GLAMOUR & GOWNS Couture by Belinda Bellville and Bellville Sassoon Belinda Bellville An exhibition in the Statue Gallery David Sassoon T his exhibition celebrates the career of Belinda Bellville, society dressmaker and Viscountess Coke’s mother. World renowned for her stylish dress designs and as co-founder, with David Sassoon, of Britain’s foremost couture label Bellville Sassoon, the dresses on display illustrate her career from the 1960s to her retirement from Bellville Sassoon in 1982. Born in Leicestershire, the eldest of three children, Belinda had a traditional upbringing being educated initially by a governess in Wales and then at the girls school “Miss Faunces”. There was no opportunity for design qualifications in the 1930s and 1940s, however Belinda remained determined to design clothes. Belinda Bellville had no formal training, but as a former debutante, she knew the social circles she needed to attract. In 1953 she created the label Bellville et Cie and dressed young women and their fashionable mothers at every ball, party and society event of note. With an eye for style, a flair for colour and a talent for knowing what would suit a client, Belinda Bellville began designing and making dresses for society ladies and debutantes with the view that young women wanted clothes to be beautiful, stylish and of exquisite quality. She wanted to give them something new, something with a sense of the modern times, but still in the couture tradition. Together Belinda and David went on to perfect what she had started. They developed an ever-changing collection of wonderfully glamorous couture dresses, bridal wear and a ready-to-wear collection, as well as a successful licensing relationship with Vogue Patterns. Over the course of 30 years they achieved international success. Famed for dressing some of the world’s most glamorous women as well as royalty, Belinda’s clients included several members of the Coke family, long before her daughter, Polly Whately, met and married Viscount Coke and became Viscountess Coke. David Sassoon turned down a place at RADA to pursue a career in fashion. His father was adamant his son would not follow an acting career and, so instead, he took up a place to study fashion at Hammersmith School of Art. As the only boy on the course, he attended extra sewing classes at the trade school next door, in order to learn the tradition of dressmaking. This was followed by a Masters degree at the Royal College of Art and it was here Belinda met him in 1958. David became a partner in 1970 and the business name changed to Bellville Sassoon. GLAMOUR & GOWNS The Journey from Bellville et Cie to Bellville Sassoon In 1952 Belinda Bellville, aged 22 years, married David Whately. By 1957 she was working very hard to meet demand and now they offered a millinery service and sold fur hats and coats. After a variety of jobs including fashion journalism, assistant to a fashion photographer and in a clothes shop on Bond Street, Belinda decided what she really wanted to do was make dresses; to create designer clothing in a younger style. So in 1953, she started Bellville et Cie. Then in 1958, pregnant with her second child Victoria, Belinda decided she needed some assistance. She met David Sassoon at the Royal College of Art. David brought experience of pattern cutting, as well as expert technical know-how in the creation of women’s clothing. Her first sales space, in partnership with Sydna Scott, was located in Kinnerton Street, Knightsbridge. "The space was so small, it had an outside loo and I used to visit the neighbouring pub to design and sketch the dresses." Prior to her first collection, she went to Paris. "I went to a Balenciaga show, a Dior show; I met Molyneux and looked at his collection of Taken at Belinda's first show in 1954, this photograph shows a group of teenage girls in the front row paying close attention; this was the very audience Belinda was hoping to pictures. I had a drink with attract, soon many of them would be wearing her dresses. Hemingway in the Ritz Hotel, and above all I watched everyone and looked at everything." Boutique, their ready-to-wear collection was launched in 1963 and they were invited to join 'The Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers', a group established by the likes of Hardy Amies and Norman Hartnell. They declined, keen to maintain their independence and forward thinking reputation. In 1965 Vogue Patterns invited Bellville et Cie to join their pattern books. And in 1967, Belinda had her third daughter, Polly. The 1960s and 1970s saw a whole host of glamorous women wear their clothes, including many members of the royal family, Jackie Belinda outside her shop on Cadogan Lane