Versailles" exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, April 16-July 29, 2018

Jill - Your background is art history - what came first, your love of paintings or costume?

Kimberly - Definitely costume. I actually majored in 18th-century literature in college, but I quickly realized that I was less interested in the rise of the novel than in the descriptions of what all the characters were wearing. I went to the Courtauld Institute of Art—the University of London’s art history branch—for graduate school not because I wanted to become an art historian but because Aileen Ribeiro taught dress history there. Art history is one of a few disciplines that encompass dress history; others include design history, anthropology, or museum studies. The methodologies are very different. Art historians originally became interested in dress as a way to date paintings, but it has evolved into a field in its own right.

Jill - Do you personally collect items from 18th c? If you won the lottery what would you purchase?

Kimberly - I collect pieces by a 20th-century designer I love named Chester Weinberg. And I have some nice 18th-century fashion magazines that I bought primarily because I wanted to use the plates in my book and it was cheaper to buy them than to license the images from a museum. But what I'd really love to have is an 18th-century uncut embroidered waistcoat panel. Though they were hand-embroidered, they were an early form of mass production, because they would be exported as flat textiles with all the pieces embroidered on a single length of fabric—collar, lapels, pocket flaps, button covers—then cut and sewn to the wearer’s measurements by a tailor, using additional fabric. Many examples of these panels ended up in the British National Archives because they were seized by customs officials as they came off the boat from France. I love the stories behind historic garments that were never worn.

Jill - What fascinates you the most about 18th c culture?

Kimberly - It’s so modern and recognizable in many ways, but also completely foreign at the same time. In fashion terms, it the pinnacle of human achievement without the benefit of industrialization. And it’s a time when women used fashion to express themselves very eloquently because they were barred from more traditional forms of social participation, like the government, the church, or the military.

Jill - How long had you been thinking about writing "Fashion Victims" [Kimberly’s latest book]? How did it come about? How long did it take?

Kimberly - It started out as my MA dissertation, then became my PhD dissertation, so I worked on it on and off for almost 20 years before it was actually published! In retrospect, I’m glad it took as long as it did, because it changed and grew and got better along the way, and the cost of the image rights came down significantly as more and more museums adopted open content policies. The high cost of licensing images is the number one barrier to publishing books on art and fashion, and it usually falls on the author—although the publisher assumes the printing costs, which are much higher for beautifully illustrated books. I was really fortunate to work with Yale University Press, which is the best in the business when it comes to art books, and the legendary editor/designer Gillian Malpass; the result was beyond anything I could have imagined.

Jill - In doing your research what bit of discovery surprised/intrigued you the most?

Kimberly - I’m a stickler for primary sources, so I was surprised and dismayed to find that a lot of myths and mistakes had been repeated over and over again, all because one secondary source got it wrong somewhere along the way. This is particularly true of anything relating to Marie-Antoinette, since her reputation has suffered a lot over the years. The ship-shaped headdress known as the coiffure à la Belle Poule is an obvious example. It’s often described as a silly and insensitive gaffe by Marie-Antoinette, but in fact it was a patriotic celebration of one of the early naval battles of the American Revolution—and there’s no evidence that Marie-Antoinette ever wore it, anyway!

Jill - Are you seeing any trends in the museum/university world in regards to Costume/Textile/Cultural History?

Kimberly - Lately menswear has been getting more attention, as have makers of dress and textiles. Partly for environmental reasons, there has been a renewed focus on making, crafting, remaking, and recycling. This is part of a larger cultural conversation, not just limited to museums and universities. There is always going to be a need to go back to the basics and re-evaluate longstanding assumptions, like the conventional wisdom that you can’t do a menswear exhibition because it doesn’t survive in large enough quantities. At the same time, there are so many fascinating designers and fashion movements that have never been studied in depth.

Jill - When we think of Marie Antoinette we visualize a Queen swathed in heavy silk & lace but that wasn't always the reality - can you explain?

Kimberly - Marie-Antoinette is remembered as an unrepentant clotheshorse but she was a country girl at heart and really preferred to live simply. She hated the formality and strict etiquette of Versailles. She was constantly looking for ways around it, and it was her disregard for luxury rather than her lavish spending that got her in the most trouble. She tried to relax court ceremony and introduced new forms of court dress that were less expensive, more comfortable, and more in tune with fashion compared to the traditional grand habit. She spent as much time as possible in the rustic elegance of the Petit Trianon and Le Hameau, and her portrait in a plain white cotton chemise gown and straw hat caused a scandal. Even though Madame Du Barry, the comtesse de Provence, and other ladies had been painted in the same garb, it was considered inappropriate for the queen.

