In anticipation of International Women’s Rights Day on March 8, I really wanted to talk about Juliette Récamier, George Sand, Colette and Cléo de Mérode here, as I talked about them at length a few weeks ago with two women dear to my heart, Louise du Bessey and Victoria Bonnamour.
I have already told you about these two heroines of modern times: Louise revived a beautiful Parisian brand that had fallen asleep in 1950 to turn it into a sophisticated perfume house, Marcelle Dormoy, and Victoria reinterprets with Bonâme the dress codes specific to certain great women who have made a difference, to celebrate a strong and timeless femininity.
It therefore seemed quite natural to me to extend here my discussion with Louise and Victoria and to evoke Juliette, George, Colette and Cléo since they never ceased to shake up the three centuries that they cover together, from 1777 to 1966.
Juliette, George, Colette and Cléo : four women carried away by the breath of freedom, who never ceased to agitate the three centuries they lived in successively, from 1777 to 1966. Who never ceased to resist because they were free spirits. Who have never ceased to do everything possible – even their impossible – to get out of the tiny boxes assigned to them.
Juliette Récamier (1777-1849) holds a literary salon – let’s say it’s kind of ok for a woman who then seems to be only the heiress of the “Pretentious Young Ladies” mocked by Molière – but she animates a political salon. Her opposition to Napoleon becomes so dangerous that the Emperor threw her on the roads of exile. She will be remembered as a free-spirited woman whose intelligence and independence never bent before power and she invented an instantly recognizable style of dress.
George Sand (1804-1876) had stormy love affairs – let’s say it’s ok, like any woman, she is a slave to her feelings and her passions. However, she will love with force, without hiding and will call herself a writer, where at the time it is only a professional activity reserved for men. She lives by her pen and her novels are stored in the same shelves as those of her males colleagues at a time when bookstores relegate female writers to a very separate and very obscure section. She too will be remembered as a free, strong and prolific spirit who never bowed to the social conventions that should have reduced her to the role of wife and mother.
Colette (1873-1954) is provincial and very innocent – and let’s say it’s ok, she writes down, like any woman, her memories of childhood and adolescence. However, she will fight for her name to reclaim her name on the cover of her first novels which precisely describe her memories, the “Claudine” series, published under the name of her husband Willy, always short of money and who constantly tells her that “women don’t sell”. She would later make headlines by doing mime, half-naked, on the Parisian and provincial stages. She will be remembered as a rebellious, insolent, creative spirit who will never bend before the outraged faces of the bourgeois who nevertheless secretly revered her daring writings and graceful curves.
Cléo de Mérode (1875-1966), is a classical dancer – let’s say it’s ok, she is just another dancer who reveals her body on stage to attract rich patrons. However, she will be the first real international celebrity and will fight all her life against the rumor that wants to make her a prostitute and will even sue Simone de Beauvoir who catalogs her as such in the first edition of the “Second Sex”. She will be remembered as the muse of an entire world and the most photographed artist of her time.
All four often have dubious origins for the standards of their time: Juliette Récamier marries her natural father who wishes in this way to ensure her financial security, George Sand is torn between her popular ancestry by her mother and her aristocratic ancestry by her father – since she is the great-granddaughter of the Marshal of France Maurice de Saxe. Colette undergoes the ascendancy of a solar mother and a father crushed by the strength of his wife. Finally, Cléo de Mérode is the natural child of an Austrian baroness on the run in Paris and a father she will never know.
The social downgrading for some or the disorder of origins or parental patterns preside over non-standard lives.
The relationship to the body is experienced intensely by these four women who, symbolically or not, throw away the corsets and other social conventions imposed on them. Juliette moves away from her husband, George separates from her husband (divorce does not exist at her time), Colette divorces and Cléo does not marry. Juliette will be Chateaubriand’s muse and longtime mistress, George will experience sensational love affairs with Chopin and Musset, Colette will scandalously experience love in the feminine arms and then in those of her young son-in-law, and Cléo, seen by the whole world as the mistress of Leopold II – takes refuge in the posture of an unattainable virgin.
They each create their own style, which also says a lot about their relationship to the body.
Juliette, in her beautiful Empire dresses, abandons the corset of rigor at the time, George dressed as a man for financial reasons – it cost less but it created a style – Colette, with short hair, creates the Claudine collar, innocent but far from being naive, and Cléo de Mérode, with her flat headbands, invented a neo-Renaissance style absolutely unusual at the time.
For at least of them – George and Colette – the relationship to the land is visceral – and I do not know to what extent it leads to a relationship to the body that is far from the unnatural and corseted conventions of their eras. They are scandalous, quite simply because they live according to standards that they themselves have enacted and which are often far from social conventions.
They fully live their personal conception of femininity, body, of love and art.
They flourish in social positions that do not exist and force the society of their time to look at them and recognize them as they are and as they live.
Does that suppose an easy life? Oh no. They restlessly work and that is perhaps where the scandal comes from. Juliette is exiled from Paris and ends up in an abbey, George works so hard that she becomes one of the most prolific writers of her time (70 novels, not to mention tales, short stories and plays), Colette dies of hunger on the roads of her mime tours and Cléo fights constantly to have the art of dance recognized as such.
All four will have lived through complicated life moments but all four will have refused compromises that would have undermined their integrity.
All four will have fully embraced their art, their deep personality, their style, their loves.
They will all have taken risks.
Bôname garments and personal accessories – Marcelle Dormoy perfumes
March 3, 2023