Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The King of Bling

This weekend, I was invited to give the welcoming speech at a “Ladies Spa Night.”  I started by thanking the lovely ladies who put it all together. and then followed up with a big thank you to the person who made it all possible, but who, sadly, could not be with us to join in the celebration.  In fact, he has been gone from our midst for quite a while – since 1715, to be precise.  That person was Louis XIV, King of France, known as le roi soleil, The Sun King. 
 

During the 75 years of Louis’ reign, almost everything we take for granted in the world of luxury and beauty was invented, perfected or promoted through his royal patronage.  If it sparkled, glimmered or shimmered, if it made him smell good or look good, he wanted it, and most likely wore all of it all at once, hence the name “The Sun King.”  His dazzling persona radiated like the sun.  I like to call him “The Bling King.  If it had Bling, he wanted it. 
 
He sent his ministers out to the four corners of the earth to search for and return with anything that had Bling. 


One day, one of his ministers wrote to him from India to tell him that he had found something very interesting.  It didn’t look like much, but the natives thought very highly of it, and he thought, perhaps, he could make something out of it.  Louis told him to purchase it immediately and bring it back.  It’s true, it didn’t look like much at the time, just a big lump of coal, but the minister saw its potential, and after having it cut and faceted, he presented it to the King, who was delighted.  Louis hung it on a velvet ribbon and wore it for all state occasions, even having his portrait painted wearing it.  It now sits on a velvet cushion in the Smithsonian and is known to all the world as the Hope Diamond.  The Hope Diamond as it exists today is about half the size of the bauble Louis wore around his neck.  The more facets you cut into a diamond, the smaller it gets.  In fact, the French were the first to cut facets into diamonds to get the most sparkle and, dare I say, bling out of them -- all thanks to Louis’ patronage. 

 


Do you see this little every-day item we take for granted – the hand mirror?  We slip it into our handbags to check our make-up and hair several times a day.  We pass one on the wall and stop to check our appearance.  
 
Now, Louis decided he needed something magnificent and monumental to reflect his dazzling presence, and so he gathered together his ministers and said, “Messieurs, I am having a little place built on the outskirts of Paris – just a modest little place – I think I’ll call it ‘Versailles.’


I want an entire room covered in mirrors, each one to be 6 to 8 feet high.  I’ll call it ‘La Galerie des Glaces’ (the Hall of Mirrors).” 

Some form of the mirror existed since ancient times, usually polished metal.  The Romans invented the earliest versions of what we think of today as a mirror, but they were small, incredibly fragile and so expensive to produce that only the extremely wealthy could afford them.  Basically, the average person lived and died without ever really knowing what he looked like.  (Yes, ladies, I know, some mornings that would be an incredible blessing!!) 

By this time, the Venetians had developed a way of making mirrors by blowing them like glass.  But, again, they were incredibly fragile and the size was limited by the lung power of the glassblower.  Anything over about 6 inches was considered an incredible feat of glassblowing, much less 6 feet! 

But, the Bling King had spoken, and so the best Venetian glassblowers were spirited out of Italy (actually kidnapped) and set to work with the best French glassblowers, and they developed the method by which all mirrors have since been made – the method of pouring glass onto metal tables, which meant that it was sturdier than blowing and could be rolled out to any size you desired. 
Scent was an integral part of the elaborate grooming rituals that Louis went through every day of his life, particularly when he was preparing to enjoy the favors of a new mistress.  He would make use of very special spa services in which he would be rubbed down with scented oils designed to appeal to the young lady and to (ahem) “enhance” Louis’ performance between the sheets. 

Scent was considered anything that was pleasant to the nose.  Articles of clothing were scented, particularly gloves and handkerchiefs; however, perfume, as we know it today, did not yet exist.  During Louis’ reign, the Grasse region of France, again under his patronage, developed the processes by which they could extract oils from flowers such as jasmine, violet, orange blossom and the much prized tuberose from Mexico, allowing a highly concentrated scent, which came to be known as “perfume.”  This process is still used today in making the finest French perfumes.  The title of “parfumeur” was invented and given royal status, and if you visit the City of Grasse today, you can still see some of the original perfume bottles, which we call in French “flacons”. 


But few things conjure up such a sense of luxury, sparkle and opulence as this little gem – a glass of champagne.  In the late 1660s a Benedictine monk, the cellar master at the Abbey of Hautvillers, was experimenting with a new technique.  Following a happy accident, he broke his vow of silence by running through the monastery yelling at the top of his lungs, “Come quickly, brothers, I am drinking stars.” 


And, thus, Father Pierre Pérignon, known as Dom Pérignon, created a drink fit for a king, or for anyone who wants to feel like one with only one sip.  The Bling King lost no time in bringing it to the Court of Versailles, and from that time on, no celebration worthy of the name can be complete without it. 

So, Ladies, as befitting the occasion, let us raise our glasses in honor of the man who made all this possible – to Louis XIV, le roi soleil , the King of Bling.  A votre santé.

7 comments:

  1. Loved your thank you toast to the Ladies, told through such an interesting array of facts all with beauty and pleasure. Lovely to read, especially at the crack of dawn because I can't sleep.

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    1. Ooh, I know what you mean, Barbara. I've become a bit of an insomniac, as well, as I've gotten older. Now if only my body were as active as my mind.......then I'd really burn through the calories.

      So glad you enjoyed my post. I had great fun with the Ladies.

      Sweet dreams, M-T

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  2. Dearest Marie-Thérèse,
    What a lovely post for ending my day... As a matter of fact, I did toast this afternoon together with Pieter and lots of other people we went to a Grand Opening of Dublin Nissan! It is something festive and light, what a great invention by Dom Pérignon!
    Oh, in Dutch we too are quite familiar with the word flacon in the perfume world.
    Great that you were able to give such a great welcome speech!
    Hugs,
    Mariette

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    1. Ma chère Mariette,

      I'm still convinced we were raised in the same country, or does it just seem that way? We share so many cultural riches. If you ever make it to the northeast, we must meet for tea at the Plaza in NY.

      Big bisous, M-T

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    2. One day we will! Oh, considering that I'm born and raised only 5 hours away from Paris does make it the same country! Our Provinces culture is so very similar. Yesterday at the Grand Opening I was again asked if I was French. The MOST asked question. Funny that my accent sounds like that to Americans. But here again, we lived so close.
      Hugs to you!
      Mariette

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  3. What a delightful and informative speech. Although I studies Louis XIV at school, I have just learned a lot more, and it was a lot more interesting than what we learnt at school. Thank you.

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    1. Unfortunately, school history lessons seemed to take all the fun out of learning when we were there. They left out all the best bits. I always tried to add them back in when I taught. I think it has more staying power with young minds.

      So glad you enjoyed my post.

      Cheers, M-T

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