February 4, 2017

{Reimagining a Legend - Redux!}

Cornelia Vanderbilt Cecil, at home, Biltmore House 1924
Photo courtesy of The Biltmore Company
In honor of the ongoing exhibit at the Biltmore Legacy Museum in Asheville, NC—featuring Vanderbilt family wedding treasuresI'm once again sharing the link to my article "Reimagining a Legend" published last year on Huffington Post (when the exhibit first opened.)
The article offers background on how a design team at Cosprop, Ltd. London recreated Biltmore heiress Cornelia Vanderbilt's 1924 couture wedding gown and accessoriesthe centerpiece of the museum's exhibit on Biltmore Estate. 
Vanderbilt family wedding exhibition at Biltmore Legacy Museum

[See details of my special event in April, 'Social Graces' at Biltmore during their "Designed for Drama: Fashion from the Classics" costume exhibition!]

January 16, 2017

{Musings on Beauty, Kindness & Stardust}

In November, I was delighted to be the guest speaker for "Women, Chocolate and the Arts"—the annual fundraiser for Mary and Martha's Place in Atlanta, a women's spiritual organization. Over 100 guests had a marvelous time at this festive event! (It was covered in the winter issue of Season magazine; click the link and see page 55.) 

My presentation, "From Downton Abbey to Royal Weddings: Our Search for Beauty and Order in a Chaotic World," was a collection of personal stories and musings on beauty, ritual, femininity, kindness, and a bit of stardust! Here are a few quotes I shared with the audience during my presentation....enjoy!

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.
It is the source of all true art and science.
~Albert Einstein

Beauty will save the world.
~Fyodor Dostoevsky

To see beauty is to see light.
~Victor Hugo

Kindness is my religion.
~His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

Violence flourishes unchecked, when the feminine withdraws.
This world needs the feminine now, more than ever.
~Regena Thomashauer

Nothing changes the environment like one person deciding to love another, no matter what.
~Neale Donald Walsch

Be humble for you are made of earth.
Be noble for you are made of stars.
~ancient Serbian proverb


January 2, 2017

{Botanical Princess Gowns}

My article, "Botanical Princess Gowns," appears in the winter issue of SEASON magazine...on page 77reprinted it below. (Plus, it's an excerpt from my book, The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride.) Enjoy!
                         Botanical Princess Gowns                                                   
Flowers, naturally, have always been favored at weddings. And for many British royal brides, even for the bridal gown itself. According to Christopher Warwick in Two Centuries of Royal Weddings, Queen Victoria’s grandmother, Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, wed King George III in 1761 wearing “silver brocade woven with patterns of flowers—some say carnations—in three types of gold thread.”

“Flowers, both real and artificial, made a comeback at mid-19th century weddings,” explained Marriage à la Mode, and the bouffant crinoline gowns of the time were “positively awash” with trails of either wax orange blossom and myrtle—like Princess Alexandra’s silver tissue gown when she married the Prince of Wales in 1863; or artificial roses and white heather—like the fluffy white silk gown Victoria, the Princess Royal, wore in 1858. Tufts of tulle and lace were often added to the botanical fancy, making these over-the-top dresses pure confections. “Many of these gowns,” Warwick commented, “were so heavily festooned and garlanded with leaves and orange blossom that the wearers tended to resemble a variety of exotic horticultural exhibits rather than wide-eyed brides.”

Toward the end of the 19th century, when crinolines were gone and hourglass silhouettes were the fashion, the fitted, low-cut gown of Princess May of Teck—the future Queen Mary—seemed, perhaps because of her well-endowed figure, “engineered rather than sewn,” according to historian Ann Monsarrat. However, the gown was notable for its woven fabric loaded with symbolic floral sentiment. The white satin brocade had a silver design interwoven of roses, shamrocks, thistles, orange flowers, heather and true-love knots—as romantic as it was patriotic.
Princess Elizabeth’s wedding in 1947, even on a wet and dreary November day, was a shining break from the austerity of the grim post-war years. Her ivory silk satin gown—overflowing with floral motifs—was glamorous, opulent and symbolic. The silkworms used to make the silks both in Scotland and England were brought from Nationalist China instead of “enemy silkworms” from Japan or Italy. Designer Norman Hartnell, inspired by Botticelli’s 15th century painting Primavera, had the gown and long silk tulle court train intricately hand embroidered with thousands of tiny crystals and seed pearls in garland designs of jasmine, smilax, lilac, and York rose blossoms. (However, even the future queen needed ration coupons for her wedding gown’s fabric, so women from all over the country sent their coupons to their beloved princess. They were politely, and with messages of deep gratitude, returned by the Palace.)

In the spring of 2011, it was the bride of the queen’s grandson, Prince William, who carried on Britain’s floral tradition. Kate Middleton looked regal in a white silk gazar couture gown with lace—handcrafted by artisans at the Royal School of Needlework—in delicate patterns of roses, thistles, daffodils and shamrocks, inspiring a bit of “O! to Be in England” sentiment in all of us! ~

December 19, 2016

{A Woman's Radiance}

For this 18th century wedding set in the Scottish Highlands, the costume designer wanted Claire—the bride and heroine of the Outlander series—to literally glow. “I wanted a dress that would be incredible in candlelight,” Terry Dresbach shared. This wedding—and forthcoming marriage and relationship of Claire Randall and Jamie Fraser—was the foundation of the immensely popular Outlander books and subsequent television series, therefore the direction from the show’s creator (and Terry’s husband) was that “this moment needed to be a fairy tale.”

“In the 18th century, metallic fabrics were made with actual metal woven into the fabrics,” explained Terry in Variety magazine. “When you put [the original costumes] in a room filled with candles, they just glow. They’re quite remarkable.” By incorporating delicate shavings of iridescent mica as well as an old, time-consuming embroidery technique using metal strands, Terry was able to be true to the spirit of the era while also creating something stunning and shimmering for Claires reluctant wedding ceremony.

Of course as a fashion historian and wedding folklorist, I loved reading about the creative process of designing this gown. But I also write about the bride’s rite-of-passage, her personal inner journey, and her deep desire to be as beautiful as possible on her wedding day! In my 30 or so years working with brides, I find this desire for beauty a universal expression of the feminine spirit, tapping into a womans true goddess nature, her radiance.

Reading about the Outlander’s costume designer’s wish for Claire and her gown to glow, I thought of Regena Thomashauer, best-selling author and founder of the School of Womanly Arts in New York City. The heart of Regena’s work encourages women to find and express their true desires, their self-love, their inner and outer goddess, their glow. “Glow creates beauty in women of all ages, all body types, all backgrounds.” And when you glow, you not only want to dress to show it off, but you just naturally attract and inspire what’s beautiful in others.

Is that the reason women are so attracted to the fairy-tale quality of “being a bride”? The masculine power grid of modern culture doesn’t really encourage the rich, deep, loving expression of feminine values, so a woman’s wedding becomes a rather rare opportunity for her to glow; a time for full-tilt-boogie radiance! But I would encourage all women, every dayno matter where you are in your lifeto open your heart, to shine your inner light, to choose radiance!
Claire and Jamie's candlelit wedding in Outlander
(All images from designer Terry Dresbach's blog)