Speculation: Miss Middleton's Wedding Dress

I’ll confess that the matter was on my mind long before Little Augury threw me the gauntlet that asked me to weigh in on the hottest topic on the blogosphere: Catherine Middleton’s mystery wedding dress. I typically shy away from subjects that are so mainstream, but the question is interesting to me. The whole thing has such a significance, a symbolism that is rare in the modern sartorial language. It needs to make a singular personal statement while maintaining some time-honored rules and regulations.

For the ceremony at Westminster Abbey, the design will need to balance modesty with grandeur. Because of the location, the dress demands a “covered up” style, which will make anything strapless completely out of the question. (Now that’s a rule a girl can get behind. Dress designers, consider yourselves on notice: a lot of people actually don’t like strapless. Deal with it.) Because of the scale of the Abbey, the design will need to be bold, but tasteful.

Princess Margaret in 1963. Gown by Norman Hartnell.

Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips, with Prince Edward and Lady Sarah Armstrong in 1973. Gown by Maureen Baker.

Luckily, there is a long precedence of beautiful royal wedding gowns that Miss Middleton can use for inspiration. My personal favorites are Princess Margaret's from 1963, and her niece Princess Anne's from 1973. Both are extremely simple and elegant, very regal, and entirely within the styles of their own eras.

I sincerely doubt the Bride will choose anything remotely flouncey or princess-shaped. The connotations of Princess Diana’s gown by the Emanuels in 1981 would be too prevalent to ignore. To reiterate the 1980s excess, there is also Sarah Ferguson’s outrageous, bling-y and embellished gown by Lindka Cierach just five years later. I think it’s obvious that Miss Middleton will avoid anything that resembles either of these designs. Besides, giant silk taffeta or duchesse satin cream puffery just isn’t her style. Bows of any shape and size are doubtful.

And what is Kate Middleton’s style? Classic, romantic, and for lack of a better word, safe. Not that this is a bad thing – she always looks incredibly chic and stylish, but nothing she wears is ever too very different or surprising. Miss Middleton is a classic Sloane Ranger, to use the popular parlance. This term is applied to a stereotype of young, upper-middle class women and men who are seen around the Sloane Square neighborhood of London, located in a the very well-heeled area surrounded by Knightsbridge, Chelsea, and Belgravia. (Diana, Princess of Wales was one of the original Sloane Rangers back when she was merely Lady Diana Spencer.) In France the same group is called a BCBG, while here in the US we call them “Preppies”. In the 1980s, Peter York and Ann Barr created The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook and The Official Sloane Ranger Diary, both of which were published in partnership with Harper’s and Queen magazines. (I wonder if Michael Williams has a copy?)

Marchesa, Fall 2010.

So what does trim and tidy sartorial precedence mean in the context of a royal wedding gown? I would venture that with so much on the line, Miss Middleton might just pull out a few surprises. My guess is that the Bride will go more romantic than strictly classic, with a slim, simple and floaty style that has both elements of luxury and sophistication.

Monique Lhuillier, Spring 2011.

Because of her interest in art history and the Renaissance, Miss Middleton may choose the type of Tudor simplicity seen in Princess Anne's gown, but updated for the 21st Century. It would need to be very updated, of course, but I can see her looking to such a classic gown style which is in keeping with her romantic nature. A simple gown topped with an embellished blazer piece for the ceremony could be just the thing, but with the private dinner-dance happening later in the evening, I'd bet that Miss Middleton will have a second, party-ready dress to wear.

Alexander McQueen, Fall 2010 & Spring 2011.

For the last ten days or so, Sarah Burton’s team over at Alexander McQueen have been incredibly silent. Yes, the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute Gala which is honoring the late Mr. McQueen is coming up on Monday evening; that camp is undoubtedly busy creating couture for the many party patrons that are sure to attend. However, I wouldn’t dismiss the possibility of the house taking care of the royal wedding as well. Miss Middleton may be classic, but she is modern and in this vein there is no one to match the house of McQueen.

The designer’s final collection for the Fall of 2010 was perfectly regal in every way. The rich fabrics, hints of Tudor details, vivid reds and blacks, as well as sumptuous gold embroidery are all ideal for Westminster Abbey.

A design from Libélula's Bespoke Wedding Gown collection.

