Fashion and style

Caroline Murat, Queen of Naples (1782-1839), by Louis Ducis (1775-1847), c. 1810. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Caroline Murat, Queen of Naples (1782-1839), by Louis Ducis (1775-1847), c. 1810, NT 608957, at Attingham Park. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

I took part in a panel discussion at the Royal College of Art yesterday, part of their History of Design programme. The theme of the seminar was ‘research in action’, exploring the benefits and challenges of interacting with the public.

This reminded me of my previous linking with Unmaking Things, the lively blog run by second-year students of the History of Design course. I was inspired then by the observation made by Marilyn Zapf that the internet has the effect of making any object into a ‘found object’ – whether it is an ephemeral piece of packaging or a fine art masterpiece.

In a recent post Connie Burks writes about the difference between fashion and style – the former being more about historical trends, whereas the latter is more about individual choice, and is therefore more difficult to reconstruct. Connie mentions how style is often revealed by the way an individual combines different garments, patterns, textures and colours.

That, in turn, reminded me of the above portrait of Caroline Murat, who was something of an early-nineteenth-century style icon. The sister of Napoleon Bonaparte and married to one of his generals who became King of Naples, she channeled both French and Italian elements in her surroundings and her dress.

As Brittany Dahlin mentions in her recent thesis on Caroline Murat, she deliberately wore black velvet because of its associations with traditional Neapolitan female dress. At the same time the dress is tailored and cut in the high-waisted ‘Empire’ style, which of course had associations with French cultural and political dominance.

So perhaps this picture provides a glimpse of the fluid boundary between fashion and style.


5 Responses to “Fashion and style”

  1. Bindy Barclay Says:

    Opened all the links, made a coffee and sat down for good morning of inspiring reading. Thx.

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Bindy, glad you liked it. In the panel discussion I mentioned how blogs can be like eighteenth-century coffee houses, with a bit of refreshment, a bit of chat, and the latest news – and now you have kind of acted that out 🙂

  3. artandarchitecturemainly Says:

    Of all the women on the planet then, Caroline Murat was a great style choice. Being the sister of Napoleon Bonaparte was not always a great thing, but while he was Emperor, all of Napoleon’s siblings were going to be very powerful people, Young, married to an important general and Queen of Naples!!

    Best of all worlds … until it wasn’t. Poor Caroline.

  4. Andrew Says:

    I believe Caroline’s grandson Louis Napoléon Murat won a gold medal in an equestrian event at the Olympic Games in Paris in 1900. See

    And I think the actor René Auberjonois is his great-grandson.

  5. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Helen, yes her reign as queen didn’t last long. But having portraits done by good painters does help with securing a degree of immortality 🙂

    Andrew, how interesting. Yes René Auberjonois appears to be the great-great-great grandson of Joachim and Caroline Murat.

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