June 8, 2017

{20th Anniversary - Excerpt No. 2}

During this 20th anniversary summer of Princess Diana's death, I continue honoring her immense contribution to the world of wedding celebrations and fashion with excerpts from my book, The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride: For Better or Worse, How Princess Diana Rescued the Great White WeddingEnjoy....

{excerpt from}
Chapter Four: "Bringing Back the Mystery"

Princess Diana did not invent our fascination with royalty; stories of nobility and their grand rituals have long captured our attention. However, “royalty acquired the status of stardom when she entered the royal enclosure,” British journalist Beatrix Campbell wrote and, post-1981, weddings once again became society’s favorite pomp and posh circumstance dress-up ritual.

I opened my former bridal store in Atlanta on the wave of Diana’s wedding magic, between the two Windsor royal weddings that decade, and my designers were busy creating “princess gowns” for years: elegant fluffs of ivory silk with big crinoline skirts, full sleeves with delicate bows, corseted bodices, and hand-beaded trims of antique lace. Worn with gossamer tulle veils and—since my customers weren’t yet enamored with tiaras—designer-made headpieces sprinkled with vintage wax orange blossoms and bits of old lace. Something very dreamy and womanly was ignited in the process. 

Bridal veils made a come-back with Diana like they did in the nineteenth century with Prince Charles’ great-great-great grandmother. Although Queen Victoria’s short Honiton lace veil in 1840 was “decorative only,” pinned to her chignon and falling softly over her shoulders, Diana’s was lush and sparkly and, breaking with royal tradition, covered her face for a much fussed-over “virginal” arrival into St. Paul’s cathedral on her father’s arm. Many feminists called it a “shroud.” And for some modern young women of the time just beginning to revel in their independence and sexual freedom, wearing a bridal veil indeed seemed a bit out-of-date, if not out-of-touch. 

Not insensitive to world politics of the 1980s and ‘90s—the years I had my shop—my focus, however, was helping a bride feel just as beautiful inside as she looked outside. I loved the look of the sheer illusion veil like Diana’s that seemed to connect a woman with something deeply feminine and quietly mysterious. Worn over the face, it helped block out the noisy, distracting world, and move her attention within—similar to how a slow, deep breathy inhale and exhale return us to our true self, more in touch with our heart.~

May 29, 2017

{20th Anniversary}

This summer marks the 20th anniversary of Princess Diana's death. My book, The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride: For Better or Worse, How Princess Diana Rescued the Great White Wedding, is quoted in various worldwide commemorative publications honoring the princess.

For the next few months, I will share book excerpts that focus on her contributions to the world of weddings as well as the essence of inner and outer beauty; later I'll also share excerpts from my in-progress book, tentatively titled, From Princess to Goddess & the Rebirth of Love.

Enjoy the first excerpt below....

{excerpt from}
Chapter Two: “A World of Celebrity” 

The first worldwide media spectacular…with all the pomp and circumstance at England’s matchless command,” declared journalist Susie Pearson when looking back in 1991 at Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer’s wedding ten years before. “It was, perhaps, the defining event of the eighties.” The brilliant affair also brought ceremonial weddings back in style almost overnight, resurrecting the bridal industry from the social upheavals of the previous two decades. After this royal watershed event, getting married became fashionable again and the world was ready! It put a new era of fancy wedding hoopla into motion: elaborate designer gowns; a return of the status wedding celebration; staged over-the-top productions and “celebrity” weddings as media spectacles—sometimes coordinated by professional event planners who became bigger celebrities than many of their clients.

Almost everything about the 1980s became a symbol of excess, “a decade in which style so often trumped substance,” continued Pearson. The appeal of the Prince and Princess of Wales’ grand ceremony ignited Martha Stewart’s brand of attention-down-to-the-last-detail “decorative wedding”—her wedding book in 1987 launched an empire! What followed was the wedding imploded as a “consumer rite,” a trend that, explained scholar Vicki Howard in her book Brides, Inc., had begun in America at the middle of the twentieth century. ~

[excerpt from The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride: For Better or Worse, How Princess Diana Rescued the Great White Wedding...pages 13-14.]

April 20, 2017

{Social Graces at Biltmore}

 Thanks to everyone who attended my special event Social Graces at Biltmore during their "Designed for Drama: Fashion from the Classics" costume exhibition. From enjoying a Jane Austen Social of tea and scones with talks featuring the designers who 'make magic' with period costume dramas to tours of the various costume exhibits around the Estate, a fine time was had by all! 
Costumes from "The Golden Bowl" in the Music Room of Biltmore House
Costumes from "The House of Mirth" in Mrs Vanderbilt's Bedroom in Biltmore House

Cornelia with 'Social Graces' guests

April 3, 2017

{Something Most Royal}

My article, "Something Most Royal," is in the new spring issue of Season magazine! Plus I've reprinted it below with lovely images.... 

Something Most Royal
Those of us who love royal weddings and queenly costume dramas have had a most regal “film feast” of late! “The Crown”—a rich, lavish Netflix production chronicling the life of Queen Elizabeth II—begins with her wedding in 1947; and “Victoria,” the British series on PBS, portrays the young queen’s journey beginning when she succeeded to the throne in 1837, soon followed by her legendary wedding.

