I’m pleased to welcome reader Eliska to Royal Hats. She is a a writer, retired ballerina, actor, member of the International Dance Council (CID) and enthusiastic royal hat follower who contacted me several weeks ago with an interesting theory about a style of royal millinery that has gained in popularity this year.
When the Duchess of Cambridge appeared in the wedge shaped headpiece to christening of her newborn son, Prince Louis, my historical costume antennas went, “Aha!” As someone who studied art history, she is obviously very well informed of all things of the royal past- fashions included. Or should I say ‘Fashion in the First place’, since that is how we perceive history- through the visual information given to us through old portraits and photographs.
This year we commemorate a hundred years since the end of WWI, or The Great War, as Churchill named it, without any doubt that this was the last one ever. It was also the tragic anniversary of the Romanov murder. Portraits of all Russian princesses, in summer white, including the headpiece, the kokoshnik, were to be seen all over media.
As the year progressed, I started noticing more than usual appearance of the kokoshnik, as a new headpiece choice, all over European aristocratic circles; at weddings, family gatherings, christenings. It was as if European aristocratic circles suddenly rediscovered this type of headpiece.
An intriguing question started taking shape in my mind: Is the sudden appearance of this headpiece an inconspicuous nod to the genetic ties and loyalty of royal Europe to the Romanovs? The quiet aristocratic, diplomatic “we will-not-forget”?Of course you can counter this with portraits of Tudor Queens. Holbein painted all of them garbed in the finest fashions of his time, their headpieces closely resembling those of Russian folk costumes.
Elizabeth Tudor by Hans Holbein c. 1546-7. The Royal Collection, Windsor Castle
However, I see it as hardly any coincidence that this year, of all years, Royal brides of royal Europe chose the kokoshnik shape as their tiara of choice.
Looking at videos, you can see many of aristocratic ladies with headpieces of that choice. Pure chance? Perhaps. Let me recapitulate a few historical facts for you: kokoshnik: the headpiece of Russian folkdress, abolished at Russian court by the Tzar Peter the Great who saw the imminent need to change his aristocrats to more Western looking, presentable group. Beards and kokoshnik had to go.
As time went by, another Russian monarch, the German born Princess Sophie Anhalt-Zerbst, renamed Ekaterina Alexejevna on her marriage into Romanov dynasty, became known as Catherine The Great. Her new country was also introduced to all things Western but she had a different aim than Peter the Great. In a move to befriend the vast Russian populous, she sat for a famous portrait wearing, you guessed it, a traditional kokoshnik.
Portrait of Empress Catherine II by Vigilius Erichsen, c.1770. State Hermitage, St. Petersburg
Whether or not this fashion strategy worked in Catherine’s political favour, that’s another essay to write. Two generations after the above portrait was painted, Napoleon attempted to defeat Russia. The French invasion of Russia in 1812 awoke the nationalist loyalty and inspired the Russian aristocracy emphasize their Russian roots. An immediate, easy way to do this was through fashion; quickly, the kokoshnik returned to court as part of mandory dress and was included as part of the coronation robes of every Russian Empress from then forward. With immense personal connections through the royal circles of Europe, the resurgence in popularity of the kokoshnik spread beyond Russia’s borders and soon the headpiece became “à la mode”.
Portrait of a woman in the Russian court dress by Orlov, Pimen Nikitich, c.1835. State Hermitage, St. Petersburg
So, back to my theory: Have the aristocratic ladies of Europe sent a loving nod to the unfortunate late family this year? It is up to you, kind reader, to decide. I just thought it would be interesting to elaborate on that idea. While my theory may be debated, the crescent shaped headpieces made many a fashion statement this year; The kokoshnik has resurfaced from obscurity again. Well done, ladies! (Curtsy)