China Fashion Week in the 1600s

When people think of the 1600s and 1700s in fashion, most people think of the amazingly heavy designs worn by Europe’s political leaders in those days. Their opulence, intricacies and details were impressive and represented a true paramount in fashion and style.

Their imposing aesthetic does not allow much room for other types of expressing life through clothes and styling. However, of course that at the same time, there were parallel aesthetics existing in the world, even though none was similar to the one of the European aristocracy.

Joachim Bouvet (1656 – 1730) was a French Jesuit who worked in China, and the leading member of the Figurist movement. He moved to China in 1687 along with five other Jesuits, as sent by King Louis XIV of France.

One of his most important works is “Etat présent de la Chine, en figures gravées par P. Giffart sur les dessins apportés au roi par le P. J. Bouvet” (“Present state of China, in engravings by P. Giffart under the drawings brought to the king by P. J. Bouvet”), published in Paris in 1697.

The book features an impressive collection of illustrations depicting the Chinese people as Bouvet saw them. The carefully-drawn images are very relevant because they represent China as it was seen by a French Christian man and not by the Chinese themselves, thus focusing on aspects that might not have been the main focus of the Chinese.

The portraits in the book are also a great record of the clothing worn in China in those days by the upper class. We can discover beautiful colors, in their specific Chinese shades. Green, red and yellow, but also blue are the main colors used. Gold and red was also used, but not as overused Westerners tend to think. Most overly-golden items of Chinese origin were actually made for Europeans, as Chinese merchants knew that this is what people in the Old Continent loved.

The clothes also featured stunning prints and decorative elements. Even though the clothes were mostly draped, they still had a sense of sharpness and elegance to them. Interesting accessories in contrasting colors completed the outfits.

It is definitely worth making an exercise in imagination thinking about how someone like Joachim Bouvet saw China in those days and what his experience must have been like there.

The beautiful clothes depicted in the book are a great source of inspiration for those who love organic fashions, strong colors and who love bold details to complete the look.



Fraquoh and Franchomme






Further reading:

Attire Club Mood Board: The Renaissance in world fashions

AC Mood Board: Basel fashion in the 1630s

AC Mood Board: Medieval clothed horses

AC Mood Board: Royal, military and court costumes from the Jacobean era

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