1422-1450. Dame de Beaute, first royal mistress, inventor of power dressing.
Agnès Sorel was a medieval anomaly. She was a woman who left her home in pursuit of greatness; a woman who was supernaturally beautiful; a woman who became the first maîtresse-en-titre of France; a woman who was a political advisor to the King. A contemporary of Jeanne d’Arc, at sixteen Agnès wished to join the war effort and became a member of the royal court, of which she quickly became the center. Charles VII, not yet King, was instantly besotted, yet Agnès insisted that he could not touch her “beneath the chin” until he won the war. He did.
Charles VII loved her so much that he let her choose the members of his cabinet, but like so many powerful women, Agnès was unpopular and reviled. She broke so many rules: she wore thick makeup, then considered a sign of the Devil, shaved her eyebrows, and plucked her hairline to produce the then-desired high forehead. Most importantly, she showed skin in a new type of silk dress that was tight and laced in front. (This style is still called a Sorel bodice). Agnès, however, went one step further and pioneered what we today would call power dressing by constantly exposing her left breast, in tribute to her patron saint, Mary Magdalene.
Agnès, unfortunately, was simply too ahead of her time. At the age of twenty-eight, she died, widely believed at the hands of Charles’ eldest son (the future King Louis XI, “The Spider”). She died from complications related to mercury poisoning, either due to her rivalry with her lover’s son, or from the heavy makeup she favored. Or both.
So, in 2017, just remember… fortune favors the bold, and the bold dress powerfully.