Thursday, September 9, 2010


Courtesy of CBS NEWS
Though over-the-top by today's standards, the day Diana emerged from that carriage swathed in tulle and taffeta, her storybook gown opened up so many new possibilities to brides the world over. Suddenly bridal designers could innovate and even break a few rules. Overnight, with the help of newcomers David and Elizabeth Emanuel, Diana eclipsed the granny gown and cookie-cutter bridal uniforms of the time. The husband-wife design duo from Great Britain were the hottest thing to hit the fashion scene back in 1981. Pre Steam Punk, the Emanuels' gowns were a little bit Belle Epoch, a little bit Boho and certainly a welcome change after so many years of 70's funk. Of all the celebs the Emanuels have dressed, Jayne Seymour and Bianca Jagger wore the Emmanuel label best-- Yet Diana in her fairytale gown remains the most remembered.

Courtesy of CBS NEWS


Once Trisha Nixon walked down the aisle of the Rose Garden on her father's arm, little did the world realize just how she'd revolutionize bridal fashion. Trisha donned bare arms on her wedding day, something not done at ultra-formal weddings back then. Though she did have on a pair of lace gauntlets to replace gloves, the press dubbed her Priscilla of Boston look, 'capped-sleeved'. Priscilla, the Grand Dame of bridal design circa the 1940s through early 1980s, outfitted a couple presidential daughters, Trisha's sister Julie as well as Lucy Baines Johnson. The actual designer of Tricia's gown was John Burbidge from the design house who hand-dappled lace on the exquisite modified A-line silk gown.
As a designer, Burbidge was known for his discriminating choice of fabric and fitting skills. While the 1950s-60s ushered in an era where even top designers were using the new and improved synthetics in their collections, Priscilla of Boston and her favorite designer Burbidge stayed with the delicate English silk nettings and imported laces that were the trademark of the Priscilla of Boston look.
As beautiful as the gown was though, Priscilla of Boston never duplicated it and even, in an era of social unrest and experimentation, the conventional bridal market wouldn't embrace bare arms til nearly a decade later. Personally, I think the design itself is a tour de force of fine elegance and is truly timeless. With a change of accessories, this gown could be worn today and not look one bit dated. . . .

April 19, 1956, the world was treated to a storybook romance come true when actress Grace Kelly married Prince Rainer of Monaco. Thinking back to roles she played before she became a princess, we remember Grace Kelly as the ultimate 'Deb'. Had she not pursued acting with such determination, in all probability she would have become just that: A Mainline Philadelphia Debutante. As a result, on film, she reflected that cool, refined blond to perfection.
Princess Grace's gown to this day is one of the most classic and remains the touchstone in bridal fashion. Impeccably made, the taffeta and Val lace confection was a wedding gift from MGM Studios. Imagine this: 25 yards of silk taffeta, 100 yards of silk net, and vintage Belgian rose point lace. Her headpiece was classic: a bandeau cap covered in tiny seed pearls under an intricate lace mantilla.

Designed by Helen Rose who worked on Kelly's costumes for High Society and The Swan, the gown was designed and run up in less than four months if you can believe that. Hollywood by then was ace at whipping up a masterpiece if a movie or event demanded. Over thirty seamstresses labored on the gown in the MGM workrooms round the clock. From a designer's standpoint, I'd have to say the Kelly gown is the most perfect dress ever made, despite its speedy construction time. Made up of four different components, it's actually a combination of separates all put together to look like a traditional ballgown. Studying the construction diagrams with the fitted, long-sleeved bodice and full bell skirt, this gown though cutting edge back in 1956, will always be timeless.

Audrey Hepburn loved actor Mel Ferrer. With a passion. On her wedding day, she wore a Givenchy organza shirtwaist with a full circular skirt. In life, as in most of her films, Givenchy dressed her. Hepburn and Hubert de Givenchy needed each other--he needed her slender frame perfect for his designs--she needed his verve and melded right into his design concept. As a result, the Parisian designer was pulled in to work on her films much to the angst of designers like Edith Head who had to share the credit.

Audrey and Givenchy

The mood of the Hepburn/Ferrer wedding was simple and intimate. So is this wedding in Funny Face where again, Hepburn is decked out in Givenchy a la ballerina style, to float away with Fred Astaire singing, S'wonderful
Givenchy's bridal design for Audrey Hepburn in the finale of Funny Face
One of the most iconic women of all time, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy possessed grace and style, leaving her indelible stamp on fashion. Her wedding to Senator John F. Kennedy in 1953 was dubbed the Wedding of the Century. Oddly, the gown she wanted would have been simpler and of less fabric, most probably created in Paris. Joseph P. Kennedy's machinations in the way of wedding arrangements along with her mother Janet's hand in micromanaging, Jackie had neither the dress nor quiet celebration of her choice. Janet's dressmaker, Ann Lowe, was engaged to make Jackie's bridal gown as well as all in the bridal party. Lowe was a very talented African-American designer known for grand entrance gowns detailed with intricate tuck, pleat, and trapunto treatments. Amongst her clients were Rockefellers and Vanderbilts. Did Lowe suspect Jackie's would be one of the most celebrated gowns in history? We know she probably did expect some publicity. But what would have resulted in a $700.00 profit was gone a week before the wedding. Water pipes in Lowe's New York City shop broke and damaged ten out of the sixteen gowns. After buying new fabric, she and her staff burned the midnight oil to finish the gowns on time for the Bouvier/Kennedy Wedding. Ann Lowe lost $2,000.00 in the process.

Jackie Bouvier's wedding dress designer, Ann Lowe

Studying Jackie's dress, for its day it is not as typical 1950s as some experts have claimed. While off-the-shoulder gowns were a hot trend circa 1953, you didn't find them in too many church ceremonies--especially Catholic ones officiated by an Archbishop. The dress does have some elements harking back to early Victoriana. There were 50 yards of silk taffeta, with a very full circular skirt painstakingly tucked and pleated (Lowe's specialty). On Jackie's head was her grandmother's rose-point lace veil hanging from a circular lace cap festooned with orange blossoms. She pulled her look together with short, white kid gloves (Oh so Jackie).

1 comment:

Rhian Morris said...

An exceptiona feature, for both fashion and personal inspiration.