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Countess of Castiglione costume reproduction
18th century, 19th century, events, Frock Flicks, projects, travel

Countess of Castiligione Fancy Dress

Nobody freak out, but I’m going to write a post. About a dress. That I made! I have wanted to make this particular costume for about 20 years, which is why I am blowing the dust off my keyboard and doing this. I’d like to share some of the making on social media, and I’d like to be able to share more than just photos. So, let’s see if I remember how to do this?

I’ve shared the story of the real-life Countess of Castiglione, Virginia Oldoïni (1837-99), as well as my own personal interest in her, in a review I wrote for Frock Flicks. As I wrote there:

The Countess of Castiglione was Italian; she was married off at age 17 to the count, who was 12 years older. She was renowned for her beauty, which helped take her life in a couple of interesting directions. She got involved in the movement for Italian unification, moving to Paris in 1855 (initially with her husband) to try to gain political support from Napoleon III. She ended up becoming Napoleon’s mistress, and her husband separated from her. She became famous for wearing amazingly gorgeous and inspired costumes to the fancy dress balls that were then popular, and collaborated with French photographers Mayer and Pierson to create these insanely cool, artistic photographs of herself that were meant to recreate important moments in her life, many of which focused on fancy dress costume. She returned to Italy for a few years, then moved back to Paris where she lived in seclusion until the 1890s, when she did another series of weirdly arty photographs.

I’ve been a fan for over 20 years, and I played the countess at the Dickens Fair, where I had to make an “everyday” (i.e. not fancy dress) day dress, which I posted a bit about. But the costume of hers that I have always been obsessed with is this 18th century fancy dress/masquerade costume from the mid-1860s:

Portrait of Countess Virginia Oldoini di Castiglione by Pierre-Louis Pierson, 1863, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Portrait of Countess Virginia Oldoini di Castiglione by Pierre-Louis Pierson, 1863, Metropolitan Museum of Art

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exhibitions, travel

Death Becomes Her: Mourning Costume Exhibit at the Met

Last fall I took a trip to New York, where I was lucky to see the just-closed Costume Institute exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, called “Death Becomes Her.”

The exhibit was relatively small, but not TOO small, and it was full of a lot of stunning items. Here’s a few thoughts!

There were tons of stunning details, which is even MORE intriguing to me when it’s in all black, because they’re so subtle. Check out these spangled rosettes on a hem!

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research, travel


I just got back from a week in beautiful, cold, dark Stockholm!  I was there doing research at the Nordiska Museet (Nordic Museum), looking at an 18th c. robe a la turque and some other garments related to my Big 18th-Century-Turkish-Influence project.  It was something of a whirlwind trip, given the flying time from San Francisco to Stockholm (THREE — count ‘em — flights to get home, meaning about 24 hours of travel time), but it was lots of fun!

Stockholm is very pretty.  Lots of it is very Victorian looking, but mixed in (especially in the older parts) are beautiful, warm colored buildings:

Gamla Stan

This was even prettier on the second day we were there, when it snowed!


I was there with my husband, and we did a ton — museums, architecture, shopping for design-y items (Michael’s an illustrator, so he was all “Swedish design! Yay!”).

Kendra & Michael

I got to meet Elisa of Isis’ Wardrobe and Madame Isis’ Toilette.  She took me to Livrustkammaren, where they have the HUGE and fabulous royal dress collection.  I got to see TWO (count ‘em!) Swedish 18th century court dresses, and Elisa was able to tell me lots of interesting things about the various pieces and the royals who wore them:

Coronation dress of Queen Lovisa Ulrika, 1751 | Livrustkammaren:

Wedding dress of Queen Sofia Magdalena, 1766 | Livrustkammaren:

The Nordiska Museet is STUNNING:

Nordiska Museet

And they had a number of really fascinating exhibits, my favorite being the jewelry and costume exhibits (of course!):

Modemakt/Power of Fashion

Modemakt/Power of Fashion

Modemakt/Power of Fashion

Modemakt/Power of Fashion


16th c. pendant

And best of all, I got to study a number of interesting 18th century costume pieces! The curators and conservators were really nice and great to work with, and they had some really interesting items in their collection.

You can see all of my pictures, including many more of the costume and jewelry exhibits, in this Flickr set.

18th century, travel

BTW – France Photos

Okay, so I lied. One REALLY last post about France!  You might have already found my photos from our trip to 18th century France, but I thought I should go ahead and post a direct link to the full set.  I also wanted to highlight some faaaabulous posed photos that we did on our last day.  I was inspired by Fanny’s fabulous “Nonchalance Chez la Duchesse” photo shot to do something similar with our group, and here’s what we came up with:

Conversation piece

Dieuxieme conversation piece

I particularly love Leia’s innocent pickpocket facial expression in the last one!

shopping, travel

One Last Post About France: Shopping!

A costumer cannot go to France (and Italy) and not go shopping!  So what came home with me?

One rainy/misty day at the Chateau, a group of us attempted to go see the ruins of the Chateau de Montségur.  Sadly it was too rainy to make the trek up the dirt path to the see the chateau, but we did have a fabulous lunch in a medieval-y (in a good, non-cheesy way) restaurant and find a great medieval-y shop attached to its own blacksmithing forge.  I have been wanting to find some nice silverware for use at Renaissance Faires, but I wanted something that wasn’t the same as everyone else’s (tried that, quickly lost my Hampton Court Palace spoon in the sea of lookalikes).  Although they’re more medieval, I found a nice spoon/fork set with ladies heads on the handle and snatched them up.

In Venice, I headed straight to Antonia Sauter’s shop on the recommendation of Trystan & Thomas’s Carnevale DVD.  There I found a GORGEOUS mask that will perfectly match my green Venetian Renaissance dress, made of silk velvet, spangles, and feathers.

Being a book slut, I also grabbed the catalogue for the Mme Elisabeth exhibition, and a book on the Fragonard Costume Museum, while seeing each exhibit.

Venetian mask from Antonia Sauter, book from the Fragonard Costume Museum, catalogue from the Mme Elisabeth exhibit, medieval silverware from Montségur

Of course, I needed to buy some fabric!  Doing tons of research on 18th century these days, particularly Provencal styles, I wanted some 18th century-appropriate Provencal fabric.  Sadly I didn’t find anything OTT fabulous!  There are two manufacturers of French printed cottons still in existence:  Les Olivades and Souleiado.  I went to Les Olivades shop in Arles, where I got one yard of a pretty red cotton print — only a yard because it was really pricey!  I also trekked out to the Souleiado outlet (Les Olivades has one too, but you need a car to get there and I was car-less).  Sadly they didn’t have anything I was in love with, but having taken a bus and walked about 15 min. with suitcases, I was determined to buy something!  I found these mustard yellow (not my favorite color, although I think I can probably pull it off since I’m a warm color girl?) pieces (no idea what they’re for — quilting?) with FABULOUS 18th c. designs printed on them and I grabbed a bunch — I do wish the background color was more exciting!  And then on my way out, I noticed the sale bed linens and am glad I did, because I found this fitted sheet with a fabulous red sprig design on it.  I’m thinking of using the sheet for a petticoat and the red for a jacket, and making a Provencal ensemble.  Still no idea what’s going to happen with the mustard fabric pieces!

Fabrics from Souleiado, Olivades, Souleiado