Given how poorly Napoleon Bonaparte cared for his trademark hats, it’s a wonder any are still in existence. The diminutive emperor (5’ 6’’ without a lid) was reportedly prone to throw and kick them to the ground when angry—which, famously, he often was—or simply lose them in battle, only to have the so-called “small hats” replaced by his royal milliner, Poupard. The caps were miniature works of art, made of lightweight felt with a gray silk lining and adorned with a red pompon—to distinguish the celebrated general from the military gen-pop.
Today, Napoleon’s couture headpieces, which at one point numbered fifty, are scattered among a few museums and private collections—including one of Napoleonic artifacts housed at the Maison Moët & Chandon in Epernay, France (which offers tours and tastings with its French history lessons). Moët & Chandon president Robert-Jean de Vogüé bought the relic in 1969 for 140,000 francs (roughly equivalent to $1,300 today)—a purchase more than worth every sous when you consider the intertwined histories of the emperor and the 275-year-old bubbly.
The Epernay maison has records of Napoleon placing orders there as early as 1801, and he was known to pay personal visits to Jean-Remy Moët (the grandson of Moët & Chandon founder Claude Moët) while traversing the country on his military expeditions. His court artist, Jean-Baptiste Isabey, designed the official Moët & Chandon residence. And of course it was Napoleon who supposedly said, “Champagne! In victory, one deserves it; in defeat, one needs it.” So next time you want to pop bottles like a boss, do it in a bicorne cap.
Main image: Michel Jolyot/Moët & Chandon