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

The Chelsea Blog – August 2013

Chelsea Library
Chelsea Library

Hello to you all from the staff at Chelsea Library.

Stories, crafts and a wizard in the children’s library

This summer during the heat wave we ran two successful story and craft events – an ugly ducking session tied into the Hans Christian Anderson story. Thirty three children came to design flying swans and yellow ducklings and left with a free copy of ‘The Ugly Duckling’ (given to us by Bookstart).

The second story and craft event had a creepy house theme. We read out Funny bones by Janet and Allan Ahlberg and David and Brett McKee’s The Tickle Ghost as well as Walter de la Mare’s The Listeners. We asked the children to imagine what happens next. What will those phantoms treading on the staircase do now that the traveller has gone?

Diane, one of our Senior Customer Services Assistants, designed some brilliant ghosts, little stuffed spectres and hand puppets.  The children decorated them with coloured ribbons and sashes which streamed beneath them like kites.  Like vampires, who after the overkill of the vampire publishing boom are in desperate need of a transfusion, ghosts can get a little clichéd. So we tried out some new shapes, among them was a Kung-fu kick boxing ghost with a Jackie Chan headband.

Mr Wiz the Wizard
Mr Wiz the Wizard

The summer highlight was a visit by Mr Wiz, a Fulham based wizard who played to a packed house of over 50 children. He blew bubbles, threatened to turn chatterboxes into dinosaurs and frogs (one member of staff is still suffering from the frog spell—she stares distractedly at garden ponds in her lunch hour). He magicked pineapple chunks into golden coins and led them in a dance about Five Little Speckled Frogs. The children were thumping on the floor so excitedly that the porters in their office below reported a steady fall of plaster. Each child left with their very own broomstick shaped balloon so that they could fly home chasing bubbles. It was great to see the library so busy – children were still coming through the door during the magic.

Baby rhyme time
Baby rhyme time

Baby rhyme time will be touring the O2 Arena and Wembley Stadium with a beefed up version of ‘Wheels on the Bus’ but until then we hope to take it outside into the Sydney Street Gardens. And if you can’t wait – come along to our weekly session on Thursdays at 11am.

Daniel Jeffreys

Customer Services Assistant

Fashion takeover in the reference library

This week the reference librarians have taken over the Chelsea Gallery to showcase some books from our Costume Collection. There are some rarely seen books on Ancient Egyptian dress from our archives on show.
 
Books from our Costume Collection - Ancient Egyptian dress
Books from our Costume Collection – Ancient Egyptian dress

And also some great 80’s fashion images, inspired by the exhibitions currently on at the V&A and the Fashion and Textile Museum (which we’ve blogged about recently ‘Zandra Rhodes – Unseen (and seen in Vogue and Harpers and Queens)’). We’re really inspired by going to these exhibitions, so look out for more related fashion collection blog posts from us….!

 
Books from our Costume Collection - 80s fashion
Books from our Costume Collection – 80s fashion

Information about both of these subjects and MUCH more is available from the online Berg Fashion Library which we subscribe to.  If you are interested in finding out more about this fantastic resource, please ask us in the Chelsea Reference Library.

And for a taster, here is a great image of a 1980’s cardigan from the V&A and a description of it that we found in the Berg Fashion Library.
© V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London
© V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London
This hand-knitted cardigan was inspired by the patterns on decorative china plates. The kaleidoscope of stitches in bright primary colours emphasises its hand-crafted appeal, and the striking patchwork effect is achieved by alternating blocks of stocking and fancy stitches. The designer, Patricia Roberts, set up a hand-knitting business in 1976 and still runs a shop in London today. She has published many pattern books and issued ranges of luxury yarn. This cardigan is typical of her innovative designs in bold colours using contrasting textures and decorative stitches.

The Chelsea Reference Library Staff

Zandra Rhodes – Unseen (and seen in Vogue and Harpers and Queen)

Inspired by visiting various fashion exhibitions recently – Debby Wale, one of our Triborough Reference Librarians has once again been delving into our Costume Collection at Chelsea Reference Library.

Zandra Rhodes - Unseen programme from the Fashion and Textile Museum
Zandra Rhodes – Unseen programme from the Fashion and Textile Museum

Working at Chelsea Library, with unlimited access to the Costume Collection, my interest in fashion has been revitalised. With the final days of my National Art Pass discount to be used, I went along to the Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey Street, SE1. If you’ve not been – here’s a great description of the museum taken from their website:

The Fashion and Textile Museum is a cutting edge centre for contemporary fashion, textiles and jewellery in London. Founded by iconic British designer Zandra Rhodes, the centre showcases a programme of changing exhibitions exploring elements of fashion, textile and jewellery as well as the Academy which runs courses for creative students and businesses.

