Jun 16, 2020

Old-Fashioned Fashion: Le Pisé du Lot Cendré


Welcome to the first-ever guest-written post on A Year in Fromage! As good luck would have it, just before the pandemic hit, my older daughter Ginger squeezed in an amazing trip to Paris for a high school independent project. Lucky kid, and lucky us to get a glimpse into her experiences and expertise regarding French historical fashion, in her own words:

I’ve been obsessed with post-Middle Ages French History ever since reading the historical fiction series Les Colombes du Roi-Soleil (The Doves of the Sun King), starting in 5th grade. I desperately wanted to be one of those teen girls going off on adventures and finding true love in gorgeous gowns. Unfortunately, time travel does not exist (yet), so I had to settle for learning as much as possible about that time period. Eventually my passion for French history expanded to include much of European History spanning from the Protestant Reformation of 1517 to World War II. But I never outgrew that obsession with the gowns.

Growing up in Paris, I took sewing classes for several years, and from there my passions for sewing and French/European History collided. It was around a year ago when I started sewing my first historical dress: a Robe à la Française from 1770. This historical French dress is also commonly referred to as a Pet-en-l’Air, which literally means “Fart-in-the-air”, because the draping of the back adds volume and “floats” as if there were air underneath it. I spent over 55 hours sewing my first dress; until then I had no idea how many seams, layers, and yards of fabric went into a single one of these dresses (which are not dresses at all but rather lots of individual pieces worn together). For my first effort, made with a floor-length train, I used over 9 meters (yards) of the brown and white fabric alone. It made me realize how expensive it was for the noble women in the court of Versailles to dress so luxuriously.

I started out my French historical fashion research project by looking at the extraordinary Tissot exhibit at the Palace of the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco, an exhibit which is just about to open in Paris at the Musée d'Orsay. The detail that Tissot painted into every one of the dresses is absolutely incredible: the fabric almost shimmers off the canvas. My interest in Tissot actually brought my project full circle as I gave presentations about Tissot and historical fashion to some 5th graders and middle school students in the Bay Area in the winter.

After lots of organizing and convincing, my school approved my independent study plan to spend three weeks in Paris (staying with a family friend) researching historical fashion by going to museums, events, meetings, and interviews. One of the first things I did in France was visit a historical shoe exhibit at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs (right next to the Louvre). The exhibit had beautifully embroidered shoes from French nobility dating back to the 1600s.

In fact, they had a pair from Louis XIV’s brother, Philippe I the Duke d’Orleans, whose shoes are particularly famous because he started the trend of having a red heel -- "les talons rouges" -- when he didn’t have time to change blood-stained shoes before he had to attend the Grand Lever (the ceremony where high-ranking French nobles helped dress Louis XIV in the morning) at Versailles. Once the court saw his red-heeled shoes, they immediately all copied him as he was a fashion icon at court. Here are his actual shoes:

In addition, the exhibit was particularly interesting because it highlighted the similarities between Chinese foot binding and women’s shoes circa 1700. At the time, small dainty feet were considered very feminine in European society. Therefore, women wore shoes that were not only extremely narrow, but were also arched in order to make them shorter in length. A compelling example of this is Marie-Antoinette’s shoe that was on display; she wore a European size 33 or an American size 3!

I spent over a dozen hours going through archives of fashion engravings at the Bibliothèque du Musée des Arts Décoratifs and sketching them into my notebook. I find it amazing how much the style varied, even within a decade.

I also was lucky enough to be in Paris during the Exhibit on Marie-Antoinette at the Conciergerie on the Ile de la Cité, where I got to learn about her life, imprisonment, and legacy. They had original garments worn by Marie-Antoinette while she was locked up before her execution as well as extravagant garments used in the films about her life. The irony was not lost on me that the mannequin wearing one of the dresses on display at the exhibit was headless.

Of course, I also visited the Musée d’Orsay multiple times; I got to visit my favorite painting in the whole world: Réception de Condé à Versailles by Jean-Léon Gérôme.

File:Réception du Grand Condé à Versailles (Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1878 ...

I also toured the costume department at the Théâtre de Châtelet and the inventory of the costume creation and rental agency Le Vestiaire (which means "The Changing Room"). This costume rental agency makes and stores costumes used in movies and TV shows such as the Netflix series Versailles, Game of Thrones, etc. I was like a kid in a candy shop at their warehouse as I got to go through thousands of historical dresses ranging from Louis XIV gowns to original dresses from the Golden Age of 1890. I honestly could have spent a month in that warehouse and would not have been able to go through everything. The scale of their costumes is almost unbelievable: they have enough historically accurate (and sometimes original) clothes and equipment to dress over 300 French World War I soldiers -- and that’s not even including what they have for the other participants of the war and for other wars. Out of respect to private property and the Vestiaire's ownership of the costumes, I won't be publishing any research photos I took at their warehouse. However, I took the photos below from their official website to give you a tiny taste of the variety of costumes they rent/make.

