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

From Club to Catwalk: 80’s fashion talk at the V&A

Friday the 8 November 2013 will be memorable for any number of people for the chaos on the tube. For me, it was the eve of my birthday and I had booked to attend a talk at the Victoria & Albert Museum that was part of their  Club to Catwalk exhibition. The line up was Caryn Franklin, Toyah Willcox and Karen Binns. They complimented each other perfectly, bringing their thoughts, ideas and experiences to a discussion on women who developed, fused and influenced fashion and music in 1980s London.

Caryn Franklin, Toyah Willcox and Karen Binns. Photo by Debby Wale
Caryn Franklin, Toyah Willcox and Karen Binns. Photo by Debby Wale

Caryn Franklin MBE is former Fashion Editor and Co-Editor of i-D Magazine. I immediately remembered her from The Clothes Show. In the Evening Standard Lifestyle Magazine (Print edition: 5 July 2013 ) Caryn writes:

‘There was never any talk of celebrity or success, only credibility and who had it. The style magazines i-D, The Face and Blitz were a triumvirate of street and music fanzines aimed at those with aspirations, attitudes and pretensions to creative grandeur. i-D is still headed by Terry Jones, who gave me my very first job. He put Madonna on the cover before anyone knew who she was. Channel 4’s Swank and Network 7, both programmes I worked on, were appetisers to the BBC’s The Clothes Show. I joined in 1986 with Jeff Banks and Selina Scott, and we covered everything from street style to John Galliano’s earliest work. The Clothes Show reached 157 million homes worldwide for 12 years. And with only four TV channels in the UK, at 5pm on Sunday it was rugby or us.’

Caryn Franklin. Photo by Debby Wale
Caryn Franklin. Photo by Debby Wale

 ‘In a career spanning thirty years Toyah has had thirteen top 40 singles, recorded twenty albums, written two books, appeared in over forty stage plays, made ten feature films and presented such diverse television programmes as The Good Sex Guide Late, Watchdog and Songs Of Praise. Toyah’s influences for her costumes were the Masai, Kabuki and the Mexican day of the dead amongst others. Clothing was like an armour, protective.’ (quote from www.toyahwillcox.com).

Toyah Wilcox with one of her head dresses in the background. Photo by Debby Wale
Toyah Wilcox with one of her head dresses in the background. Photo by Debby Wale
The costumes either end of the display were designed for Toyah by Melissa Caplan. Photo by Debby Wale
The costumes either end of the display were designed for Toyah by Melissa Caplan. Photo by Debby Wale

Karen is from Brooklyn and has worked as a fashion stylist in the pop and fashion industry. She has styled Tori Amos for 20 years. She is also editor and publisher at WHAT MAGAZINE. Karen described how things were in the 80s:

 ‘There was no internet or social media. The clubs were the place to see and be seen. You would use clothes to read each other. There were no courses for stylists. Fashion courses were aimed at those wishing to be designers. You proved your worth using your own personal style and your ability to get attention for the right reason at the right time.There was no copying, individuality ruled – if you saw it on someone else, you got rid of it fast.’

Karens Binns. Photo by Debby Wale
Karens Binns. Photo by Debby Wale

As soon as I got into work on the following Monday, I started my research. Chelsea Reference Library has the V&A book that accompanies the exhibition, From Club to Catwalk: 80s Fashion by Sonnet Standfill, V&A Publishing 2013.

From Club to Catwalk: 80s Fashion
From Club to Catwalk: 80s Fashion

This encapsulates the period with plenty of images – including a cover of i-D magazine:

ID cover, reproduced in From Club to Catwalk
ID cover, reproduced in From Club to Catwalk

From Club to Catwalk has a number of picture credits citing articles in Vogue and Harpers and Queen magazine.

What you see below are two pictures taken from a whole spread that appeared in the magazine. The costume collection at Chelsea Reference Library has Harpers and Queen and Vogue, so you can compare colour plates reproduced in the book with complete article as it appeared in the magazine, giving an added dimension to any research project! Below is a page from Club to Catwalk which helpfully gives the magazine title, month and year. In this case:

From Club to Catwalk: 80s Fashion, page 56
From Club to Catwalk: 80s Fashion, page 56

You can see here the full page spread that the book doesn’t give you – plus a chance to read the whole piece.

Harpers and Queen, December 1984
Harpers and Queen, December 1984

The trend for street style was reflected in Vogue’s Peacock Parade, featuring pictures of London’s punks and clubbers:

Streetstyle, Vogue Sept 1983
Streetstyle, Vogue Sept 1983
The Peacock Parade: punks, Vogue Sept 1983
The Peacock Parade: punks, Vogue Sept 1983

From Vogue September 1983:

‘Street fashion in London is in fine exhibitionist form. No capital in the world harbours such strange, eclectic, individual diversity of appearance. Apparel and appurtenance. Within this kerbside court. Fantasy selves pose and posture, defiance is by design and disguise is a mode of recognition.’

So if you want to refine your own personal aesthetic, why not give Chelsea Reference Library a try?

Magazines

  • Vogue from 1923 – current issue
  • Queen from 1949 – 1970
  • Harpers & Queen 1971 – current issue

Books

  • From Club to Catwalk: 80s Fashion by Sonnet Standfill, V&A Publishing 2013
  • We Can Be Heroes: punks, poseurs, peacocks and people of a particular persuasion. London Clubland 1976-1984 by Graham smith and Chris Sullivan
  • When We Were Young – Derek Ridgers: Club and Street Portraits 1978-1987 by Val Williams
  • Fashion Now – i-D selects the Worlds 150 most important designers by Terry Jones

Join the library to gain access to Berg Fashion online.

Debby Wale
Debby Wale

by Debby Wale, Tri-borough Reference Librarian