A Brief History of the Fashion Magazine Part 2

Louis XIV as a Young Man, Jean Nocret, 1655, Museo del Prado

The French Crown was, unfortunately for its finances, unable to tax the nobility, thanks to the law rendering them exempt. Louis XIV (or rather, his finance minister Colbert) found a clever way around this, however. By investing Crown money into the manufacture of luxury goods: silk weaving, glass blowing, and lace making, for instance, and then encouraging the nobles to spend vast quantities of money on these luxuries, it was possible to enrich the country and the state.

Fashion is to France what the gold mines of Peru are to Spain.

Jean-Baptiste Colbert
Jean-Baptiste Colbert by Philippe de Champaigne, 1655

This encouragement of consumerism met with the rise of the early newspaper, and in 1672 the combination resulted in the publication of the Mercure Galant. Published by Jean Donneau de Visé, it reported on who was wearing what when, and where different items could be bought or made.

Mercure Galant Frontispiece

The new female couturiers (who gained guild status in 1675), were able to respond to demand far quicker than the male tailors, and were helped enormously by the publication of this magazine. Between them, trends could be set far more quickly, and the concept of fashion “seasons” emerged. It should perhaps be mentioned that female couturiers initially gained their business from the import, appropriation, and imitation of several forms of eastern dress (including the Japanese Kimono and the Indian Jama), but I’ll deal with that in more detail in a separate post.

Habit d’Hiver, Mercure Galant 1678

The Mercure Galant, while effective in its spreading of French fashions and the concept of the seasons, was the only one of its kind for nearly a century after its first publication. It did, however, cement France as a centre of fashion in Europe, something that Colbert had always been working towards.

Habit d’Este, Mercure Galant, April 1676

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