Tuesday, November 22, 2011

History's Runway: The Lady Alexandra Gown, 1948

The Victoria & Albert Museum

As you decide what to wear on Thursday for Thanksgiving with friends and family, well, this won’t be among your choices. But, ladies, don’t you wish it could be? Here, we see an evening dress in cream slipper satin with a close fitting bodice, and a high round neck adorned with amber and silver sequins and glass bead embroidery around the neck and down the center of the bodice. Smaller matching designs flank the center panel. A train at the rear is looped up to form a triple fan-shaped bustle at the back waistline. The long, tight-fitting sleeves are held close to the arm with three darts at the elbow and close with a zipper at the wrist.

This gown was made in 1948 for Lady Alexandra Howard-Johnston (1907-97) who was the wife of the Naval Attaché to Paris at the end of the 1940s. Due to her husband’s position, Lady Alexandra was required to attend a vast number of formal events and, therefore, needed an extensive wardrobe. Lady Alexandra dressed exclusively at the house of Jacques Fath (1912-54).

Fath was known to lend evening and day dresses each season to Lady Alexandra, knowing that he would receive a lot of publicity from Alexandra’s appearances. Lady Alexandra recalled “If there was a dress I wanted to keep, I could pay sale price at the end of the season. I was not allowed to go to any other couturier, but I did not want to – Fath was perfection.”

This particular gown was designed by Fath for Lady Alexandra to wear for the official visit of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip to Paris in May 1948. Lady Alexandra later recalled that when she and her husband made their enterance at the Théâtre de l’Opéra, the Garde Nationale suddenly sprang to attention. She said, “I realised they had mistaken us for the Princess and Duke. That was the effect made by my splendid Fath.”

Not bad.


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