When her husband was decapitated by the newly invented guillotine in 1793 in revolutionary Paris, Rose de Beauharnais and her daughter were down on her heels and even at risk to be treated with the same kind of machinery. Then she met a man whom she was at first not interested in at all, but who would be her destiny: the young general Napoleon Bonaparte.
Napoleon was not the man who would think a lot about the word “no”. And so she had no choice but to become interested. And he started to make some changes. For once, he didn’t like the name Rose, and he called her Josephine, under which name she is now being remembered.
In 1796 they married. Josephine, a socialite who charmed everybody, introduced the battlefield genius to society. Napoleon wasn’t exactly made for salons, but with the help of his wife he did well. And his rising power also raised Josephine: she became the grand dame of Paris – and with it an important influence on the fashion world.
Socialite meant different things back then. You had to have taste and not show naked bottoms to everybody who would look at them. It also demanded a good education, or you’d be thrown out of a salon faster than even Einstein’s relativity theory would allow.
In 1804 Napoleon basically crowned himself to emperor of France, and she became empress. The bliss didn’t last too long: In 1810 they separated because she could not give him a heir, one thing that emperors are even more interested in than in new clothes. They stayed in a friendly relationship. When the empire fell in 1814, she could not see Napoleon again before he was exiled to Elba. And when Napoleon reconquered France in 1815 for his rule of 90 days, she had died.
When Napoleon was shipped out to his second and final exile on St. Helena in the South Pacific, he took with him the memories of the great love of his life.
The above photo is of course not an illustration of the Napoleon story. There is no snow in the South Pacific. I haven’t shot this story yet. It is the image that holds the final place until the funding can be secured.
I’m of course not thinking to do a period piece. Just like theater uses the contemporary clothing to show classic theater, and just as Renaissance painting alway showed Renaissance clothing even in biblical images, I’d use the clothing of our time, and connect the over 200 year old romance to our contemporary life and culture.