A wedding dress is the perfect statement from a woman to her guests and future husband of how she wishes to present herself to the world. It's also the statement of her personal power. As for Kate Middleton, her message was clear. Her clean, understated design, a variation of Grace Kelly's 1950s silhouette, showcased her tiny waist and strong shoulders capable of carrying the weight of her new role as Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge.
As a contrast to her own gown, Kate chose a more fashionable dress for her delightful, coy sister, Pippa, who wore the latest fashion puff cap sleeve, bias cut satin slip dress with the teasingly low cowl draped neckline. Kate began her royal reign with total command of the billions who watched in admiration.
How different was the wedding dress of Princess Diana in all its puffy prettiness, revealing a dreamy young girl of 20 who pinned her hopes and dreams on a future that was not to be.
Diana's fairy tale gown and her early schoolgirl knit dresses were soon abandoned as she grew into an independent woman with immense world power. This power, that would eventually eclipse that of the royal family, was a power she did not have on her wedding day wearing a demure ruffled neckline and an immense skirted crinoline that kept Charles at bay. I wonder what dress Diana would have designed for herself at 29, Kate's age today.
Bianca Jagger never had to worry about a silly thing called power -- she exuded it. As a young unknown, she walked into my Paris boutique and ordered her first custom gown. She proceeded to set London on fire with her top hats, tailored men's jackets, and gold lame turbans. At her 1971 wedding to Mick Jagger, four months pregnant with baby Jade, Bianca wore a white silk crepe men's tuxedo jacket slashed so low her very pregnant bosoms popped out of a tiny lace bra. At the after party, she wore my Marilyn Monroe (Bus Stop) halter neck dress in white silk with large dime size green polka dots and carried a long black cigarette holder, greeting her guests like the Queen of the Cafe Des Arts.
I met Anna Nicole Smith in Neiman Marcus in Houston, shortly after her fame as a Guess jeans model. I worked on her important dresses for the red carpet, the Oscars, and her after-wedding dress to Herbert Marshall in June of 1994. She told me her name was also Vicky and she wanted a happy dress for the party, as she was to be photographed with her husband on a motorcycle. She was 26, he was 89. She wore my white draped mummy dress with beaded décolleté, very short and hiked up to her thighs. Her husband never made it out of the wheelchair.
Without a doubt, the most memorable bridal creation I ever encountered was the gown at the closing of my fashion show at Maxim's in Paris to celebrate the opening of my shop Mia-Vicky in May, 1968.
Elizabeth Taylor, my partner, insisted on designing the wedding ensemble, which she proudly sketched herself. The design was a one piece white sheer nylon jumpsuit covered by Elizabeth's favorite garment, a caftan; this one extra wide in sheer silk tulle, the beautiful fabric of Kate Middleton's soft veil, and encrusted with large white silk couture roses. Elizabeth's hairdresser wove the silk roses into a fascinator hat attached to a floor-length, silk tulle veil.
At this point in her life Elizabeth had designed her own five wedding dresses, each one a statement of that moment of her life. The first, a high-necked ("virginal"), satin ball gown, was classic for her marriage to Nicky Hilton. She wore a modest wool suit with a white organdy collar and cuff ("still respectable") when she married an older Michael Wilding.
At 23, for her third wedding to the exciting Mike Todd, she wore an off-the-shoulder, tight-waisted, bosomy chiffon gown with diamonds everywhere ("in full power"). The marriage to Eddie Fisher was a solemn, dark brown hooded chiffon gown with a monastic feel ("forgive me"). The gown she wore to marry Richard Burton exuded happiness ("at last my equal"). It was a sunny yellow chiffon highlighted by an enormous spray of Lily of the Valley in her hair, a flower she wore to almost all of her marriages and the same signature flower of Kate Middleton 's wedding bouquet, in Pippa's hair and their father's lapel. Lily of the Valley was also Christian Dior's favorite flower and the house of Dior continues its fifties subtle influence today.
Of all the wedding dresses Elizabeth wore, a total of nine bridal creations, the jumpsuit she designed for my show best represented for me the glamour-puss we all grew to love. It expressed her delight in the sexual revolution, the student revolution of 1968, and the liberation of a woman's body.
I have dressed many women (and brides) over the years, and know that the right dress can be magic, giving women the power to express who they are ... and who they want to be. And in the case of Kate Middleton, her strength and simplicity were expressed not only by her dress, but by the beautiful country trees in pots lining the aisle of Westminster Abbey and the glorious message of her brother, "Love each other genuinely" and "Live peaceably with all."
Vicky Tiel began designing clothes forty years ago in Paris and still owns a boutique there. Her couture clothes and perfumes are carried in Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus. In fall 2010 she launched a line of cocktail dresses and special occasion wear carried in fine specialty stores. Her memoir, It's All About The Dress: What I Learned in 40 Years about Men, Women, Sex, and Fashion will be published by St. Martin's Press in August 2011.
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