But Miss Middleton is also democratic in her fashion choices, going with everything from Top Shop to Issa London in the past few years. Therefore, Yvonne Yorke’s prediction in The Huffington Post stating that little-known designer Sophie Cranston of Libélula was chosen to create the dress is entirely believable. Believable, but a little too much of a dark horse for me to have a lot of confidence in this selection. Also, Miss Yorke’s annoyingly shrill, self-righteous tone on this “scoop”, plus the blatant effort to out this designer (if it is her) when so many are respecting Miss Middleton's privacy and desire for secrecy, makes me dislike the Libélula notion just on principal. I also question why no other news outlet has picked up this rumor as fact.

Libélula’s designs are pretty and yes, modern, but they’re also a bit ho-hum. Perusing the lookbook, I’m having a difficult time imagining any of these soft, floaty confections gracing the nave of Westminster Abbey with any kind of presence. Yet it could happen: The Emanuels were young unknowns when Lady Diana Spencer phoned them with a special commission.

Audrey Hepburn as "The Quality Bride" in 1957's Funny Face. Gown by Edith Head.

Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco, 1956. Gown by Helen Rose.

A lot of people are speculating that Miss Middleton's gown will be very Audrey Hepburn in it's classic, simple style or perhaps reminiscent of Grace Kelly's "ice princess gone frothy" wedding gown designed by Helen Rose in 1956. It's easy to draw comparisons to Hollywood in the case of a royal wedding, but I think these opinions are a bit simplistic, and totally unrelated to Miss Middleton's taste.

Again, I think Miss Middleton will choose a slim, simple style with a lot of movement and none of the poofy stiffness of her predecesors. She will probably be very natural, with her hair loose, and possibly a nod to Queen Victoria with a crown of orange blossoms instead of a tiara. A hint at the romance and luxury of the Tudor era is indeed a possibility, and I think the house of Alexander McQueen will serve the task perfectly.

As I looked through some family pictures this evening I found some of my parents' wedding photos, and remembered why I love the Tudor styles for weddings. My Mom wore something similar when she married my Dad in 1973. The dress was purchased off-the-rack at I.Magnin here in San Francisco. In fact, my Mom claims that the dress was so cheap that the veil cost more just to have the lace matched. They will be married 38 years next month.

Film: Dance Dress Made in Heaven

When you're home for a quiet Saturday night it's always nice to find a great old movie on the telly. Last night, KQED (our local public television station) aired two gems from the 1930s which made my eyes pop with delight. The first was 42nd Street - an adorable "understudy fills in for the lead and saves the show" story, with some fantastic numbers from Busby Berkeley. The Depression-era fantasy continued immediately afterward with a life-long favorite of mine & my sister's: Top Hat.

I remember watching this movie as a kid and being entranced by the dancing and the beauty. Also, I remember my sister's tap class did a routine to "Top Hat", so the song was something she'd sing all the time. It wasn't until I was much older that I realized how silly and transporting it is as a film. The sets are opulent, the plot is so breezy as to be non-existent, and the witty and racy dialogue is only memorable for about three scenes. Of course the comic stylings of the ensemble cast - a group that frequently joined forces for more RKO musicals - is light and enjoyable. In other words, it's the perfect bit of fantasy and humor for the down-trodden world of 1935.

Then, there's the dress. One of the most iconic dresses in all of film, the maribou-feather dress for the "Cheek to Cheek" dance sequence is a pure delight. A nice layer to the plotline concerns Beddini, a comic stereotype of an Italian dress designer, who creates the clothes for Ginger Rogers' character. So Beddini is to have designed the dress, but in fact Ginger Rogers designed it herself and it was created by RKO costumer Bernard Newman. The dress looks white, but it's actually pale blue "Monet blue" as was requested by Ms. Rogers.

When I re-watched the scene the other night, I was struck by the effortless elegance of the dance. Everything flows. The movement is graceful, light, and dramatic all at once. And the dress moves exactly the same way. The feathers contribute a lightness and movement that serves to enhance the grace of the dance. It's diaphanous and fluid at the same time - like she's dancing inside of a waterfall.

The back story was quite a bit more complicated, including over 60 takes, a stubborn Ms. Rogers, and feathers all over everything. In fact, the dress was the one thing that made the filming difficult, and Ms. Rogers' refusal to change wardrobe earned her the nickname "Feathers". In fact, the dress kept shedding so many feathers (which you can even see in the film) that there was danger of the whole thing falling apart. In the end though, it (and the scene) are the most memorable parts of the film and the dress now resides in the Smithsonian.