at the start of the 1960s, a very busy and exciting period for Bellville et Cie. Kennedy, Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, and Catherine Deneuve. By the end of the decade, a survey in Tatler showed that Bellville et Cie had made more society wedding dresses over the past 30 years than any other couture house. Back in London in 1954 she held her first show at her grandmother, Cuckoo Leith’s house in Manchester Square, she used her friends as models and photographs of the show appeared in Illustrated magazine. David was made partner in 1970 and the name was changed to Bellville Sassoon, they now had a staff of over 100. The business continued to prosper through the 1970s. To give an initial cash injection to the business, Belinda sold the old Citroën her brother had given her as a wedding present. This cash kept the business going whilst word spread and orders began to flood in. Belinda with daughters, Sophie and Victoria, 1959. In 1955 Belinda became a mother for the first time, to daughter Sophie. This photograph taken in 1956 by Belinda shows her talent for form and shape beautifully. In 1982 Belinda retired to focus on family life. She continued working as consultant for a further five years and worked closely with David whilst the business moved into another era. Audrey Hepburn with her co-star Albert Finney, wearing Bellville in ‘Two for the Road’ 1967. Evening Wear Bellville et Cie, and then Bellville Sassoon, were the dressmakers of choice for society ladies. Worn by debutantes, models, aristocrats and royals, their collections of evening wear were snapped up by anyone who was anyone. Belinda Bellville’s first collection was shown in her grandmother’s drawing room in Manchester Square, London W1, where the guests arrived in Rolls Royce and Bentley cars, society girls modelled the clothes and photographs appeared in Illustrated magazine. In 1960 the Daily Mail said, “titled ladies applaud the titled model. Two hundred women crowd into an elegant drawing room in Belgravia to see eighteen year old Lady Beatty and five other models show off the latest creations of Belinda Bellville. The Duchess of Westminster, Lady Derby, Lady Rupert Nevill, Lady Oppenheim and Lady Ebury were squeezed onto little gilt chairs. The less fortunate had to strain to see from the corridor outside”. The Dresses on Display 1 Owned by Lady Glenconner, Bellville et Cie, 1965. Pale blue organza over silk, broderie anglaise with satin ribbon. Worn to a ball hosted by the Duke of Rutland at Belvoir Castle, and many London society dances. 2 Owned by Lady Glenconner, Bellville et Cie, 1963. Pearls and diamanté on pale blue chiffon with beaded fringe. Worn to ‘The Party of the Year’, the coming out ball of Alexandra Phillips, as featured by Beryl Hartland in The Daily Telegraph. 3 Owned by Lady Coke, Belinda Bellville Boutique, 1965. Pink silk with frosted organza, crystal and pearl embellished bolero jacket. Given to Viscountess Coke on her 40th birthday by Holkham Hall staff, purchased on eBay. The Royal Connection Bellville’s royal connection began in 1960 with the design of a bridesmaids dress for Princess Anne, worn at the wedding of Lord Mountbatten’s daughter, Lady Pamela to David Hicks, the interior designer. In the same year, Princess Alexandra commissioned her first dress, pictured right. Belinda worked closely with the princess and they struck up a great friendship sharing a similar sense of humour and a love of elegant fashions, wonderful fabrics and colour. Princess Margaret was seen regularly in Bellville Sassoon. On a royal tour of America she and the Earl of Snowdon were photographed everywhere they went, her outfits were the subject of constant scrutiny and Women’s Wear Daily, who gave outfits a mark out of 5, awarded the Bellville Sassoon outfits 5 out of 5! In 1981 Bellville Sassoon created the outfit that Lady Diana Spencer wore on the announcement of her engagement to Prince Charles, and her Princess Margaret, first official appearance photographed for the cover with the Queen. They of LIFE magazine created her wedding dancing with President Johnson trousseau, as well as in 1965. her going away outfit. Between 1981 and 1993 Bellville Sassoon created more than seventy outfits for Diana, Princess of Wales. The sketch for the dress that Princess Margaret wore to the White House with a sample of the material attached. Between 1960 and 1982 Bellville et Cie, and then Bellville Sassoon, dressed all female members of the royal family with the exception of the Queen. Princess Alexandra in polka dot. The Dresses on Display 1 2 Owned by Lady Glenconner, Bellville Sassoon, 1974. Navy blue lace and organza. Worn on a royal tour to Canada, whilst lady-in-waiting to Princess Margaret. Owned by Valeria, Viscountess Coke, Bellville Sassoon, 1981. Sea green silk taffeta. Worn to the royal ball in celebration of Prince Charles and Lady Diana’s wedding. . 