Christian Lacroix and Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme
As the focus of Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, Monsieur Jourdain’s costumes are particularly effective in reinforcing the play’s comic thrust; the scene in which Monsieur Jourdain dons his newest and most fashionable attire elicits great laughter from the other characters. Lacroix’s costume sketch shows a dense block of a figure so weighted with texture and ornament that the actor’s face is barely visible.
This and the resulting costume are an exaggeration of seventeenth-century court apparel. The fashionable wig, long jacket, waistcoat, and silk brocade are all present, but on Monsieur Jourdain, who is a bourgeois, not a courtier, there are too many colors, too many ribbons, too much ornamentation. The opulent fashions of the era are piled on in one outfit, indiscriminately, but to great comic effect. The other male characters in the play, Cléonte and Dorante, by contrast, display more subdued styles. Cléonte wears the newly fashionable long waistcoat in a sober brown palette, and Dorante the slightly outmoded doublet of the previous reign, revealing through costume his straitened economic circumstances. Photo by Pascal Victor, ArtComArt
Through Monsieur Jourdain again, Lacroix plays on seventeenth-century costume conventions by presenting him in a casual dressing gown. In contrast to his other, more elaborate ensemble and the ridiculous “Turkish” costume from the play’s finale, here Monsieur Jourdain dons a very fashionable outfit authentically inspired by the so-called Orient: a fanciful hat in a floral ikat fabric and a dressing gown with wide kimono-like sleeves made with a chinoiserie-style material. During this time, a private setting allowed for less formal styles and was an opportunity to experiment with exotic dress. This outfit is fashionable and comfortable—everything his attempt at aristocratic costume is not. It is also authentically "exotic," unlike the parody of Turkish costume presented at the end of the play. Photo by Pascal Victor, ArtComArt
The “Turkish” deception of Monsieur Jourdain begins when Cléonte impersonates the Grand Turk’s son in order to marry Lucile, Monsieur Jourdain’s daughter. Cléonte convinces Monsieur Jourdain to change into a “Turkish” costume and strips him down to his shirt, adding a turban and face paint. The transformation surprises Monsieur Jourdain, and, in Lacroix’s interpretation, the titular character’s delusions of grandeur take place in what is essentially his underwear. In Monsieur Jourdain’s more-is-more aesthetic, nothing could be more foreign. Lacroix’s interpretation reminds us of the play’s original purpose as political satire. Turkey and the Orient in the seventeenth century were viewed by Europeans as the embodiment of absolute rule and despotism. Molière’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme places Turkey and Turkish manners at the center of a comic plot, and Lacroix’s costumes enhance the play’s parodic thrust by presenting a grandee ruling in his underwear. Photo by Pascal Victor, ArtComArt
Karine Prot is a fashion historian based in Los Angeles.