Jill - In "Fashion Victims" there are references to the wearing of cottons in the Peasant Style (la paysanne) and we know that Oberkampf's toile production was visible not only to Marie Antoinette but to all of the court & visitors as they traveled to and from Paris in their carriages that overlooked Oberkampfs drying fields...

Kimberly - The pastoral ideal promoted by Rousseau and other 18th-century authors and philosophers took over pop culture, including the theater, landscape design, art, and fashion. Oberkampf prints showing the pleasures and pastimes of country life both reflected that trend and promoted it.

Jill - The Metropolitan Museum of Art is presenting "Visitors to Versailles" this week. TDJIFoundation

raised the funds for Madame Oberkampf's silk brocade court gown that she wore while being presented before Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette at Versailles. The gown is a living fossil. You are speaking at the MET on April 22 - can you give us a preview of what you will be talking about?

Kimberly - I’ll be talking about what to wear to the court of Versailles. I don’t know about you, but that would be my first question if I received an invitation! Of course, people went to Versailles for different reasons—as tourists, as diplomats, or as invited guests—and the dress code varied depending on your status. But the rules for each were pretty clear; it wasn’t like today, when you might get an invitation with nonsensical instructions like “creative black tie” or “business formal.”

Jill - You've been active with The Getty Museum,The Huntington Museum, Bard & the MET - what are you currently working on??

Kimberly - I have a new book project underway for Running Press, called Worn On This Day. It’s a day-by-day look at clothes worn on significant days in history, like the Brooks Brothers coat Abraham Lincoln was wearing when he was killed, and a watch worn by a sailor on the USS Oklahoma during the attack on Pearl Harbor. It explores why garments survive or achieve iconic status, and how they shape our collective memory. It won’t be out until fall 2019, but you can get a preview on Twitter at @WornOnThisDay.

Jill - Can you share with us one of your most rewarding experiences?

Kimberly - After my book came out, an art dealer contacted me with pictures of a surviving coiffure à la Belle Poule! It was one of those things that I was one hundred percent sure was out there somewhere—probably miscataloged in some regional French maritime museum—but I never thought I’d find. So that was vindicating.

Jill - Your top five museums.......and the museum on your wish list?

Kimberly - That’s so hard! For permanent collections of costume that I’ve actually had the opportunity to visit, the list has to start with the V&A and the Met, then I might add the Palais Galliera, the Livrustkammaren, the Royal Ontario Museum, the Palazzo Pitti Costume Gallery, and the Historic Royal Palaces Court Dress Collection. But some of the best costume exhibitions I’ve ever seen have been at the Imperial War Museum and the Gemeentmuseum, and then there are museums I love that don’t collect costume at all, like the Wallace Collection, Waddesdon Manor, the Musées Carnavalet and Cognacq-Jay, the palaces of Charlottenburg and Drottningholm, and the Silberkammer in Vienna, which is essentially the emperor’s dishes and table linens (and it’s fascinating). The Hermitage and the Kyoto Costume Institute are on my bucket list; I’d also love to visit Biltmore, the State Historical Museum in Moscow, and the Danish royal collections.

Jill - What are you reading this evening?

Kimberly - I review books for several publications, so I always have a stack of gorgeous fashion history books I should be reading; right now the pile includes both Mod New York and Fashioning the Early Modern. But I read mysteries for fun, so it might end up being the new Elizabeth George depending on my mood.

All textile images from the Jill K Lasersohn private collection

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  • Jill Lasersohn

We tend to think of Colonial era Americans wearing drab brown homespun; in reality, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and even straight-laced John Adams loved multicolored European fabrics. In 1776, half of all major newspaper advertisements hawked foreign textiles, and by the 1790s, the United States were importing a staggering 3 million yards of printed linen and cotton. The most prized among these multihued prints was arguably Toile de Jouy.

In the 18th century, textiles were important status symbols. While visiting London in 1758, Benjamin Franklin sent his wife yards of cotton, “printed curiously from copper plates, a new invention, to make bed and window curtains, and seven yards of chair bottoms, printed in the same way, very neat.” Wealthy Colonial Americans were willing to pay high prices for printed cotton bed hangings - the Cadwalader family of Philadelphia paid £52 for fifty-six yards of "fine red & white copper plate" for a high post bed (the frame cost only £12!) in 1770 (when a man’s complete suit of clothing cost £4, a silver watch £5).