3 Owned by Lady Glenconner, Bellville Sassoon, 1975. Green silk faille. Worn on a royal tour to Australia, whilst lady-in-waiting to Princess Margaret. Bellville Brides Debutantes inevitably became brides and Bellville Sassoon dressed more society brides than any other British couturier. By 1962 wedding dresses accounted for 25 percent of the business and space was given over to a dedicated bridal workroom. As well as a ready-to-wear collection for London’s most stylish department store, Woollands in Knightsbridge, they designed an exclusive collection for Bergdorf Goodman New York and continued to design and make couture wedding dresses for private clients around the world. “Intensely romantic, elegant and feminine,” is how Bellville brides were described. Belinda herself explained “We love doing brides. It’s the only time you can be completely impractical.” Famous brides included fashion editor at Harpers Bazaar, Lady Philippa Wallop, actress Anna Massey, Candida Betjeman, daughter of poet John Betjeman, as well as Lady Carey Basset, daughter of the 5th Earl of Leicester. In 1963 the Sunday Times reported that Bellville et Cie had just finished their eightieth wedding dress of the season, with twenty more to finish by October. The Dresses on Display A Bellville Bride: Lady Sarah Curzon, married Piers Courage 1966. Bellville dressed more society brides than any other British couturier of the time. Belinda created wedding dresses for all three of her daughters. “A dress like a Sargent portrait” was the request Sophie Whately made to her mother, resulting in a dress fashioned from over 50 metres of the finest ivory parachute silk. 1 Left: Worn by Polly Whately to the evening reception of her wedding to Viscount Coke. Silk satin with hand embroidered bolero, 1996. A long-sleeved bolero trimmed with ostrich feathers was worn for the wedding ceremony. 2 Right: Worn by Sophie Whately at her wedding to Jonathan Coltman-Rogers. Parachute silk on taffeta, embroidered roses made of silk and rose pearls, 1982. Bridal gown under construction in the studio. The 1960s Fashion and style were changing rapidly, London was the place to be. It was a time of creativity, optimism and change. Audrey Hepburn, Dusty Springfield, Jean Shrimpton and Britt Ekland all wore Bellville designs. The Dresses on Display Lady Beatty models a similar version to the dress on display, 1960. 1 Camilla Bellville being fitted for a dress by her sister, Belinda Bellville. 1 2 3 Owned by Mrs James West (née Camilla Bellville), Bellville et Cie, 1960. Owned by Viscountess Coke, Bellville et Cie, 1968. Bright pink raw silk skirt, silk from Abrahams, with hand beaded lace top. Green silk and taffeta with cream ruffles. Owned by Mrs James West (née Camilla Bellville), Bellville Sassoon, 1968. Worn to Henry Pembroke’s 21st birthday party, “it was a very grand ball and I had my hair put up and tiara put on in London. I went straight to the ball and then had to fly back to Germany that night to be with my husband. I couldn’t get the tiara off, so I put a silk scarf over the whole outfit and flew back with the tiara still on!” Inspired by the Toulouse Lautrec model, La Goulue, image above left, the original design for this dress had ruffles up to the bust line, image above right. A more modest version, as shown here, was requested by a royal client. Blue pure silk gazaar with laced bodice and appliqué. Camilla Bellville, Belinda's younger sister adored clothes and helped her sister by modelling in her shows and for fittings on many occasions. She loved wearing her sister's creations to balls and parties, including the Chatsworth Ball. The 1970s Fabulous prints, hand painted fabrics, exotic colours and the caftan were signs of the 1970s. Actresses Ava Gardner and Elizabeth Taylor were just two of the many glamorous women seen in Bellville Sassoon. The Dresses on Display Drawing of ethnic inspired caftan in a Bernard Nevill Liberty print with tasselled bell sleeves and hood, worn over a tunic and matching knickerbockers for Elizabeth Taylor’s 1972 film, Zee and Company. Hand painted white wool crepe coat, bordered with flowers from a Persian miniature and matching hand painted canvas boots by Andrew Whittle and Richard Crawley, Vogue, 1970. Photograph: Barry Lategan/Vogue, The Condé Nast Publications Ltd. 1 Owned by Mrs James West (née Camilla Bellville), Bellville et Cie, 1970. Black silk satin tulip shaped cocktail dress with bolero. Worn to a variety of cocktail parties and formal dinners. 