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The Essence of Style

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The Essence of Style

How the French Invented High Fashion, Fine Food, Chic Cafes, Style, Sophistication, and Glamour

Free Press,

15 min read
10 take-aways
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A history to delight any Francophile: the reign that shaped the haute couture and cuisine you still love today.

Editorial Rating



  • Scientific
  • Background
  • Engaging


France was not always the global hub of stylishness and panache, but it assumed that role on purpose. Before 1660, the world did not look to Paris for the latest trends in food and fashion. France became the indisputable arbiter of style and taste due to the deliberate efforts of King Louis XIV during “the half century between 1660” and his death in 1715. Today, world of luxury still feels his influence. getAbstract believes history buffs as well as modern style-makers will enjoy this fascinating history of the rise of haute couture and haute cuisine under King Louis. Professor Joan DeJean’s prose will remind you more of an insider sharing delicious, slightly scandalous secrets than of a formal history’s cold text. While this isn’t a light read, it is a captivating, thorough account of a particularly glamorous and creative time.


The Sun King

Before the latter half of the 17th century, only an elite few enjoyed the finer things in life. This began to change when haute couture and haute cuisine took root and bloomed under the careful eye of King Louis XIV of France. Because the Sun King and his right-hand man – minister of finance Jean-Baptiste Colbert – understood marketing, they sparked an appetite for luxury that touched people of all economic levels. The French responded by wanting a taste of the newly available finery. A shop girl could not afford a new outfit, but she could buy “ribbons or stockings.” The new need to manufacture the accessories – or accouterments – of fine living spawned the French food and fashion industries.

By merging art and business, the King and Colbert developed the first economy based on producing luxury goods. New professions emerged, including hairdressers, chefs and couturières. This revolutionized the way people shopped and ate. The monarch’s economic policy dictated low imports and high exports. The French were to produce and export the goods the King saw as essential to the emerging lavishness of the French way of life.

Louis XIV paid...

About the Author

Joan DeJean, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, is the author of several books about French culture.

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