The Glamour of Bellville Sassoon: an enchanting historical narrative of British haute couture

The Fashion and Textile Museum in London is celebrating its 10th anniversary with a major retrospective of the work of British high-society and haute couture label Bellville Sassoon. Curated by Dennis Northdruft, the exhibition ‘The Glamour of Bellville Sassoon‘ includes a selection of over 150 dresses, materials, drawings and personal mementos from the 1950s to the present day that illustrate the craft and international reputation of the illustrious label.

Belinda Bellville founded her eponymous fashion company in 1953 and was joined by David Sassoon in 1958. In 1970, the label changed its name to Bellville Sassoon and even though Belinda retired in 1981, the brand remained popular for decades. The company expanded further after designer Lorcan Mullany joined in 1987 and developed the ready-to-wear business as well as a long-standing licence with Vogue patterns that has enabled thousands of women to create their own Bellville Sassoon designs at home.

Bellville Sassoon secured an esteemed reputation amongst Jewish women (mainly owing to Sassoon’s Jewish roots) and became known as the label that dressed glamorous debutants and celebrities (including Jackie Kennedy, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Jerry Hall, Anita Baker, Melanie Griffith, Helen Mirren, Ivana Trump and Madonna) and for having their designs featured on numerous covers of magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s. In addition, Bellville Sassoon garnered a dedicated following amongst members of the British royal family such as Princess Margaret, Princess Anne, Princess Michael of Kent, the Duchess of York and Diana, Princess of Wales (for whom the company created over 70 designs). Attesting to the close relationship established between the designers and such notable clients, the first room of the exhibition (titled ‘Royal Designs’) includes not only gowns worn on public occasions by British royals between but also the drawings of the dresses, fabric studies and original thank-you notes kept over the decades by David Sassoon.

On display are also gowns designed by Bellville Sasson for the Proust Ball, hosted by the Rothschilds in Paris to celebrate the 100th birthday of writer Marcel Proust, for the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala in New York and for singer Elton John’s annual charity ball in the UK that inspired the design of the exhibition as a ballroom decked with ornate chandeliers. For the stunningly detailed gowns on display, ‘The Glamour of Bellville Sassoon’ is an exhibition that I do not hesitate to recommend; as an outstanding record of British glamour and couture over the past six decades, it is most certainly an accomplished display not to be missed.

The Glamour of Bellville Sassoon‘ is on until 11 January 2014 at the Fashion and Textile Museum at 83 Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3XF. The exhibition is accompanied by a book and by a series of talks and workshops.