Why I, too, fell in love with Wallis Simpson

According to Wallis Simpson

“A woman cannot be too rich or too thin.”

She talking about herself, of course. She aimed to become Queen (consort) of the United Kingdom, one of the richest women in the world. And she was very slim and straight – slim hipped and flat chested – almost masculine in her physique.  As we can see in the photograph of her wedding in June 1937 to Edward, now the Duke of Windsor. This gorgeous light blue (Wallis blue, like her eyes) Mainbocher dress and jacket, worn with a halo, has had a little place in my heart ever since I first saw it. Doesn’t she look a bit like (the original) Madonna? He wears a traditional Morning Suit.

Wedding No 3
Wedding No 3

Wrapped round her wrist is a bracelet featuring a set of crucifixes constructed from symbolically chosen gem stones. Each cross, given to her by her doting lover, then husband, commemorating an event in their love life, is engraved on the back. His greatest gift however was to resign the Kingdom in order to marry her. His younger brother (Albert – the current Queen Elizabeth’s father) succeeded him. Her outfit says: “Look what you could have won!” Wallis apparently hoped that her wedding, which no Royalty attended, would outshine the Coronation that had occurred a few weeks earlier.

Coronation of Edward VI
The Coronation of George VI

She and her husband were sympathetic to the Nazis, it seems, and she was an unbearable snob. They were fabulously wealthy and spent money on an extravagant lifestyle  when the population of Britain was still emerging from the war. But. In my opinion she had an unerring ability to dress beautifully, that she shared with her husband. And although she was much more conservative than Coco Chanel and Frido Khalo – dramatic, original dressers who knew what suited them – she had such a great eye for a wonderful outfit, that I would put her up there with the greats. Look at the wide revers on this jacket, the slim, tapered waist and the curved pockets; tailored garments of the most impeccable construction and excellent fit, perfectly accessorised. In this case a fur wrap, pearls and a brooch that looks like a military decoration, a simple but perfect handbag and shoes that show off her slim ankles. Her severe hairstyle and little hat draw our attention to her striking, if not traditionally beautiful, face. He wears double-breasted pinstripe, probably in grey, with heavy padding in the shoulder area. He always gets the length and details just right and in proportion. The overall silhouette is flattering on him – a man of just 5’5″.

Wallis Simpson in suit, fur and hat

Many of her outfits were quite severe and somewhat stark, and her amazing, even gaudy, jewellery was carefully chosen to rival the Crown Jewels.

Although Wallis did suits superbly she also had some sensational evening wear. Again her iconic lobster dress is exquisite and unique. Designed by Elsa Schiaparelli, in collaboration with Salvador Dali,  it shows that Wallis was determined to make a statement. She was willing to showcase the most accomplished designers and painters of her generation, with this cutting edge dress. The highly erotic, reddened crustacean, carefully positioned on the skirt of the dress, is stunning. But it was partly chosen because such a look would be unimaginable and preposterous on the woman who inherited her crown – Queen Elizabeth, (later the Queen Mother). I went to silk painting classes in order to be able to recreate this wonderful textile.

The lobster dress
Schiaparelli /Dali dress

Hubert de Givenchy made the white cotton dress below in 1954, embroidered with woollen monkeys. Worn, as ever, with gorgeous jewellery. How charming, and something perhaps to copy or inspire?

 

5 Responses

  1. What a delicious post. I knew the back story of course but not much about the fashion. I am convinced by your argument! My favourite look might be the light-coloured suit on the left in the bottom row, although the Schiaparelli/Dali concoction is quite something and I like the unexpected peasant blouse in one of the photos. There’s so much inspiration here in the attention to detail. Did you paint your lobster on silk?

    • Thanks Stephanie. I did paint the lobster on silk. I have been looking for the photograph. I made a mistake of using washable resist and painting the black outline on top of it, so it washed out. However it is something I am keen to repeat at some point as it was very beautiful. I like to put references to iconic looks in my clothes that a few people will spot and understand, and others will just think are my own idea!

  2. Your posts are always so interesting Kate! Those monkeys are a very unusual idea for such a formal dress…….. mixing it up can be lots of fun!

  3. Thank you for this very interesting article on Wallis Simpson. I found it fascinating that she actually worked at rivaling the Queen. Even though not very likable, she certainly had an interesting psychology.

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