Riyoko Ikeda: Lady Oscar and fashion
When we talk about the Japanese artist Riyoko Ikeda, we immediately think of the anime Lady Oscar, his best known and most important work.
The life of Marie Antoinette inside the palace of Versailles has always fascinated everyone over the years and Ikeda deserves credit for having created, more than many others, an indelible portrait in our memory of those aristocrats and of their conduct.
Riyoko Ikeda was born in 1947 in Osaka. Her mother was descended from an ancient samurai dynasty, while her father was of humble origins: theirs was a marriage of love for which they went against their families.
Ikeda attended Hakuō High School in Tokyo (one of the most prestigious private schools in the country) and later entered TsukubaUniversity. Inspired by the revolutionary ideals in vogue during the 1960s and 1970s, she became a member of a student organization of the Japanese Communist Party and became involved in an anti-nuclear movement, which however did not win her family support.
To support herself, Ikeda therefore decided to become a mangaka. In 1972 she published Lady Oscar in Margaret magazine after numerous altercations with the publishing house: the publisher was not in fact persuaded that a topic of this type would be of interest to girls. The opera was a huge success that over the years became global in scope also thanks to the 1974 play by the company Takarazuka Revue (staged more than a thousand times), the film and the animated series.
Later Ikeda continued to publish historical manga set in Europe.
In 2008 she was the first mangaka in the world to be awarded the Legion of Honor for her contribution to the spread of French culture and history.
The original title in Japanese of this work is ベ ル サ イ ユ の ば ら Berusaiyu no bara, literally "The Roses of Versailles" and not Lady Oscar as in the Italian translation: this title was chosen for the Italian anime following the director's 1979 film Jacques Demy entitled Lady Oscar.
Who instead the roses of Vesailles are it is difficult to say exactly, numerous hypotheses have been made about it: there are those who argue that the right translation of the title is in the singular and that The Rose of Versailles is Lady Oscar or Queen Marie Antoinette (real protagonist of the opera), while others say that the roses are the members of the aristocracy who lived in the palace or more simply the main characters: Marie Antoinette, Count Fersen and Lady Oscar.
For the writing of the work, Ikeda was based on the biography Marie Antoinette - an involuntarily heroic life by Stefan Zweig (1932), proposing a portrait of France from the second half of the 18th century up to the Revolution (the anime ends with his death Oscar, while the manga continues up to Terror, introducing the figure of Bonaparte).
The manga is mainly focused on Marie Antoinette, Oscar is a support figure although as the plot progresses she will have a greater role due to the great success of the public. Furthermore, the manga is much more comic and faithful to historical reality than the anime, which is why the latter was criticized by the author who did not recognize it as her own - not to mention the huge cuts of the Italian censorship that have distorted the same Oscar and obscured topics deemed uncomfortable such as prostitution and homosexuality.
The place in which the characters move is Versailles, the royal residence of the Bourbons located in the town of Versailles, 20 km from Paris. It was established as a residence of the aristocracy and nobles at the behest of Louis XIV to move away from the capital and its inhabitants following the movement of the parliamentary Fronda revolt. It immediately became, also as a structure, the symbol of the absolute power of the French monarchy during the Ancien Régime and, at the same time, a golden cage for its inhabitants, who were constantly monitored for fear of intrigues and insurrections while living in the most unbridled comforts, to the detriment of the people of the whole nation, with no interest in them.
The masterpiece presents some characters that really exist and others fictional but useful for the narrative purpose.
As already mentioned, Queen Marie Antoinette is actually the real protagonist: from the serene and joyful life in Austria until her death, Ikeda stages her human character as a woman in a modern key and innovative psychological introspection.
Lady Oscar is her personal guard. Of noble origin, she escorts the queen during her daily outings in order to protect her.
Raised by her father as a man, Oscar is the fulcrum of the gender identity crisis of the work but also a symbol of the Revolution itself, as she embodies the values of the Republic but above all the awareness of a new order. It is she who, as a universal subject, not wholly man or wholly woman, adopts the dictates of freedom, fraternity and equality that led to the end of the Ancien Régime. Oscar takes the side of the people (to which André Grandier belongs among other things) abounding the queen.
For Lady Oscar, Ikeda said she was inspired by Pierre-Augustin Hulin: initially a soldier of the crown armed forces, during the Revolution she challenged the cannons of the Bastille.
A second possible inspiration could also be Marie-Jeanne Schellinck, a Belgian woman who, after disguising herself as a soldier, enlisted in the French army and obtained the rank of second lieutenant.
Hans Axel von Fersen was the Swedish count considered the lover of Queen Marie Antoinette, as well as the architect of the failed escape of the royal family to Varennes.
Countess Du Barry was Louis XV's last favorite. She was extremely disliked by the queen, she was a very skilled weaver of palace intrigues which earned her a privileged position even though she was not of noble origin.
The Duchess of Polignac was one of the Queen's favorites, from whom she managed to extort enormous favors and wealth. She had many detractors, so much so that during the necklace affair in France pamphlets were produced portraying her as Marie Antoinette's lesbian lover. Either way, it was she who prompted the queen to spend huge amounts of money on frivolous objects and pastimes such as gambling.
Rosalie's figure is inspired by Rosalie Lamorlière, the queen's maid during her time at the Concergierie awaiting trial.
Jeanne is inspired by Jeanne-de-Saint-Rémy-de luz de Valois, or Countess de la Motte, remembered for the necklace affair in which she implicated Marie Antoinette.
