Thursday, August 02, 2018

Catherine di Medici: Jezebel in heels

The Medici's were a powerful family that became extremely influential in Renaissance, Italy (14th - 16th century). They made their fortune through banking and commerce and dominated the political scene in Florence for over two hundred years before Catherine di Medici’s was born in 1519. At the time Florence was literally the centre of the world as far as the Europeans were concerned and trade from all over the world meant fine goods were available for local craftsmen. Clothing historians consider women’s fashion, as we now know it, was first introduced during this period.

The most popular lady’s shoes were called the Chopine and consisted of platform type shoes worn to protect the delicate fabrics from damage. Originally the elevated shoes were made to allow the wearer to rise above the mire in the streets according to some authorities. But women of substance seldom if ever walked out and preferred to be carried in sedan chairs. It is unlikely the platform shoe was anything other than a fashion opportunity to display sumptuous clothing.

Chopines became higher and higher until the shoes were 24 inches from the ground. The ladies had to be escorted when walking out and walking sticks became popular as fashion accessory for females. More and more injuries were reported until the community became so alarmed with so many miscarriages attributed to mum falling over her shoes that Chopines were banned. To add insult to injury during the fashion for chopines, men got an uncontested divorce if it was discovered new wives were smaller than their spouses had estimated because she wore heightened shoes.

A clever modification to make the chopine safer was made by hollowing out the forefoot so the heel sat higher and the fashion high heeled shoe was invented. Chopines became passé around the time of Catherine’s birth in 1519. As an adult she was petite but despite her small stature was to become a giant in European history. Catherine aged 14 married the future king of France in 1533. She had little power during the reign of her first husband and that of her first son, Francis II, but on his death in 1560 the government fell entirely into her hands. She became a dominating force throughout his reign.

The young bride arrived in Paris wearing high heeled mules which instantly took the attention of the fashion conscious and became vogue for both women and men. The fashion remained popular for about fifty years before it was considered déclassé. Heels remained in vogue with men of small stature and sex workers. Apart from her political role, Catherine was a patron of the arts. Her interest in architecture was demonstrated by in the building of a new wing of the Louvre Museum. Perhaps her greatest contribution was to French cuisine. Until her arrival French cookery was heavy monotonous and over spiced. Catherine took with her from Florence an army of cooks, bakers and confectioners including a variety of delicacies then unknown to the French. In the following century Francois Pierre de La Varenne developed the first true French sauces which were to revolutionise French cookery. Catherine also brought pasta, ointments and the glove fashion to Paris. She is also credited with bringing perfume to the capital. Her perfumier, Ren the Florentine, was popular and sold perfume and poison to high-class Parisians. The fashion to scent gloves came because the leathers were so badly tanned they needed to mask the smell. Catherine also made the fashion of carrying small bottles of perfume about her person very popular. She kept a large entourage of lady’s in waiting and encouraged them to sleep with the rich and powerful. By this means she perfected pillow talk to spy on her allies and enemies, alike. Catherine was not averse to foul play and introduced poisoning to the French court and for fun she started the Protestant and Catholic Wars. Catherine was the genuine Jezebel in heels.

Reviewed 2/08/2018

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