I attended historic dance classes and several Second Empire ball demonstrations by the group Carnet de Bals. I found the details on the red dress below particularly beautiful and interesting. The owner of the dress found authentic 1850's lace to use around the collar!

In addition, I shadowed Sophie de Menthon (a prominent French journalist and public figure) at a TV interview and Radio France Sud debate, and I watched the Fourberies de Scapin by Molière at the Comedie Française. Finally, I was the assistant for a photoshoot of the activist/writer Jess Baker by model-turned-photographer Velvet d’Amour. The article, called "Artifice", is posted in Velvet's plus-sized-focused magazine Volup2.

photos taken by Velvet D'Amour

Not only did I have so much fun while I was in Paris, but I also fundamentally changed and deepened my understanding of French history, French historical fashion, and the impact of fashion on social structure and gender equality. I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunities I had while in Paris and for the support from so many different people and organizations.

THE CHEESE: Le Pisé du Lot Cendré

Le Pisé du Lot Cendré is made by Ferme Linol, a small farm with six employees in the Lot department of southwestern France, in the region of Occitanie. The family has owned this farm for generations and still husbands, wives, and brothers are the owners. They and staff members feed the animals grains they grow themselves. While they always had a few goats, in 1974, they decided to start working almost exclusively with goats and went from 4 animals at the time to over 500 today. They make AOC and copycat regional cheeses like Cabécou and Rocamadour and now new cheeses like Le Pisé du Lot Cendré, which means "The Ashed Adobe Brick of Lot".

Le Pisé du Lot Cendré is a delicious ash-covered cheese made with raw goats' milk. It also comes in a buttery yellow un-ashed version. After aging at least two weeks, it has a strong, goaty flavor. The texture is solid and dry but still creamy.


I found this goat cheese while I was exploring the Wednesday morning market at Place Monge during my recent trip to Paris for my independent study. I photographed it on my friend's plates which have a distinctly decorative, old-fashioned feel that somehow seems right for the old-fashioned fashions in this story. 


  1. Ginger, FANTASTIC article and clever connection to cheese! You’re a great writer/photographer and story-teller – you really captured your interest and experience well. All I can say is WOW … great dresses, sewing talent, fashion, and history – incroyable!

  2. Ginger! I echo what the previous writer said...Wow! I took a screen shot of Les Colombes du Roi-Soleil so that I read this book/series—love when you can trace a book back to the origin of your passions. I seriously had little interest in fashion or European history but after reading your blog I’m intrigued to learn more for sure.

    Did you make the dresses you and Phoebe are wearing? Did the pet en l’air design help to alleviate the weight of the 9 meters worth of fabric? And maybe get air flow (so to speak!) for hot days? On this 90 degree day, I looked at your dress photos and nearly passed out just imaging how hot it must have been to wear those layers all the time. I’m so psyched you were able to meet and work with Velvet d’Amour! Why were Duke Philippe’s heals bloody? I imagine noble women as well must have had some gnarly feet in those tiny shoes. And what a thrilling experience to visit the theatre de chatelet—it must be a massive building with all those elaborate costumes. Does the Golden age of 1890 refer to couture or to some other aspect of European history? I’m oblivious to it all but now curious! I’m looking forward to your next adventures and reporting, Ginger! andi

    1. I'm so glad you liked my article Andi! I did make the dresses that Phoebe and I are wearing (it took me about 90+ hours to make both of them). There's multiple lines of stitching near the back neck that support the amount of pleats, and therefore fabric. It is however incredibly hot: the shorter pet en l'air barely has more air flow than the full gown does. However, back in those days, in the summer, women would wear dresses made of lighter fabrics and their undergarments and underskirts would also be much lighter.

      The reason why Duke Philippe's heals were bloody is a slightly longer story but my mom has already written about it in the blog post that linked in that paragraph. You should check it out: it's very interesting!

      Finally, the Golden age of 1890 refers to European history but mostly French History. That decade or so is referred to as the "Golden Age" because it was a time of general peace and prosperity that allowed the French to have fun with beautiful clothes, balls, and new inventions (to name a few) because they weren't distracted by the internal or external turmoil that surrounded this time period (France was invaded by Prussia in 1871 and World War I started in 1914).

      Lots of love! - Ginger

    2. I'm glad you asked: I learned something new about the Golden Age from Ginger's answer that I'd never thought to question!


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