>> Monday, August 15, 2011
What do Norman Hartnell, David and Elizabeth Emmanuel, Lindka Cierach, Molyneux, Mainbocher, and Mme Handley Seymour have in common? All of them designed memorable royal wedding dresses. With Catherine Middleton’s wedding dress, Sarah Burton from the House of Alexander McQueen joined those illustrious ranks.
Royal wedding dresses conjure up images of fairy tales and happily ever after. Each designer is called upon not only to create a personal statement for the bride but also to redefine the fantasy image of the ultimate fairytale princess – Cinderella.
|Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent|
Princess of Wales
Like Queen Victoria and Princess Alexandra, Princess May of Teck’s 1893 wedding dress also used materials of English manufacture and was made by an English dressmaker, Linton and Curtis. In 1923, Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon’s ivory chiffon dress was made by Madame Handley Seymour, a court dressmaker to Queen Mary, who not only made her wedding dress but the dress she wore for her Coronation too.
Looking back at these gowns and the designers who made them it’s a shame that their names have been, in effect, lost to the sands of time. Royal Wedding dresses tended to be made by royal dressmakers who did not get the same attention as designers do today.
|Duchess of Windsor|
Then there would be Norman Hartnell, a court dressmaker to the Queen Mother and to the Queen for many years. He was also well known for designing fashion costumes for films. He designed wedding dresses for Lady Alice Montagu Douglas Scott. Princess Elizabeth – the present Queen, whose dress was inspired by the image of Flora by Botticelli and had intricate embroidery. By contrast, his dress for Princess Margaret in 1960 was striking in its simplicity, as was Birgitte, Duchess of Gloucester’s dress in 1972. He also designed the present Queen’s coronation dress and robes.
|Princess Alexandra 1963|
Via British Monarchy Flickr
Out of all of the royal wedding dress designers, up until 1981, none were more famous or well known than David and Elizabeth Emanuel. And 3 decades later they remain famous. They too were relatively unknown, having only graduated from the Royal College of Art only four years before Lady Diana Spencer approached them to create her iconic wedding dress. Beating out more established designers such as Hardy Amies, dressmaker to the Queen, and the front runner Bellville Sassoon.
The Emanuel’s creation, with its record 25 foot train, is remarkable in its excess, though it reflected the fashions of the time it is also seen as the ultimate fairytale dress, setting many trends in the process. Most royal wedding dresses since 1981, including Catherine’s have been compared to it and no doubt will continue to be compared to it.
Wedding dress designers that followed would not gain the same level of fame or notoriety. Though they created beautiful dresses, few would be as familiar with the designer names Linka Cierach, who made Sarah Ferguson’s dress or Samantha Shaw who designed Sophie Rhys Jones’ wedding gown.
|Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge's wedding dress |
via British Monarchy Flickr
On the day itself the design and the designer were revealed as Sarah Burton. According to the press release for the dress:
Miss Middleton chose British brand Alexander McQueen for the beauty of its craftsmanship and its respect for traditional workmanship and the technical construction of clothing. Miss Middleton wished for her dress to combine tradition and modernity with the artistic vision that characterises Alexander McQueen’s work. Miss Middleton worked closely with Sarah Burton in formulating the design of her dress.
© Marilyn Braun 2011
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