Evening Dress Ensemble

1950 (designed)
Evening Dress Ensemble thumbnail 1
Evening Dress Ensemble thumbnail 2
Not currently on display at the V&A

Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

Lady Alexandra Howard-Johnston (1907-97) was the wife of the Naval Attaché to Paris at the end of the 1940s. She required an extensive wardrobe for the many formal dinners and state functions that she had to attend.

Lady Alexandra dressed exclusively at the house of Jacques Fath (1912-54), and commissioned this dress from him in 1950. In 1971, when she donated many of her Fath dresses and hats to the V&A, she told Cecil Beaton: 'I can date the grey dress and the white taffeta evening dress exactly because I had them when I was expecting my youngest child. He is now exactly 21. The dresses were not altered in any way except that they could be let out. Afterwards (my son was born at the end of Sept 1950) they were altered by Fath to fit my normal size'.

Couture garments were expected to last many years due to the quality of their materials and their skilled construction. Part of the service provided by the couturier for his client was a personalised alteration and repair service. It was common for couture clients to take suits back to be relined after years of wear, or to have hems taken up with changing fashions.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Parts
This object consists of 4 parts.

  • Belt
  • Evening Dress
  • Hat
  • Collar
Materials and Techniques
Chine silk taffeta; hat of plaited nylon
Brief Description
Full-length sleeveless dress of cream silk taffeta with black chine spots; hat of cream plaited nylon 'straw'
Physical Description
Evening dress in cream and black spotted taffeta.

Dress in full-length, and sleeveless. It has a large lapel collar, which has a deep pleated ruffle of black and cream chiffon, the dress fastens on the front left hand side with self-covered buttons, hidden in folds of the skirt. The skirt has a double layer at the front; with the top layer folded and stitched at the waist. There is a pocket under right top layer of skirt.

Stitched to front left of collar is a pink velvet rose with black nylon leaves (removed from T.177&A-1974 by Lady Trevor-Roper).



Woven label, navy on white.



T.174A-1974. Belt: narrow matching belt with rectangular buckle, round at edges.



T.174B-1974. Hat: in cream plaited nylon ‘straw’. It has a small square crown, with a narrow brim at back, widening out at sides and front. It has a large petersham bow on the right of the crown. The hat is incorrectly numbered and should match outfit T.176-1974.



Woven label, black on white.
Dimensions
  • Evening dress & belt weight: .94kg
Production typeHaute couture
Marks and Inscriptions
  • Jacques Fath, Paris (Label on dress, machine woven navy on white)
  • Jacques Fath, Paris (Label on hat, machine woven black on white)
Gallery Label
LADY ALEXANDRA: A COUTURE CLIENT [case panel] Lady Alexandra Howard-Johnston (later Lady Dacre) was the wife of the Naval Attaché to Paris. She required an extensive wardrobe for the many formal dinners and state functions that she had to attend. A couture client would attend all the fashion collections, seated in the front row if she were especially important. After the show, she would place her orders with her personal vendeuse or saleswoman. A calico toile would be created, then the final garment, a process involving numerous time-consuming fittings. Lady Alexandra dressed exclusively at Jacques Fath. The designer lent her evening and day dresses each season, aware of the publicity that this would give his house. ‘If there was a Fath dress I wanted to keep, I could pay sale price at the end of the season. I was not allowed to go to any other couturier, but I did not want to – Fath was perfection.’ [150 words] [object label] Evening dress and hat Jacques Fath (1912-54) Paris 1950 In 1971 Lady Alexandra wrote to Cecil Beaton, 'I can date the grey dress and the white taffeta evening dress exactly because I had them when I was expecting my youngest child - he is now exactly 21 - the dresses were not altered in any way except that they could be let out. Afterwards, they were altered by Fath to fit my normal size'. [63 words] Dress: watered silk taffeta with chiné spots Hat: plaited nylon straw, with large petersham bow Given by Lady Dacre V&A: T.174&A, B-1974 Day dress Jacques Fath (1912-54) Paris 1949 This dress is secured by a set of intricate fastenings. The swag (stiffened with net) crosses over on the left front; the skirt opens on the left back side and fastens with a series of hooks. [46 words] Printed cotton Given by Lady Dacre V&A: T.179-1974(22/09/2007)
Credit line
Given by Lady Alexandra Trevor-Roper (later Lady Dacre)
Object history
This dress was made for Lady Alexandra in 1950, and given to the museum as part of the Beaton Collection in 1971. In the Beaton Registered Files (part F/5), Lady Alexandra writes (Nov 13 1971) that Fath altered the dress during her pregnancy and then again after the birth of her son. It is possible that this dress was an an original 'model' dress, as Lady Alexandra was exactly the same size as some of Fath's house models, she would sometimes purchase these original versions to wear, and she writes:

"the dresses were not altered in any way except that they could be let out".



In the same letter, she recalls that the dress was originally adorned with a large silk rose, which she subsequently lost. She writes that she removed a rose from another of her dresses, T.177-1974, and placed it with this dress.



The hat, which was incorrectly numbered as part of this ensemble, was worn with T.176-1974 as per Lady Alexandra's (5 Nov 1971) letter in the Beaton registered papers which contextualises is with the blue white-spot day dress and not this white blue/black-spot evening dress:

"A box of Jacques Fath day dresses - 1. mauve crepe, 2. yellow cotton with sash, 3. blue and white spot foulard, 4. green and black print on white... I have also found verious hats which I am also leaving. The large white Jacques Fath (boat shaped) was the one I wore with the blue and white spot dress. It has become yellow with age but it might be of interest to have the shape copied to show it with the dress."
Historical context
Lady Trevor-Roper favoured designs by Jacques Fath for her wardrobe, and contributed the vast proportion of the V&A's Fath collection.



This dress features the pleating and draping style characteristic of Fath's work. He would often design dresses by draping and pinning the fabric directly onto a mannequin.
Subject depicted
Association
Summary
Lady Alexandra Howard-Johnston (1907-97) was the wife of the Naval Attaché to Paris at the end of the 1940s. She required an extensive wardrobe for the many formal dinners and state functions that she had to attend.



Lady Alexandra dressed exclusively at the house of Jacques Fath (1912-54), and commissioned this dress from him in 1950. In 1971, when she donated many of her Fath dresses and hats to the V&A, she told Cecil Beaton: 'I can date the grey dress and the white taffeta evening dress exactly because I had them when I was expecting my youngest child. He is now exactly 21. The dresses were not altered in any way except that they could be let out. Afterwards (my son was born at the end of Sept 1950) they were altered by Fath to fit my normal size'.



Couture garments were expected to last many years due to the quality of their materials and their skilled construction. Part of the service provided by the couturier for his client was a personalised alteration and repair service. It was common for couture clients to take suits back to be relined after years of wear, or to have hems taken up with changing fashions.
Collection
Accession Number
T.174&A-1974

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record createdApril 11, 2005
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