A Pair of Habits à la Française, 1811

Last time I wrote about the upcoming Jane Austen exhibition. With less than three weeks to the opening, the Cosprop costumes are arriving tomorrow! It will of course focus on the famous film costumes, but they are supplemented with a handful of extant garments from our collections. The fictional Mr Darcy, Mr Ferrars, and Colonel Brandon are sort of visiting Count Brahe, the real life owner of Skokloster Castle.

There is plenty of remarkable textiles in the Skokloster Castle collections, such as clothing, bed hangings and tapestries. Most of them date back to the seventeenth century when the castle was built, but there are some very fine garments from later eras, and specifically from 1811, so no wonder that we take the opportunity to put them on display this summer.

In 1811 His Excellency Count Magnus Fredrik Brahe was appointed Swedish envoy to the imperial court of Napoleon. Count Brahe was the highest ranking aristocrat in Sweden. He held many honorary titles and a vast fortune was entailed to him. Nonetheless this meant a great expence to him. His entourage included the countess Brahe and his handsome twenty-year old son. The witty Countess Aurora Brahe charmed the French society and Napoleon named her “La Belle Suédoise”.  In Paris the count ordered two formal suits à la Française for the celebration of  the birth of the King of Rome, that is Napleon’s son, Napoleon. The baptism was held in Notre Dame on 9 June 1811. It was a grand affair, and as ambassador Brahe was required to wear court suit. Napoleon had revived the extravagant embroidered silk suits worn at court before the revolution. If the provenance was unknown these could easily have been made twenty years earlier.

From the digital database: Count Brahe´s two court suits seen here with a livery probably worn by his valet to the same occasion.

His Excellency, Count Magnus Fredrik Brahe (1754-1826). Painting by Carl von Breda, Skokloster Castle.

Countess Aurora Wilhelmina Brahe, “La Belle Suédoise”. This miniature portrait was painted by Jean-Baptiste Augustin in Paris, 1811. Private collection.

Protected by white cotton covers, safely tucked away in our textile storage…

…are these stunning suits. This is the one in lavender grosgrain silk. The tailcoat has nine decorative buttons down the front, and three working button holes. Inv no 11930, 11931, 11939. Link to the database here.

View of the rear.

The lavender suit. This is the most formal of the two with elaborate silk embroidery, including cording, silver spangles, and glass sequins.

The embroidery is marvellous!

A closeup of the waistcoat. I discovered just now that some of the sequins have been lost.

Interesting seams over the shoulders. This indicates that pre-embroidered sections were pieced together.

Notice the cord and the button on the collar? This was either to hold a cloak or the ceremonial sword.

Notice how the embroidered flowers are cut in half by the side seams?

Let us take a look at the brown and green suit. Inv no 11945-11947. Link to collections database here. The embroidery is less formal, executed in silk thread only, without the glitter, but nonetheless very decorative.

Interestingly the upper buttonholes on both coat and waistcoat are nonfunctional. Again the condition is remarkable, but the suit was probably only used on that one occasion.

The silk is woven with small irregular dots. It is currently laid out on a large table.

Could have been made yesterday.

The breeches are green silk velvet.

Buttons and embroidered kneeband. Unexpected use of gold thread and sequins, since there is nothing of the sort on coat and waistcoat. I wonder why?

A glimpse of the inside. This is centre back. A string through one hole on each side of a gusset makes the waist adjustable. The garment is lined with a fine linen, Surprisingly, white linen is used on the waistband.

The white silk satin waiscoat. The collar is about 80 mm high.

These waistcoats came as a “waist shape”, a pre-embroidered length of silk that was cut and assembled by ones tailor. The emboidery was designed “à la disposition” and was easier to carry out on flat silk instead of a garment.

A Waistcoat shape, Victoria & Albert Museum.

Silk intended for a coat. Notice the embroidered circles that would cover the buttons? The Metropolitan Museum.

These suits are a testament to the skilled embroiderers who created such incredible work. Sadly there is no record of receipts or labels so their names are lost to us. They also evoke Napoleonic imperial splendour and aristocratic duties during the early nineteenth century. They will no doubt make a contrast to the no-nonsense Austen gentlemen.

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