Dessès's fascination with draping and classical form resulted in gowns of great technical complexity. Although the bodice appears to be soft and unstructured, it is supported by the sewn-in boning common at the time.
Evening dress (robe du soir longue). Jean Dessès (1904-70), Paris about 1953.Chiffon. Worn by Mrs Opal Holt and given by Mrs Haynes and Mrs Clark.
Photograph by Seeberger of evening dress by Jean Dessès. Paris about 1953
This gown featured in French Vogue in October 1948. The magazine promoted both couturier and fabric supplier by name. Bianchini Férier had provided Parisian couturiers with luxurious silks since the late 19th century. The weight and textural qualities of this velvet lend themselves well to the construction and shape of Dessès' draped, bouffant style.
Evening gown. Jean Dessès (1904-70). Paris 1948 autumn/winter. Voided silk velvet by Bianchini Férier. Given by the Hon. Mrs J.J. Astor.
Advertisement for checkerboard patterned velvet and faille by Bianchini Férier
modelled in an evening dress by Dessès. Vogue (French edition) October 1948.
Although this curvaceous suit has the small waist and wide hips typical of the New Look, the square shoulders recall wartime styles. Amies, like many London tailors, created custom garments in close consultation with his client. In this case, she may have resisted a complete 'New Look' change in style.
Suit. Hardy Amies (1909-2003). London 1947. Worsted wool. Given by Mrs Benita Armstrong.
Miss Lachasse was one of a collection of fashion dolls created for a touring exhibition to raise money for the Greater London Fund for the Blind. She was based on Virginia Woodford, the leading model at the Lachasse couture house in Mayfair.
Her wardrobe shows the clothes a typical couture client would possess. It includes lingerie, accessories and jewellery, made specially by exclusive London companies such as Asprey. It also has what is thought to be the smallest pair of nylon stockings ever made.
The Théâtre de la Mode dolls of 1945-6 functioned as ambassadors for French couture in their world-wide tour after the war. Miss Lachasse, with her equally exquisite miniaturisation of fashionable dress, shows London's skills. Miss Lachasse wears top coat by Lachasse (established 1928). London 1954.
Doll: plaster and wood with painted wax head and wig by Steiner. Top coat: by Lachasse in Rankine Hamilton ‘Dream Touch’ tweed. The Fashion Museum, Bath and North East Somerset Council.
Lady Alexandra Howard-Johnston (later Lady Dacre) was the wife of the Naval Attaché to Paris, 1948-50. She required an extensive wardrobe for the many formal dinners and state functions that she had to attend.
Lady Alexandra wore this dress at the official visit of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip to Paris in May 1948. She recalled that when she arrived at the Théâtre de l'Opéra with her husband, the Garde Nationale suddenly sprang to attention. 'I realised they had mistaken us for the Princess and Duke. That was the effect made by my splendid Fath.'
In 1971 Lady Alexandra gave some of her couture clothes to the photographer Cecil Beaton. He was assembling a large collection of fashionable garments to be given to the V&A and displayed in his exhibition Fashion: an Anthology. The V&A has kept Beaton's correspondence with designers, royalty and leading socialites of the day.
Evening dress (robe de gala). Jacques Fath (1912-54). Paris 1948 spring/summer. Silk satin, embroidered by Rébé with sequins and beads. Given by Lady Alexandra Dacre.
Photograph of Lady Alexandra modelling the dress by Jacques Fath worn to the official visit of Princess Elizabeth to Paris in 1948. Private collection.
Roger Vivier started working for Elsa Schiaparelli in the 1930s. He went on to work with many other couturiers and collaborated with Dior when the New Look brought emphasis to the ankle and foot. Vivier created a number of innovative heel shapes for Dior, including the comma heel and the stiletto.
Shoe, Roger Vivier for Christian Dior. Pink satin with bow. Paris late 1950s.
'Zémire' is one of Dior's most historical designs. It was named after an opera by Grétry, first performed at the royal palace of Fontainebleau in 1771. Initially, it was called 'Fontainebleau', but this was crossed out on the chart and replaced by 'Zémire'.
Zémire was a design from Dior's 'Ligne H' collection. The original model in grey silk satin was shown to Princess Margaret at Blenheim Castle in 1954, and it appears in a promotional film and several magazine features. A ready-to-wear version was licensed to Susan Small, a British company that made 'line-for-line' copies for Harrods. It sold for 22 guineas.
This version of Zémire is a private order and would have been very expensive. It was commissioned by Lady Sekers, wife of the British textile manufacturer, and made in an innovative man-made fabric.
The V&A acquired the ensemble in 2006. It had been stored in a cellar by the Seine in Paris and had to be cleaned and repaired before it could be displayed.
Zémire' evening ensemble. Christian Dior (1905-57). Paris, 1954-5 autumn/winter. Cellulose acetate, with the skirt lined with layers of silk and net. Worn by Lady Agota Sekers.
Ready-to-wear copy of 'Zémire'. Susan Small, Silk satin. Vogue (British edition), November 1954
Cristóbal Balenciaga was regarded by many, including Christian Dior, as 'the master'. He moved to Paris from Spain in 1937 and quickly established himself as a dominant figure within Parisian couture. The house produced 356 designs per year - less than half of Dior's production of 815, which was a mark of Balenciaga's exacting standards. He was renowned in the trade for inspecting and resetting sleeves that were not perfect - even after the garment had been shown in a collection or was being worn by a client.
From 1947 onwards Balenciaga offered two styles of suit: the first fitted and in line with the hour-glass shape of Dior’s New Look, the second semi-fitted or loose.
Christian Dior once commented upon seeing a Balenciaga suit, 'Only Balenciaga would be capable of producing such perfection'.
The label of a tailored suit jacket by Cristóbal Balenciaga. Paris, 1954 autumn/winter.
Suit (tailleur) 1. Cristóbal Balenciaga (1895-1972). Paris, 1954 autumn/winter. Tweed lined with silk. Worn by Mrs Opal Holt and given by Mrs Haynes and Mrs Clark.