I have written about both Queens, sharing stories of their wedding ceremonies, gowns and the lasting impact of their bridal legacy. But here I tell about a reluctant royal bride of the 1920s—someone who played an important role in connecting the lives of Victoria and Elizabeth, as well as influencing fashion for both real and fictional brides we know and love!

Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, daughter of the 14th Earl of Strathmore, didn’t want a life in the royal spotlight, yet after long being wooed by the Duke of York, love won out. They married in 1923, neither presuming “Bertie” would become king; nevertheless, history changed course, and royal duty called. 
This beloved future queen chose something very fashion forward for her wedding: a slim, drop-waist silhouette with ornate pearl-beaded, medieval-inspired metallic trim. However, it was the sleek, column shape that influenced Cornelia Vanderbilt’s couture designers’ for her 1924 wedding (she married the Honorable John F. Amherst Cecil from England) and also inspired Downton Abbey costumier Caroline McCall’s design for Lady Mary—for that highly anticipated wedding with Matthew Crawley set in the spring of 1920!

Lady Elizabeth’s long, heirloom lace veil was also an inspiration for future brides. Queen Mary loaned her daughter-in-law-to-be a family veil of “old point de Flandres which had aged to a soft ivory colour,” according to British historian Ann Monsarrat, “and the silk crêpe moiré for the wedding dress was dyed to tone with it.” Lady Elizabeth was “the last major royal bride to wear flowers rather than diamonds” (a trend established by Queen Victoria when she wore a crown of creamy orange blossoms), yet Monsarrat called Elizabeth’s headdress a “typically hideous 1920s arrangement” and even “monstrously unbecoming”! The veil, although of exquisite handmade lace, was “clamped down over her head to the eyebrows and firmly held there by a garotte—in this case, a narrow band of myrtle leaves with two white roses and sprigs of orange blossom above each ear.”

Our other two 1920s brides fared much better however! Cornelia Vanderbilt wore her maternal grandmother’s lace veil and orange blossom headpiece in a similar fashion as the petite Lady Elizabeth, but with her statuesque figure, Cornelia carried it off with aplomb. And Downton’s designer went with more glam for Lady Mary, foregoing orange blossoms altogether, she selected a graceful diamond tiara fit for a real princess! ~

March 13, 2017

{A Veil of Distinction} Redux

Continuing our celebration of the ongoing Vanderbilt/Cecil family wedding exhibition at the Biltmore Legacy Museum in Asheville, NC—which opened in February of last year—I'll re-share another article I wrote featuring an antique lace bridal veil on display with celebrity connections. ("A Veil of Distinction" was first published in the 2016 spring issue of Season magazine.) Enjoy!

A Veil of Distinction
Wedding veils hold an especially distinctive yet intimate place in a family’s collective memory. Even more than the wedding gown, the family bridal veil has, historically, been the treasure most often passed down and shared with daughters and granddaughters, nieces and cousins.

That was the case with a certain heirloom veil with a most captivating provenance. First worn by Margaret Merritt as an Edwardian bride when she married James Thomas Lee of New York City in 1903, her cathedral-length, rose point lace veil was also worn by her daughters Marion Lee Ryan, Janet Lee Bouvier and Winifred Lee D’Olier. But this veil developed a particular mystique when her granddaughter Jacqueline Bouvier wore it, along with Margaret’s delicate wreath of wax orange blossoms, for her marriage to Senator John F. Kennedy in 1953.

I became intrigued by this veil’s lineage when I learned it was to go on a first-ever display early this year as part of the wedding costume exhibitions on Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. The veil’s connection with the Vanderbilt family is through Jackie Kennedy’s cousin, Mary Lee Ryan—“Mimi” wore it when she married George Vanderbilt’s grandson, William Amherst Cecil, in 1957.

Jackie’s only daughter Caroline Kennedy didn’t wear the Lee family veil, but both Mimi’s daughter and daughter-in-law wore it with their 1980’s Diana-era “princess gowns.” I find this is part of the beauty and pleasure of a bridal veil: as fashions change, it can be adapted to wear in various stylish ways; and even as women and their roles change, because of its strong feminine impulse, the bridal veil always carries a precious tradition.

Lace was immensely fashionable for Victorian and Edwardian ladies and, indeed, de rigueur for brides during these gilded decades. Following the creation of “rose point” lace in Brussels in the mid-19th century—a type of point de gaze needle lace so named because of its lyrical rose design, often with raised petals—this romantic pattern became a favorite of brides. Therefore when well-to-do American women made their grand transatlantic voyages to Europe on the most majestic luxury liner of the day (it was simply the thing to do!), high on their must-do list was to bring back a lace veil from Belgium—all with dreams of a wedding in mind. (Is that how the lovely rose point veil worn by the Lee family brides—and then the Cecils of North Carolina—began its notable pedigree?)

Later when lace was not as popular and travel to Europe was aboard airplanes instead of ships, bringing home a lace wedding veil stayed dear to the hearts of many American women. Perhaps there is one stored away in your family’s “treasure chest”? ~

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! ~