Made for Lady Alexandra Howard-Johnston, 1949
The Cecil Beaton Collection at
The Victoria & Albert Museum
This dress was part of the monumental wardrobe of Lady Alexandra Howard-Johnston (later Lady Dacre). Lady Alexandra was the wife of the Naval Attaché to Paris from 1948-50. In this capacity (or perhaps she used it as an excuse to shop), Lady Alexandra required an extensive wardrobe since she was constantly attending state dinners and important events which required formal gowns.
A woman of Lady Alexandra’s rank would have been a fixture at the debuts of a couturier’s fashion collections where she would have been seated in the front. After the show, the lady’s vendeuse (personal saleswoman) would have taken her orders and started the fittings for the “calico toile” which was essentially a muslin version of the finished gown.
Lady Alexandra’s preferred couturier was the house of Jacques Fath (1912-54). Fath was no fool and knew that the Lady’s patronage was good publicity, and, so, the designer lent her a huge assortment of evening and day dresses each season.
She later wrote: “If there was a Fath 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 fitted, v-neck day dress in a green and violet foliage printed viscose rayon boasts a matching swag. This was one of the creations which Fath lent to Lady Alexandra and which she subsequently purchased. The swag, stiffened with net, features a posy of paper violets.
The dress’ form-fitting style is a hallmark of Fath’s work as was the swag. Fath was known for his expert draping and was said to be the best at draping fabric around his models in order to create his designs.
Lady Alexandra gave this dress to celebrated photographer Cecil Beaton to include in the fashion collection which he assembled for the V&A.