Meet Our New Columnist: Contessa Logan Bentley Lessona
Here is her first article:
|Photo: People Magazine/Getty|
I was curious as anybody about Kate Middleton's THE DRESS and thought that however conceived, it was a job well done. As I looked at more and more photographs of the dress I began to believe I understood what made the dress so distinctive – although very chaste (despite the low V-cut neckline there was no cleavage shown) the bodice seemed to be very form-fitting. Back when I covered the Milan fashion shows regularly I saw the McQueen show several times but it was a long time ago and I really don’t remember much. But I have read about him and how he had a great deal of technical talent.
I also remember my mother telling me many years ago that the most distinctive thing about a French couture dress was that you could step into the dress naked and it would give you a perfect figure. (This was in the days when women wore girdles, merry widows for their waistlines, and very structured pointy bras. I’m not sure but I think it was Rudi Gernreich who introduced the no-bra bra which was all fabric but no structure, and certainly not push-up) The interior of the couture dress was just as carefully constructed as the exterior.
So, after looking carefully at the photos of THE DRESS on the web it appeared to me that the bodice of the dress was constructed so as to mold to (and possibly uplift slightly?) the breasts so that they were very evident, contributing a sexy look to the dress while the overall impression remained chaste. And then I thought about bust darts, of which I can see many examples in clothes that belonged to my mother which I keep in the closets of my guest rooms upstairs.
I’m pretty sure that most women’s dresses and blouses and jackets in the late thirties, forties, and fifties had darts at the bust line. I am wondering if the darts began to disappear around the end of the fifties when the “sack” dress became popular. I think it might have been Balenciaga who first showed such a dress. And when Emilio Pucci began to be famous in the early sixties he let the woman who wore his finely-knit silk printed dresses give her form to the dress and they certainly didn’t have darts. I have some upstairs. In fact, Pucci is so well known for his bright colored prints, but I think he had even more influence in getting women to get rid of their girdles and shape the dress themselves.
So I would love to ask some fashion historians (FIT? Central St. Martins?) when and why the dart disappeared. And do any designers today use them? Do they know anything more specific about the construction of THE DRESS? (McQueen was often cited for his technical expertise) I also noticed the skirt, which appears to have been cut on the bias to allow fullness. But instead of gathers its flat pleats rather rendered a more streamlined effect. Years ago when Gian Franco Ferre (an architect) did his first couture collection shown in Rome there were beautiful ball gowns that had huge (but soft) skirts. If I remember correctly, he told me that he used layers of tulle underneath to give them volume. His cousin, Rita Airaghi, would definitely remember. I believe it was those dresses that convinced Dior to hire him for their couture line, as Dior had always been famous for their ball gowns.
Of course I could be completely off-base about my theories, and I would like to hear from others who might be more knowledgable.
I think the next time the best-dressed list comes out in Vanity Fair I should write an homage to Eleanor Lambert. It’s a shame that people don’t more remember and credit those who helped them on their way up. The other day I happened to come across some sketches I made when Gucci first started offering clothes in their shops, designed by Paolo Gucci. I was their first publicist, beginning in September 1968 and suggested that they make dresses from the necktie prints and the scarf prints. I persuaded Aldo Gucci to give me some printed fabrics and took them to my dressmaker. She made four evening dresses from my sketches (with scarves of the "flora" and seascapes prints) and two day dresses (with necktie fabric).
They were shown at a charity event held the following year at the Waldorf Astoria. I wore one dress myself (I still have it) and hired four models (each at $80 an hour) including Suzy Chafee and Dorothea McGowan from Eileen Ford's agency to spend two hours walking around the ballroom wearing the dresses. Gucci bought a table and I invited Nancy White, then editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar, to come as our guest. When I suggested that Aldo Gucci hire me to do PR he was not aware of the concept of getting free space in the newspapers. I promised him that in the space of a year I would convince Eugenia Shepard to write about Gucci every time she came to Rome for the Haute Couture fashion shows. And she did!
- Logan Bentley Lessona