The complete story is summed up well in this article from the LA Times, which you should definitely check out. But in the meantime, here's the scene so you can see why this dress is so amazing. It's another great story about the creative process, working through problems to create something memorable (even if it's just a dance sequence), and how one dress can make magic happen!

TV: Rachel Zoe Gets Me Party-Ready

The real Rachel ZoeThe scene: My room, fifteen minutes before I'm due to leave for a party... the chant “Ihavenothingtowear” is repeating in my head. I take the latest unsatisfying option to the mirror...

“No. No no no.” The voice is deep, throaty, and no-nonsense. I spin around in terror to see blonde curls, gigantic sunglasses, a venti cup of Starbucks, and a Birkin bag - all being held up by a pile of fur.

“Ohmigod, Rachel Zoe?”

“Hi baby.”

“What are you doing here?”

“Obv – I’m here to get you dressed.”

“Ugh. At this point I think I’m wearing this.”

“No, you’re not wearing that. That’s jeans and a t-shirt.”

“Yeah, but it’s a Marc Jacobs t-shirt.”

“I know baby, but you can’t wear it to a party. It’s the holidays, it’s festive, it’s sparkle-time. You NEED to be in full regalia. Let’s do an edit...It’ll be fast and painless. What do we have on the racks?”

“I have nothing.”

“Not true. What’s this blue knit dress?” I try on the dress in the bathroom. “Come on out baby, I want to see you.”

“It’s okay. I usually put on my black Vuitton boots with it.”

“I gasp. Very sexy, but I think that’s more for date-night.”

“I agree, I’m not feeling it tonight.”

“Let me get in there and look. I’ll see it and I’ll want it, and I’ll want you to try it.” Rachel dives into my closet. All I can see is her perfectly bouncy blonde curls. How does she see in there with those glasses on?

“HUUUUUUUUH! I diiiiiiiieeee! Where did you get this vintage Pucci from 1968?”

“Um. How did you know the year?”

“Ohmigod. It’s signed. It’s a vintage Pucci shirtdress – and look at those sleeves! I gasp for air. That. Is. Bananas.”

“I think I bought it online years ago. I’m so afraid to wear it – it’s really fragile.”

DKNY Fall 2008“Oh. Ohmigod I die. Okay, too fragile. Let me look....What about this one?” Rachel pulls out my new DKNY dress – short, strapless, with an empire waist, and a cute full skirt in bronze brocade.

“I love that one! It’s a little dressy though, don’t you think?”

“This is the hero dress. I love the little bow-belt at the empire line, and the fabric is so cool: metallic, but sophisticated. I’ll accessorize you for the perfect look. How have you been wearing it?”

“I wore it once with my grandmother’s fox fur stole around my neck, and a high pony tail.”

“Vintage fur? I die.”

“But that’s too much – I’m just going to a house party.”

“Okay, we’ll do the strapless dress with a crisp black tee underneath. The black will balance the metallic brocade, but it will be perfectly dressed-down for a house party. I want you to do a really deep part at your bangs and pouf up your hair in the back – very 1960s, and lots of black eyeliner. Now what shoes?”

“I have these huge black patent oxfords that are pretty awesome, oh, and black tights.”

“Huuuuuuhhh! I gasp for air. Those. Are. Bananas.” I smile. Rachel thinks my shoes are bananas. “And those tights are great - really opaque - whose are those?"

"I just found them - their my new favorite thing, from Ellen Tracy. I think they were at Bloomingdale's..."

"Okay, jewelry. What about that ring from Marc by Marc Jacobs.”

“That’s what I was thinking too – it’s really big and fun.”

“And the perfect touch of sparkle to be festive. Now let me look at you... I gasp. You’re so confident in it too, I can tell how comfortable you are. Donna will be so proud.”

“Wow, I’m dressed! I can’t believe it! Thank you!”

“Ohmigod, you’re shutting it down.” Rachel picks up her Birkin bag and her venti and starts to head for the door.

“Thank you Rachel!”

“Alright baby, give me a kiss... I’m gonna go shop like a lunatic.”

*****************

For the record, no, Rachel Zoe did not *appear* in my room to help me get dressed. This post is a work of complete fiction. That being said, I do hear Rachel Zoe's voice in my head as I get dressed sometimes..."