Maximilien de Robespierre, called "the incorruptible", was the true leader of the Revolution and ruler of Terror, so much so that he inspired many dictators such as Lenin and Stalin.
Louis Antoine Léon Florelle de Saint-Just was a revolutionary and follower of Robespierre, who was also an architect and supporter of the Terror.
Andrè Grandier is instead a fictional character whose relationship with Oscar was built by Ikeda on the model of her parents.
Thanks to Marie Antoinette, France became the most important pole in Europe for what concerns fashion. In fact, it was thanks to her that for the first time the figures of the stylist and hairdresser took shape.
Proceeding in order, Lady Oscar herself presents different uniforms depending on the role played. The colors she wears are those found on the current French flag.
The first uniform presented is the white one: Oscar is commander of the royal guard and takes care of the queen's personal defense.
The second uniform is the red one: Oscar is now captain of his majesty's guard during the reign of the two young and inexperienced sovereigns, while the discontent of the third estate increases.
The third uniform worn by Oscar is the blue one as commander of the regiment of the French Guards in Paris. In reality this is a historical inaccuracy, as the blue uniform was actually from the Napoleonic period.
In the series we also see Oscar wearing a high uniform for court dances and, for one occasion only, Oscar wears women's clothes.
In the manga the figure of Marie-Jeanne Rose Bertin is presented. Milliner, she could be considered the first stylist in history except that at that time there were still corporations that did not give space to the tailor's inspiration - this profession took shape after the Revolution, when the exclusivity of the aristocracy in obtaining objects was lacking luxury, then also the prerogative of the bourgeoisie.
Bertin opened her first Le Grand Mogol boutique in Paris where she was appreciated by wealthy women for her creations (robe à la polonaise in primis) which included panier under the skirt, corsets, lace, umbrellas and fans. Only two years after her, Marie Antoinette chose her as a personal milliner, meeting her twice a week: she made all her dresses until 1792.
She became so prominent that she was called by her detractors "minister of fashion": her works were worn by women of the aristocracy and exported to major European cities such as London, Vienna and St. Petersburg. It was thanks to her that Paris became the center of European fashion.
A very faithful reproduction of Bertin's dresses were made by costume designer Milena Canonero for Sofia Coppola's film Marie Antoniette (2006), which earned her an Oscar in 2007 for Best Costume Design.
The film also shows another character in sight at court, Léonard Autié, considered the first hairdresser in history: a great experimenter and innovator, he was the queen's favorite hairdresser and the most requested of the ladies of the nobility.
Autié and Bertin were so important that they revived the fashion magazine Journal des Dames.
In particular Autié is remembered the "ques-à-co" hairstyle, composed of three feathers behind the head, and the more eccentric and uncomfortable like the "pouf" one. The latter, made for the first time on the Duchess of Chartres, was made with a metal structure and pads on which gauze and hair smeared with pomade (a mixture of animal fat and perfume) were pinned. Clove oil was then added to the scaffold against fleas and ticks, ribbons, jewels, flowers, feathers and pendants (sometimes even vegetables). Everything was finished with some face powder.
The "pouf" was the most exaggerated hairstyle shown at court but also the most derided by the people. A pouf could be up to one meter high and was bulky and annoying, not to mention that it caused dizziness, back pain and hair loss.
The most eccentric "pouf" was perhaps the one presented by the queen on the occasion of the 1785 ball in honor of Jean-Francoise Laperouse who returned home with the sailing ship Belle Poule (hence the name of the hairstyle), which was reproduced in paper mache on the head of Marie Antoinette.
Coppola's film shows other interesting insights that bring her work closer to that of Ikeda.
Both authors have in fact created an extremely modern and current portrait of Versailles, giving space to a psychological introspection of the modern characters. The human drama, as in a Greek tragedy, is the discovery of the ego, which in the path of the characters of Coppola and Ikeda matches adolescence, a phase of the human being that did not exist in the 1700s but which is invented in fact, starting from the 60s of the 1900s in the era of mass consumption.
In the past, the transition from childhood to adulthood took place almost suddenly: the children themselves were educated and dressed like little adults because there was no real transition phase. In the second half of the 1900s, thanks to the well-being achieved by the consumer society, young people became a new market to which targeted goods could be addressed.
Just as the young people of our time want to have fun and be fashionable without caring about the important issues, so the young people in Versailles are completely disinterested in what the people of France suffer.
This is a modern interpretation of the life and attitude of Marie Antoinette of the two authors who, in reality, was nothing more than a selfish but also unconscious lifestyle.
In this way the queen is portrayed as a celebrity surrounded by the stars of the moment, stylists and image curators. This pop vision is further underlined by Coppola through a skilful use of classical and modern music: styles such as rock, post-punk and new wave are chosen and bands such as The Strokes, The Cure, Siouxie & The Banshees and Bow Wow Wow, a group of the 80s founded by Malcom McLaren to promote the fashion line of Vivienne Westwood (artist particularly appreciated also by the manga artist Ai Yazawa).
The charm of the 18th century, fashion and music have aroused enormous interest all over the world over the years. In Japan, in this regard, it should be mentioned Versailles group founded in 2007: a visual kei band of the yōshikibi current in which melodic rock is influenced by classical music and the aesthetics are of a neoclassical and medieval European type.
For the FW 2020 Jeremy Scott brought a collection cheekily inspired by the work of Ikeda to the Moschino catwalk. A collection that in reality was not welcomed favorably by the fans of the author but which actually made Ikeda Riyoko Production turn up its nose, that defined it as "rough". The same production company also said that it had not been warned before the debut of the show.