2 Owned by Lady Glenconner, Bellville et Cie, 1972. Silk organza sari with hand embroidery. Shown with silk cape. “I wore this to many parties, balls and dinners; it was one of my favourite most useful dresses, and wonderful to wear. Belinda was always so imaginative, if I had a fabric I loved, I could take it to her and she would come up with something beautiful.” 3 Owned by Mrs James West (née Camilla Bellville), Bellville Sassoon, 1975. Halter neck dress and jacket in pink giverine from Abrahams. Worn to a variety of cocktail parties and formal dinners. The late 1970s to 1980s The Dresses on Display 1 2 3 Owned by Viscountess Coke, Bellville Sassoon, 1987. Flamenco style dress in silk taffeta and printed silk organza. Worn by Viscountess Coke in the 1980s, the flamenco style reflects her love of Spanish, which she studied at University, and flamenco dancing, which she also studied whilst travelling in Argentina. Owned by Viscountess Coke, Bellville Sassoon, 1985. Red and cream silk organza with poppy print. Included in the V&A’s dress collection, featuring a print by the world renowned fabric design company Ascher. Owned by Lady Glenconner, Bellville Sassoon, 1978. Printed silk chiffon and taffeta. Worn whilst on a state visit, as Princess Margaret’s lady-in-waiting, to Tuvalu and to Manila where she met Imelda Marcos. Belinda Bellville’s eldest daughter, Sophie, designed the flower print on this dress whilst at Chelsea College of Art. The late 1980s to 1990s Belinda Bellville retired from Bellville Sassoon in 1982, however she worked as a consultant for a further five years. Every designer dreams of a magazine cover and to make it onto the cover of Vogue is the pinnacle. a nd neckline, cape d te a le p l ta e p er April 1977. Undulating flow , e u g o V za n a rg o dress in white 1 Supermodel Cindy Crawford in lemon taffeta bow-bodice dress, Vogue, February 1987. An earlier incarn ation of the ple ated neckline, Harpers & Que en, May 1971. The Dresses on Display Owned by Viscountess Coke, Bellville Sassoon, 1980. Pink silk paper taffeta with bustle trim, ruched bodice and draped skirt. A Bellville cocktail dress similar to this is featured on the cover of Vogue, illustrated above, middle image. 2 3 Owned by Viscountess Coke, Bellville Sassoon, 1980. Candy stripe silk paper taffeta, strapless with puff ball skirt. Created for Belinda Bellville’s daughter to wear to a variety of parties and balls, including the Feathers Ball, a society ball which raised money for youth work in London. Owned by Belinda Bellville, 1996. Silk sari evening dress. “Worn on the evening of my daughter’s wedding, made up from a sari given to me by my grandmother, Cuckoo Leith. I’ve always loved working with saris, the colours, the embroidery, wonderful!” Vogue Patterns Set up in 1905, Vogue Patterns focused on the glamour of Hollywood life and stylish dressing. In 1947 when they announced the introduction of original patterns by leading Parisian couturiers to their collection, the paper pattern industry was revolutionised, heralding the start of a lucrative licensing opportunity for those fashion houses fortunate enough to be selected to be shown on their pages. In 1965 Belinda and David had just launched their ready-to-wear collection and were approached by Vogue Patterns who were interested in purchasing a number of designs. In 1960s Britain, dressmaking was a popular hobby and a lifeline for young women who were desperate to replicate the fashion of the day. Bellville Sassoon couture was now available to the home dressmaker and gave the company a reliable income which has continued for more than 40 years. Each season the Vogue Patterns team came to the studio and selected dresses from the latest collection, they knew exactly which designs they were looking for and what would appeal to their customers. They would purchase copies of the original samples, toiles (a mock up of the garment) and the paper patterns. The pattern would then be photographed and distributed to a worldwide audience. Today Bellville Sassoon remains the only British designer on the books at Vogue Patterns and Belinda Bellville patterns can be purchased via many vintage pattern sites online, offering today’s increasing number of dressmakers the opportunity to reproduce these fashions once again. The Dress on Display Owned by Lady Carey Basset, Bellville Sassoon. 1960s. Bellville Sassoon joined the big names in fashion including Dior, Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent, and Versace on the pages of Vogue Patterns. Yellow jersey, pin tucked dress, pattern was available from Vogue Patterns. Belinda Bellville in her studio.
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