Meanwhile, in 1760, a penniless German immigrant - Christophe Philippe Oberkampf - launched a small factory in the French town of Jouy-en-Josas to satisfy France’s insatiable appetite for colorful block-printed cottons from India. "Toile de Jouy" (literally printed cotton from Jouy-en-Josas) rapidly set a world standard for innovative design and production techniques. By Oberkampf’s death in 1815, his enterprise was among the largest in France. Today, the fabric continues to epitomize

French “art de vivre” and is reproduced today by presti-

Bed hangings in the William Paca House, Annapolis MD, which cost £50 in 1766 -gious design houses around the world.

The factory at Jouy-en-Josas in 1806 by Jean-Baptist Huet Christophe Philippe Oberkampf (1738-1815)

While most imports into the American colonies came from England, Colonial Americans had access to French goods legally through London merchants in contact with Dutch intermediaries or illegally from ships of all flags, including colonists, that braved the English blockades. But when the French government announced its support for the United States during the War of Independence, American taste enthusiastically embraced all things French….

The Toile de Jouy Manufactory responded by designing several pictorial toiles including the famous “Hommage de l’Amérique à la France” (1783-89). America is personified as a Native-American female figure leaning on a club, wearing a length of cloth draped from her shoulder and a feather headdress. She pays homage to France (a seated woman wearing a crown and resting on a globe adorned with flour-de-lis), accompanied by and African-American holding a phrygian bonnet and a frontiersman in buckskins holding the American flag with its thirteen stars. This central group is surrounded by maritime scenes including the port of La Rochelle (from where Lafayette and Rochambeau’s expeditionary fleets set sail in 1780). Interestingly, this designed was produced even after the French Revolution, but the allegorical “France” stopped wearing a crown and the fleur-de-lis disappeared. Homage de l'Amerique a la France (c.1790)

The first American diplomats to be posted in France became patrons of Toile de Jouy. While Thomas Jefferson lived in Paris from August 1784 to September 1789, he repeatedly purchased Toile de Jouy at the Hotel de Jabac in the rue Neuve de Saint Merri, the Paris show room for the Oberkampf factory. Among the 86 crates of French goods he brought back to Monticello were "One piece of toile de Jouy, and two bolsters print in red with partridges in a garden." Abigail Adams loved her bedroom in Auteuil, France in 1784, which she described, "My chamber is hung with a rich India patch, the bed, chairs and window curtains of the same, which is very fashionable in this country." Meanwhile, printed cottons with patriotic themes were imported into the new nation. In 1784, John Smith & Sons of Baltimore ordered "4 pieces printed furniture in dark purple, Washington patterns."

Homage de l'Amerique a la France (c.1790)

Though cotton clothing was favored by Abigail Adams for its “Republican simplicity”, printed cottons continued to be luxury products until textile manufacturing became widespread in the United States (the first spinning mill was launched in 1791 but manufacturing really only took off during the War of 1812 when imports from England were banned). Indeed, in 1800 a worker at the Jouy factory would have spent an entire week’s wages on just one yard of its most expensive cotton.

Toile de Jouy continued to be favored by American First Ladies in the 20th century. Mamie Eisenhower commissioned Schumacher to design a red and white “toile” with patriotic symbols and used a toile pattern for a dress.

Jacqueline Kennedy, who had a passion for French decorative arts (and even used a French interior designer for the White House) selected a blue & white toile for John F Kennedy’s bedroom and two other Toile de Jouy patterns for two White House guest rooms.

From the Lasersohn Collection Later, as Mrs. Onassis, she used a red and white Toile de Jouy design

in her own Manhattan living room.

President Kennedy's bedroom Two guestrooms in the Kennedy White House

America’s love affair with Toile de Jouy endures today…. Many leading American designers incorporate Toile-inspired prints into home designs or fashion. And that will be the topic of another blog from Jill’s Corner!

Jacqueline Onassis's New York living room

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  • Sylvia Brown

Robin Joy Riggsbee, an American miniaturist artist, was invited to exhibit at the Musée de la Toile de Jouy, September 4th through 25th, 2017. Her garments and fabrics, printed or handpainted on silk and embroidered with 14K gold, precious and semi-precious stones, vintage glass and vintage trims, were displayed next to pieces designed and manufactured in the 18th and 19th centuries by the Toile de Jouy factory. We asked her to tell us about her experience developing the show, “JOY IN JOUY.”

I am a miniaturist artist and have been told repeatedly that many of my hand drawn patterns resemble “Toile de Jouy” designs. No matter what medium, my love of immense detail, fine line, tiny patterns and characters are the core of my work. It’s a fun coincidence that my middle name is only one letter different from Jouy - my designs could be “Toile de Joy.”

