Sunday, May 15, 2011

So Marie Antoinette Walks into a Bar...

The long nights journey into day.
I have had my antique Oriental carpet pulled out from under me.  I am undone.  I have come to the realization that one of my favorite cocktail party stories has been a web of lies.  How many people have I told this story to who have been delighted by it and thus wooed by me and my exquisite wit?  I shudder to think.  Thank goodness they all turned out to be one night stands.  I don't think I could face them in the morning now.

The now disgraced tale goes as follows - Marie Antoinette, ill fated Queen of France by way of Austria, was such a notorious party girl and narcissist, that she had the Coupe Champagne glass created from casts of her breast so that sycophantic courtiers could drink to her health from them. 

Marie with the Coupe in question.

Charming, hedonistic, and a little naughty.  What's not to like?  Surely something as irreverent as this must be true; why else would the story live on?  Being the thorough person that I am, I set out to research this historic moment to see if there were any other amusing facts I could use to my advantage.  I found fact upon fact, but I was not amused.

To begin, this story has been around the block almost as many times as the women it's attached to.  Marie's bosom buddies in this farce include Madame du Pompadour (1721-1764) , Madame du Barry (1743-1793), Empress Josephine (1763-1814), Diane de Poitiers (1499-1566), and even Helen of Troy.

Madame du Pompadour.
Madame du Barry.

Madame du Pompadour & Madame du Barry shared more than the benefits of being Louis XV's Mistresses; both women allegedly had the glasses crafted from molds of their breasts for their Royal paramour who dreamed of being able to drink champagne from them.

Empress Josephine, a notorious gambler and party girl in her own right, counted outrageous Champagne bills to her credit, and Napoleon's outrage; it's little wonder how this tale would be attached to her.

Diane de Poitiers, Mistress of Henri II of France, was though to have commissioned a glass blower at their chateau to create the stemware as a gift for the King, while another story maintains that Henri thought the idea up, and used only her left breast as a model.

As for Helen of Troy, it is said that Paris made wax molds of her breasts and used the molds to fashion drinking glasses. 

Much to my chagrin, not one of these women could possibly be attached to this tale of mammary madness.  Champagne was invented in the 17th Century by two Benedictine Monks, Dom Pierre Pérignon (1639 – 1715) and Frère Jean Oudart (1654 – 1742) in a lush region of France called Champagne. The region’s climate, with its short and cool growing season, along with a process that involved a secondary fermentation period, resulted in the creation of those signature bubbles.

Champagne Saucers by Marc Jacobs.  So elegant, and
great for desserts as well.
The Coupe itself was made in England especially for Champagne around 1663, a timeline that rules out du Barry, du Pompadour, Josephine, and Marie; all of whom were born long after the coupe came into existence.  As for de Poitiers, she kicked off a century before either the glass or the beverage was invented.  And Helen, if she even existed at all, predates the Champagne and the glass by at least 2 millennium.

The origins of this rumor are a mystery, but you have to figure that if you get enough Frenchmen together who happen to be drunk off Champagne served in a Coupe by a comely lass, an allusion between the shape of the glass and the shape of the lass could be made.

Shot theories aside, the Coupe, however beautiful it may be, and I do find it to be a beautiful piece of stemware, is not the best way to serve Champagne.  Experts maintain that the best glass to imbibe from is the Flute, which is designed to concentrate the bubbles and the bouquet, heightening the champagne experience. 

The broad surface area of the Coupe allows champagne to lose its carbonation more quickly, making it less suitable for the current taste for very dry champagnes, compared to the sweeter champagnes that were popular historically.  Coupes were all the rage in the States from the 1930's through the 1960's where hot spots like the Stork Club were patronized by movie stars and other glitterati who elegantly sipped, rather than swilled, their libations.  Now we most often find them used in gaudy Champagne towers at weddings, sort of a come down if you ask me.

I am enlightened and betrayed by this little parlor trick of alcohol and innuendo.  To compensate for heartbreak, I have included an image of some Louboutin's inspired by Marie, to keep the fantasy alive in some way.  That's her little head on the strap, complete with elaborate coiffure embellished with a ship.  Now to just come up with a new party story...I wonder what Mamie Eisenhower got up to when Dwight was away?  Was it Jello shots in the reflecting pool, or body shots in the Lincoln Bedroom????

- Ian 

Dita understands the elegance of the Champagne Coupe.

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