Saturday, 30 January 2021

Princess Margaret & Christian Dior

In exploring royal fashion relationships with designers, I've always found Princess Margaret's love of Christian Dior fascinating. In post-WWII Britain, years of austerity and rationing left a void in fashion and glamour. Women were eager for new trends and were enthralled by the Parisian style of Christian Dior's first collection in 1947. The designer became the toast of London society, a fact which pleased him immensely. Following a visit to the UK he wrote, "When an English woman is pretty, she is prettier than a woman of any nationality. I adore the English, dressed not only in the tweeds which suit them so well, but also in those flowing dresses." Interest in the couturier's clothing reached a nineteen-year-old Princess Margaret who was so impressed by his silhouettes of nipped-in waists and full skirts she travelled to Paris to meet him.

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Margaret spent time in the atelier and immediately ordered pieces from the collection and thus the iconic fashion relationship was born. The Evening Standard reported Dior held a private fashion show for the Queen, Princess Margaret, Princess Marina and Princess Olga of Greece the year after meeting Margaret. During the 'Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams' exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum, it was revealed the Queen Mother was so enthused by the show she asked a model not to leave the room backwards (which was protocol at the time in the presence of royals) and instead turn to walk away so she could see the back of the dress. 

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As a self-confessed anglophile, this was thrilling for Dior, and his love for England was a prominent feature for the remainder of his life. The first Dior show in Britain was held at the Savoy in 1950 and featured British model Jean Dawnay.

A number of the looks shown were made from printed cottons and British wool. Just two years later, the designer opened his first London business and secured deals with an array of local manufacturers.

He later added that his time in the UK gave him "a sensation of happiness and great personal freedom".

The most iconic gown Dior designed for Margaret was the breathtaking tulle creation she wore for her 21st birthday portrait, which was taken by Cecil Beaton.

Princess Margaret later described the ballgown as her "favourite dress of all".

The gown came from the designer's 'Oblique' collection. As you can see, it has darkened considerably over time.

The Museum of London notes, "The boned bodice is made of silk organza over satin, originally white, but like many gauze-like or net fabrics. The shoulder strap arrangement is a compromise: there is only one, which turns into a sash ending in a loop to be worn on the upper right arm, almost as if it had dropped. The voluminous skirt is composed of seven layers, ingeniously gathered into a 55 cm (22½ inch) waist: an inner tube of silk, three layers of stiffened net and two outer layers of organza with an additional, asymmetric front panel, which like, the bodice, is beautifully embroidered."

Dior asked Margaret if she was "more of a gold or silver person", to which the Princess duly replied "gold". As you can see, this is beautifully reflected in the gown's embroidery.

Two months later, Margaret wore the gown for a charity ball organised by the Cercle de L’Union InteralliĆ© in Paris. Margaret knew all eyes would be on her at the event, and she felt the Dior creation was the perfect piece for the night. The sweeping silhouette led to comparisons with the Disney's Cinderella gown from the 1950 film. The Princess danced to Cole Porter's 'Night And Day' and 'La Vie En Rose'. Margaret accessorised with the Cartier Halo Tiara and dazzling jewels. The Halo is better known today as the wedding tiara of the Duchess of Cambridge.

Margaret kept the ballgown for almost two decades before donating it to the London museum in 1968 (during which time the museum was located at Kensington Palace where Margaret lived).

The gown at the V&A more recently.

It is believed Margaret and Christian Dior last met at Blenheim Palace in 1954 when the Princess presented him with a scroll entitling him to Honorary Life Membership of the British Red Cross after the presentation of his Winter Collection. In his biography Dior wrote Margaret "crystallised the whole popular frantic interest in royalty", before adding "She was a real fairy-tale princess, delicate, graceful, exquisite".


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A gorgeous video of the show.

Margaret remained a client of Dior's for the rest of her life. Below, the Princess takes centre stage at a 1975 ball in a Dior gown.

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"Individuality will always be one of the real conditions of real elegance." - Christian Dior.

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10 comments:

  1. Fabulous article, Charlotte. Margaret really was beautiful when she was young.

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  2. As an editor at the St Helena Independent, fashion exhibits from time to time and in my net searches was faced with this. Brilliant writing and exceptionally poised. Cheers

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  3. margaret was a goddess when she was young and in that 21 year old shot of her on her bday the dress is just amazing... a beautiful princess it is too bad she had so much emotional pain inside she deserved every happiness

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  4. Is that a wedding dress and veil at the V&A behind Margaret’s dress? Does anyone know what it is?
    What a fun article to learn more about the princess!

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    1. Bluerising, Havana (CU)Sunday, 31 January, 2021

      Sure is in my view. Dior was/is a looker.

      I love the red dress.

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  5. Thank you for a wonderful post, Charlotte! I LOVED the video! šŸ˜

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  6. This was so very interesting. Wow! she really was an absolute stunner.

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  7. Theresa - Austin, TXMonday, 01 February, 2021

    Fascinating post, Charlotte. She really was an iconic princess!

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  8. Thank you so, so much for bring the Royal Digest blog back to life again, I hope it continues to fit in with your many other responsibilities. It is a beacon of light amid lockdown gloom! And thanks so much for focusing so brilliantly on glamour. This is a wonderful post which really helps sum up the relationship Princess Margaret had with Dior which I hadn't fully appreciated. I do remember as a little girl gazing for hours at the 21st birthday white tulle picture and huge thanks for going into its construction with all the extraordinary embroidery. I just love the treatment of the drop sleeve in contrast to the feature embroidered raised shoulder, -- just designer genius. She was such a beautiful woman, maybe that was why while being that same little girl I came to think of the Queen as 'dull'! Thank heavens for your earlier royal film post showing just how wrong I was about that!!

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    1. That rug is rich too BR.

      Cas xx

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