Six years ago, I met Michel Pecou in New York City and told him of my dream to exhibit my work at the Musee de la Toile de Jouy. We stayed in touch and through a series of fortunate events, Michel met the Museum’s curator, Esclarmonde Monteil. In March 2017, he and a friend, Diane Franco, presented my work to the Museum. To my delight, it was accepted! Thus I found myself in France on July 26th, 2017 to prepare for an exhibit scheduled September 4th through 25th, and a two-day interactive event during the “Journées du Patrimoine” (open days during which all French museums are free to the public), September 15th and 16th.

Having never visited the museum, I found it difficult to choose what to bring to France. I have created a huge body of work ranging from couture using my hand painted or printed fabrics to books, paintings, dishes... Most important, how could I carry it all in my luggage (I did not want to ship overseas)? Since I have very purposely sold very few of my original art works, I had to select from 23 years of inventory. Would my selections be relevant to original Toile design? Would we manage to create a cohesive exhibit? How much space would I be given? It was a huge challenge. Worse, personal doubts were creeping in: Would they like my work?

I need not have worried. The moment I stepped into the museum, I realized that something was going on here so much greater than anything I could have imagined! I unpacked my huge suitcase, backpack and roller bag and presented each piece to the Esclarmonde, Diane and Michel. They seemed to love my work, but I still wondered about its relevance in relation to the pastoral scenes and chinoiserie designs most people think of as Toile…. Then we began our tour of the Museum.

As I learned about Toile de Jouy and its creator, Christophe Philippe Oberkampf, history came to life. I was awestruck by the sheer beauty of the pieces on exhibit. The technical difficulty required was staggering. I was overwhelmed by a sense of “déja-vu” and felt like a female

reincarnation of Oberkampf. I was surrounded by tiny little patterns, thousands of designs, some identical in motif to mine. My use of these patterns may be totally different and new, but I share common threads with every piece of fabric.

Oberkampf's love of fine detail requires the viewer to admire up close the intricacy of the designs. Though our work is separated by more than two centuries, I share his quest for perfectionism (and his tiny impeccable handwriting!) as well as the challenges of replicating these designs onto fabrics and other surfaces despite all the advances made in technology. To top it all off, I noted a certain leaf-shaped motif (with Oberkampf’s face at the center) that appears in Museum pamphlets, books, and even on the floor. This design motif is the exact shape of a series of tiny evening bags I had made out of a vintage organza dress, which I showed in the exhibit. Each time I discovered a new example of similarities, the chills ran up and down my spine!

A small miracle had taken place: Everything I had brought to France was relevant to the exhibit. I had instinctively made the right choices. To find that my designs are so completely Toile-like, yet totally new and different, was a huge relief.

Over the coming weeks, we prepared the exhibit using photographs, and on September 4th, Michel, Diane and I began working alongside the Museum staff to set up the show.

Everyone was so kind and helpful. To see my work come to life in this Museum, right next to designs by Oberkampf

and his artist, was intensely emotional. I was humbled yet honored by the privilege of having such a long-time dream become a reality. On my final walk through the Museum, alone, to make sure everything was as it should be, I was in tears. If only I could travel back in time to meet Monsieur Oberkampf, his artists and workers

and watch how they managed to produce such incredible works of art and the brilliant manufacturing process he pioneered!

On the two “Journées du Patrimoine” days, when the Museum was open to the public at no charge, we set up an interactive drawing event. Michel designed large sheets of paper to be printed with two small spaces for people to draw their own miniature designs. They could copy thumbnails of my drawings or create their own designs. I never use an eraser, so no erasers were available. We had ten people drawing alongside me throughout the day. The concentration was so intense you could hear a pin drop - and feel a certain magic in the air.

People tried on my goggles or looked through magnifying glasses. For me, the most touching moment was watching someone, child or adult, pick up the magnifying glass to look at my work, stare intently, suddenly smile as they discovered a detail they had not noticed, and realize that I had brought them joy. Somehow, people's hearts were touched; there was a such deep, heartfelt human connection. As I have said often, if my work can bring such joy to someone, if only for a moment, I will have fulfiled my life's purpose. It was this same joy I felt looking at Oberkampf's work for the very first time. I look forward to the day when every human being will know of this man’s work and the legacy he has created.​

Robin Joy Riggsbee wishes to thank the Museum staff, Diane Franco and especially Michel Pecou for all their hard work in making her dream come true. “And a heartfelt thank you to Monsieur Oberkampf for having me there beside him, a privilege beyond my wildest dreams.”

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