The ultimate 19th century influencer, Josephine Bonaparte was a style trendsetter. Born Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de la Pagerie, her lover and soon to be second husband Bonaparte renamed the lovely Rose de Beauharnais “Joséphine”. While her husband was building an empire, she was setting up their house in a small village just outside of Paris. Sadly, it was to become her safe-haven after he divorced her to marry the Empress Marie-Louise of Austria, for an heir. At Malmaison, just outside Paris, she had 250 species of roses from all over the world planted… roses for Rose, the little girl that she had once been, who had run barefoot in her Martinique hometown of Trois-Îlets. Chateau Malmaison still exists today and is a museum and gardens for those interested in learning more about the private lives of Josephine and Bonaparte. I was able to visit on a gray January day, but I hope to go back for a spring visit to see her beautiful roses in bloom. Josephine was an influencer because her choice of empire waist gowns made of gauze and sparkle were wildly popular in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. France, after the revolution, was trying to gain back their notoriety as the fashion center of the world, and Josephine had all eyes on her when it came to entertaining and fashion trends. Along with her fashion, she loved her roses, the french tradition of printed toile on cotton, leopard, and anything with the red, white and blue patriotic colors of the republic on it.
There are so many books and movies about Josephine, here are some of my favorites:
“Desiree” About Desiree Cleary, who almost married Bonaparte but ended up becoming the Queen regent of Sweden
The many lives and secret sorrows of Josephine B. (3 book series)
Josephine – a life of the empress
Hôtel de JoBo in Paris
In today’s world, Joséphine Bonaparte would probably be known as JoBo on Instagram and in celebrity magazines. She is the fantasized inspiration behind the Paris hotel, JoBo. Who better than the contemporary alter ego of Joséphine Bonaparte to represent French elegance with charming frivolity? Her decadent mantra being to live life to its fullest, Joséphine dressed or rather undressed like a Greek goddess, and was amongst trend setters of her time the ultimate in style.
The interior design of this 4-star hotel, which was built on the remains of a 17th-century convent is credited to interior designer, Bambi Sloan. Rose is the muse and the thread that runs through the decoration, rethought and shaken up with a dose of fun. Joséphine Bonaparte was and will remain a great inspiration to interior designers: it is Joséphine, after all, who we have to thank for the first leopard print rug! All the carpets were specially designed for the Hôtel de JoBo including leopard print carpets sprinkled with roses for the bar, lounges and reception, a bed of roses for the corridors, and trompe l’oeil marquetry parquet for the rooms.
Bambi Sloan had mischievous fun blurring the lines in an eruption of roses, every possible tone of pink, lozenge-shaped motifs, arrows and marquetry of the period. The tone is set from the moment one passes through the carriage entrance. The Napoleonic-style tent is entirely designed to evoke Joséphine the lover rather than the battlefields of her husband. It welcomes the visitor beneath a shower of roses originally painted by Redouté in the rose-garden at Malmaison. The lobby lounge bar is furnished with sofas inspired by Joséphine’s own facing a colorful chaos of armchairs in floral and, yes, leopard print velvets. A lovely place to sit and have tea or a cocktail, and experience the presence of the lovely Josephine herself!