The Glamour of Bellville Sassoon – and the people that wear the clothes

Debby Wale, Chelsea Reference Librarian, writes:

I have been looking through David Sassoon’s marvellous book in Chelsea Reference Library. I’d seen Bellville Sassoon gowns at the V&A’s Ballgowns exhibition last year, but nothing prepared me for the out-and-out glamour of the Bellville Sassoon exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum (ends 11 January 2014).

Bellville Sassoon was founded in 1953 as Bellville et Cie by Belinda Bellville. Sassoon joined in 1958 Lorcan Mullany joined in 1987. It’s the people who wear the clothes that are of interest to me. You need an occasion to wear such glamorous outfits. So who wears Bellville Sassoon? As Britain’s foremost couture label from the 1960s onwards, Bellville Sassoon have dressed many of the world’s most stylish women, including Diana, Princess of Wales.

 Many well known clients of Belleville Sassoon had lent dresses for the exhibition: Lady Shakira Caine, Cilla Black, Minnie Churchill, Angela Rippon, Lady Jane Rayne, Lady Anne Glendower, Lady Woolf, Baroness Fiona von Thyssen, Gaby Harris-Lyons and Brazilian socialite, Renee Behar.

Princess Diana, Princess Alexandra, Princess Michael of Kent, the Duchess of Kent and Princess Margaret were also clients. Princess Diana needed a dress for her engagement to Prince Charles. A formidable member of staff in Bellville Sassoon didn’t recognize her and suggested Harrods might be more appropriate. When David Sassoon found out, he was horrified.

She did return to Bellville Sassoon to purchase a number of outfits, including the one below:

From The Glamour of Bellville Sassoon by David Sassoon and Sinty Stemp.
From The Glamour of Bellville Sassoon by David Sassoon and Sinty Stemp.

The Princess of Wales arrives  for a 1993 film premiere in Bellville Sassoon’s little black dress, with beaded jewelled straps, one of the glamorous evening dresses that were auctioned at Christie’s New York in 1997.

 From an interview with David Sassoon in the Sunday Telegraph February 17 2013:

Another sketch, for a claret taffeta dress with bows, shows her enthusiasm to have the dress made up, with the words “Yes please!” next to the design, which she subsequently wore to the opening of the Barbican Centre with the Queen in March 1982, when she was six months pregnant.

“We had to let it out at the very last minute because her bump had suddenly grown,” said Sassoon. “She was very excited about the baby but also conscious of looking appropriate for the occasion during her pregnancy.”

Diana Princess of Wales in a maternity gown by Sassoon
Diana Princess of Wales in a maternity gown by Sassoon

 Bellville Sassoon are also famous for their wedding gowns. In April 1971 when Sarah Donaldson-Hudson married Nicholas Haydon at Caxton Hall, she wore Bellville Sassoon, but as she was marrying a divorcee, her mother forbade her to wear white. She wore a hand-painted coat, lined with silk, which had graced the pages of Vogue in November 1970.

 Sarah Donaldson-Hudson on her wedding day with Dorothy Donaldson-Hudson and Lt. Col. Ralph Davies-Cooke 23 April 1971:

From The Wedding Dress: 300 years of bridal fashions by Edwina Ehrman
From The Wedding Dress: 300 years of bridal fashions by Edwina Ehrman

  And the coat as it appeared in Vogue, 1970:

Cream wool crepe coat from the Indian-inspired couture collection, ‘Rajputana’
Cream wool crepe coat from the Indian-inspired couture collection, ‘Rajputana’

Bordered and panelled with exquisite flowers from a Persian miniature. Designed and printed by Richard Cawley and Andrew Whittle, who painted the boots by hand to match.

The coat proved to be very popular. The Glamour of Bellville Sassoon reproduced an article from Women’s Wear Daily 6 October  1970. Rajputana was ordered by ‘a tall member of the Royal Family’, but the name was not to be revealed. Baroness Fiona Von Thyssen (former fashion model Fiona Campbell-Walter) also ordered this costume.

 The Indian theme continues. In The Glamour of Bellville Sassoon, David Sassoon has a picture of Lady Londonderry wearing one of his Indian inspired costumes (in the December 1974 issue of Harpers & Queen, alongside the original picture, her name is given as Mrs Clive Powell. At the time of publication, she was married to Georgie Fame, a pop star, and Clive Powell was his real name.)

Harpers & Queen December 1974
Harpers & Queen December 1974

 Mrs Powell wears blue and coral printed silk georgette long sleeveless dress embroidered in gold, with wide waistband and gathered skirt. Matching printed and embroidered cardigan, with gold sequins.

 More famous clients dressed by Sassoon:

Catherine Deneuve (Mrs David Bailey), Vogue December 1965
Catherine Deneuve (Mrs David Bailey), Vogue December 1965
Actress Julie Christie, Vogue December 1965
Actress Julie Christie, Vogue December 1965

My favorite is the evening dress with gold lame spots on black chiffon:

From Ballgowns: British glamour since 1950 by Oriole Cullen
From Ballgowns: British glamour since 1950 by Oriole Cullen

This was made in 1996 and is in the V&A collection: T.76-1997. In the exhibition, it stands in a glass case, the fabric spreading out in a sumptuous puddle of almost liquid fabric.

You have until 11 January 2014 to visit The Glamour of Bellville Sassoon. Make it a New Year’s resolution!

From Chelsea Reference Library

Magazines

Vogue from 1923 – current issue

Queen from 1949 – 1970

Harpers & Queen 1971 – current issue

For a full list of newspapers and how long we keep them, click here

http://www.rbkc.gov.uk/pdf/public_KULOP_08_2011.pdf

Books

The Glamour of Bellville Sassoon by David Sassoon and Sinty Stemp. Antique Collectors’ Club Ltd, 2008.

Ballgowns: British glamour since 1950 by Oriole Cullen. V&A Publishing, 2012.

The Wedding Dress: 300 years of bridal fashions by Edwina Ehrman. V&A Publishing, 2011

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