Their current exhibition is ‘Zandra Rhodes: Unseen’ and it runs until 31 August 2013. I had already been to the ‘Club to Catwalk: London Fashion in the 1980s’ at the V&A. Zandra Rhodes’ career has spanned the decades from the 70’s and 80’s including designing a dress for Princess Diana – which can be seen at the current ‘Fashion Rules’ exhibition at Kensington Palace which I’ve also been to.

Princess Diana and Zandra Rhodes (taken from 'Dressing Diana by Tim Graham and Tamsin Blanchard)
Princess Diana and Zandra Rhodes (taken from ‘Dressing Diana by Tim Graham and Tamsin Blanchard)

Princess Diana wearing the dress designed by Zandra Rhodes
Princess Diana wearing the dress designed by Zandra Rhodes

This pink chiffon and pearl dress with a zig zag hem was worn in Japan and was sold at a sale of Princess Diana’s garments at Chrisities.

Years earlier I attended a talk at the Commonwealth Institute given by Zandra Rhodes and I was interested to find out more. Back at Chelsea Reference Library I trawled through the back issues of Vogue and Harpers. I even put together a display in Chelsea Gallery (part of Chelsea Reference Library) of the materials I found to write this post.

There’s some great information about Zandra Rhodes on Voguepedia:

When she realized her prints were too bold and boisterous for other designers, Rhodes began crafting clothing, as well. Still, she never lost sight of the methodical approach that she learned in textiles. For early collections, she visited the Victoria and Albert Museum and studied ethnic costume in the field. With a scholarly eye, she filled her sketchbook with drawings of Maasai warriors in Kenya, cacti from the Mojave Desert, Australian rock formations, and even celestial bodies that she discovered at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. For her book The Art of Zandra Rhodes, she wanted her garments displayed flat, like mounted butterflies, rather than worn by models. That way, their extraordinary patterns were revealed.

Zandra, Queen of the Desert

Harpers and Queen, March 2002
Harpers and Queen, March 2002
Be inspired by the art of seventies icon Zandra Rhodes. The pink lady’s fantasy fashion delivered a fix of culture clash glamour that lives on and on: graphic textiles, bold prints and swathes of diaphanous chiffon.
Harpers and Queen, March 2002
Harpers and Queen, March 2002

This silk devore dress was from the same shoot – worn with a Philip Treacy Couture hat and leather, feather, sand shells and beaded necklaces by Erickson Bearmon.

How to do….Zandra Rhodes

Harpers and Queen, March 2002
Harpers and Queen, March 2002

The same issue of Harpers and Queen has a very handy guide on how to dress in the Zandra Rhodes style or as Harpers and Queen describe it:

The original – and still the best for jet-set chiffon and inspirational prints.
Harpers and Queen, March 2002
Harpers and Queen, March 2002

This silk chiffon dress is by Salvatore Ferragamo and it’s worn with lace leggings by Zandra Rhodes – you don’t have to dress head to toe to get the Zandra Rhodes look.

Attention! Diversion! Zigzag Rhodes! 

Over to Vogue now…..

Vogue, September 1976 (photo by Norman Parkinson)
Vogue, September 1976 (photo by Norman Parkinson)

These pictures were taken from the article about Zandra Rhodes’ home:

Powerful patterns and coloured cover Zandra Rhodes house and her person, all is idiosyncratic, instantly recognisable decoration…The house, salmon pink outside, has mottled marbled sea-pinks and blues inside, a Martin Sharp mural up the stairwell meeting painted columns, urns, banked plastic flowers on the landing, with scarlet pleated bath alcove and Zandra in the tub.
Vogue, September 1976 (photo by Norman Parkinson)
Vogue, September 1976 (photo by Norman Parkinson)

Vogue’s own motor show

Here’s Jerry Hall in a Zandra Rhodes satin sarong – with a Rover to match!

Vogue, October 1976
Vogue, October 1976
Frilled sarong of pleated satin in whipped cream print, tendrils of rouleaux and gilded cords keeping body and soul together.

West Coast style

Vogue, March 1976
Vogue, March 1976

With more time, I’m sure I would find a lot more – I feel as if I am just scratching the surface. I really enjoyed researching this subject – so if you feel inspired come and take a look at our Costume Collection at Chelsea Reference Library.

Debby Wale
Debby Wale

Debby Wale, Triborough Reference Librarian

Chelsea Reference Library

Further information

  • ‘The Art of Zandra Rhodes’ by Anne Knight is available to view in the Costume Collection – it documents her designs inspired by Africa, China and India
  • Vogue and Harpers and Queens – back copies of these magazines can be viewed in the Costume Collection too
  • Berg Fashion Library has more information about Zandra Rhodes – you’ll need a Kensington and Chelsea library card to access this amazing online fashion resource
  • Zandra Rhodes Digital Study Collection Project – a blog I can certainly recommend
  • More information about the National Art pass is available on the ArtFund website