empress of the month: eugenie

here she sits amid her ladies in a portrait by winterhalter (who, by the way, also painted yours truly)

She was the last French Empress, and quite a charmer, that María Eugenia Ignacia Augustina de Palafox Portocarrero de Guzmán y Kirkpatrick. She lived to the ripe age of 94, and was best known for starting up the caged crinolines fad (that, and a primary role in the ill-fated French intervention in Mexico).She was 26 when she wed Napoleon III, much to the disapproval of the snooty House of Bonaparte, but marry she did, dutifully producing an heir before closing her bed to her increasingly lecherous and obese husband (who satisfied his seeming bottomless appetite for the fair sex with countless public affairs).

In our day, an Empress set trends, and Eugenie was no exception. What initially was thought a scandal turned Paris on its ear in 1862 when the Empress got it in her little head to appear in public without a shawl. After the society hags simmered down women everywhere began to attend functions without cloaks and shawls, freeing them up to display their dresses without cover, and creating quite a ripple in the fashion world.

And, of course, other than me, Eugenie was the only decent rider among empresses of our day. In fact, it was her horseback prowess that first led to her husband’s initial interest in courting her (or so the gossip goes).

Eugenie's wedding ensemble, described in the London Times, 1853: White epiglé velvet, with rather large basque and demi-train. A veil of point d’Angleterre flowed from underneath a rich diadem sparkling with diamonds.

We were often referred to as “rivals.” How silly! Eugenie had a much more sophisticated style. Just look at her bridal get-up below. I was much more given to practicality. Well, as long as my waist was cinched in tight.

So, what do the Empress Eugenie and I have in common? Well, our “fancy ephemera” is featured on the Royal Paper Dolls website, along with Norway’s Queen Maude and the Peacock Princess.