Saturday, February 16, 2013

History's Runway: Lady Gladwyn's 1957 State Visit Gown

Gown by Pierre Balmain
French, 1957
The Cecil Beaton Collection at
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Lady Gladwyn’s name is synonymous with “high fashion.” She was the wife of the British Ambassador to Paris from 1954 to 1960. Lady Gladwyn famously hosted the state visit of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip at the French Embassy on Tuesday April 9, 1957, at which this dress was worn.

This floral masterpiece was designed by Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain (1914-82), and showcases, on the bodice, the appliqué technique which was characteristic of his work. The full-length evening dress of cream warp printed silk is emblazoned with an oversized pink rose pattern. The strapless, boned bodice, scalloped at the waist, is trimmed with appliqué roses below the bust line and to the waist.

Lady Gladwyn wrote in her diary that night:

The supper was, I think, just right for the occasion: cold salmon, chaudfroid of chicken, a salad, oranges and lemons filled with sorbet, and a wonderful Bollinger... The difficulty was to get rid of all the guests. They lingered on, and at half past one in the morning Cecil Beaton was still sketching Diana Cooper in the Ionian Room.

Speaking of Cecil Beaton, the celebrated society photographer and bon vivant collected several of the dresses worn during this state visit so that he could donate them to the V&A. Among the gowns which Beaton managed to add to his collection from this 1957 state visit are the Queen's embroidered ivory gown by Norman Hartnell (1901-79), Lady Gladwyn's lilac lace gown by Jacques Fath, and Baroness Alain de Rothschild's spotted tulle gown by Christian Dior (1905-57).

No comments: