In 2011 hospitality guests at Royal Ascot were treated to a fashion show by Vivienne Westwood.
Westwood created a series of gowns and Stephen Jones the hats, to celebrate the racecourse’s 300-year anniversary. Collectively named the Three Graces, each ensemble represents a different century – 19th, 20th and 21st.
The first gown is in the style of the Victorian era and made from a select silk taffeta named Quality Viola.
The word taffeta is Persian in origin and means ‘twisted woven’ and is a luxurious fabric often used for ball gowns. The fabric has 100 thread counts per square centimetre and is hand dyed with 300 different colours producing an overall grey ombre shading from soft yellow, gold to violet, mauve and black.
Honouring the sewing process of the late 1800s the machine used to create the gown is more than 150 years old and each thread had to be introduced individually by hand in to the machine.
Stephen Jones’ bonnet is made with the same taffeta silk as the dress and is reminiscent of the prim ‘poke’ style worn in Victorian times (called ‘poke’ as the ladies could poke their hair inside the hat). But rather than hide the face with the typical forward-projecting rim, Jones’ rim soars upwards to frame and reveal the face.
The bow tied around the neck is flamboyantly large instead of dainty and demure, and complements Westwood’s gown. The hat’s style also is reminiscent of the jockey’s cap.
The second gown nods to the Edwardian ‘Belle Epoque’ period and was inspired by the black and white Cecil Beaton dress worn by Audrey Hepburn in the 1964 film My Fair Lady.
In the film Eliza Doolittle attended Royal Ascot at the time of ‘Black Ascot’ in 1910 when the ladies wore large black picture hats out of respect for the death of King Edward VII. The Edwardians loved wearing white, cream or ecru as it was a symbol of wealth – it meant that you could afford plenty of maids to clean your soiled hems made dirty from a leisurely stroll on the lawn.
Wider hats were fashionable and became a statement of extravagance with their over-the-top trimmings of large cabbage roses or gerberas, lace, bunches of berries, rosettes and ribbon streamers. And Stephen Jones’ large fascinator with its ears of wheat, bows, plumes and flowers is in keeping with the era and also pays homage to Cecil Beaton’s hat worn by Hepburn in My Fair Lady.
The third creation brings us in to 21st Century glamour. This lipstick-red demi-couture piece is from Westwood’s Gold Label collection. It is hand-sewn with red embroidery on black silk with an all-over flower theme. Sculptural finishes are seen around the neckline and shoulders.
The hat is of hi-tech lacquered straw in the same deep red as the dress. Fashioned in Jones’ signature miniature top hat style and softened with veil netting.
After these soon-to-be-iconic dresses, came Westwood’s Gold Label Spring/Summer 2011 collection proper.
Gold Label SS11 (couture line) titled ‘ The Only One’
Inspiration: “The present collection is an extraction of some past essence, things that occurred to me as I chose fabrics and worked on cuts. Markers of different views of life, from people who saw the world differently from us. Arbitrary things – Tutenkamen, little girls who were exposed on the mountains of Peru, waiting to marry the sun, Matisse, Comedia Dell’Arte, Noh theatre, Ballet.”
Above: Baby blue cotton pillowcase dress with black frame worn with a shredded gold silk bolero.
Above: Charcoal print box dress in crinkle cotton with turquoise and brown towel worn as a stole.
Above: Drunken trousers and blazer in green leopard print stretch vicose. Worn underneath but not shown in the image is a ‘Loyalty to Gaia’ print T-shirt (Gaia theory sees all organisms and their inorganic surroundings to be closely integrated, maintaining the conditions for life on Earth).
Above: Black and white dotted squares suit in Jacquard cotton.
Above: Ivory double breasted blazer with asymmetric skirt in summer wool.
Above: And it wouldn’t be a Westwood collection without a bit of tartan. Ballerina linen floral and silk tartan dress.
Above: Shredded gold knit silk knit top with pink dotted dress in Jacquard cotton.
Above: Silver embroidered mini dress with electric blue silk overlay. You may recognise from the 2011 cover of the Royal Ascot magazine.
Above: Gold embroidered mini dress with overlaying gold silk tutu dress.
Above: Black embroidered mini dress with floral cotton organdie overlay.
Above: Long floral silk taffeta printed dress with twisted bodice and slit.
Above: Long bronze silk taffeta and organza skirt with silver silk Duchess satin bodice.
Above: Long brown silk grosgrain and taffeta corset dress.