London restaurateur Richard Caring (The Ivy, Annabel’s, Le Caprice, Soho House) has been described by restaurant critic A.A. Gill as aiming for ‘the restaurant equivalent of LVMH’. Fittingly then, it’s LVMH’s Dom Perignon champagne brand that – along with Caring and 34, another of his London restaurants – will benefit from a latest masterstroke of marketing.
The champagne coupe modelled by British sculptor Janet McTeer Adam on Kate Moss’ left breast has now gained global notoriety; far eclipsing the coverage that Karl Lagerfeld achieved in 2008 for his similar expropriation of Claudia Schiffer’s breast for his own champagne coupe. That sold with bottles of 1993 Oenothèque for over $3000 / £2000.
There’s no price yet on Moss’ version, which is due to be launched on 9 October 2014 in 34’s Emin Room, probably with another vintage of the Dom Perignon Oenothèque (www.34-restaurant.co.uk).
Inspiration for this idea was supposedly drawn from Marie-Antoinette, Queen of France before the Revolution, whose breast was said to have been the original model for the coupe form of champagne glass. There is a late 18th century Marie-Antoinette bowl (complete with pink nipple) made by Sèvres that can be seen at their Musée Nationale de Céramiqe (www.sevresciteceramique.fr).
The only trouble with the story is that there is no evidence that the original coupe (which is anyway a rather showy but otherwise unsatisfactory way of drinking champagne) was modelled on the Queen. Breast-modelled cups go back to at least ancient Greek times and the champagne version is probably a 17th century British invention (like so much about champagne).
But what is clear is that the coupe form of glass completely ousted the taller, thinner flute form that is mainly used today during the 19th century. By 1851, the Illustrated London News was writing that:
the old-fashioned long and slender champagne glass seems to be giving way rapidly before its new-fangled rival – the open, saucer-like affair perched upon the top of a thin, straight stem.
For the magazine, the reason for the change was that:
in highly-flavoured and effervescing wines no small part of the pleasure of consumption raises from the discharge of the perfumed gas with which the fluid is charged being inhaled and appreciated by the olfactory nerves while in the act of drinking; now, in the shallow, saucer-glasses the discharge takes place with great rapidity and power, in consequence of the breadth of the surface of the liquid brought into contact with the air, a phenomenon which only occurred to a very limited extent in the long narrow tube-like glass.
They did point out the ‘drawback’ which was that it was ‘not so convenient to drink out of, for reasons which will be appreciated by every man who ever sipped his tea out of a saucer’. Moustaches were a problem too. But, the fashion of the time was for maximum effervescence and thus the coupe dominated both usage and imagery for the next fifty years.
Perhaps the French were less enamoured of the coupe than the English. A report on the French Exhibition at Earls Court in 1890 reported on a ‘drinking bar’ in a ‘colossal champagne bottle covered with plush’ which was divided in half at the bottom. Here, reported the London Daily News on 14 August 1890, ‘champagne may be tasted out of long narrow glasses, just as it is drunk daily by crowds of thirsty travellers at the railway station in Epernay’.
But newspaper articles on home decoration in the 1880s suggested that the would-be flower arranger should fill ‘tall, old-fashioned champagne glasses [to be found in junk shops, apparently] with pretty moss’ to create an effect.
Not half so much effect as this Moss though…