Designer: Mainbocher (American, 1890–1976)
Date: ca. 1938
Credit Line: Gift of Mrs. Harrison Williams, Lady Mendl, and Mrs. Ector Munn, 1946
Accession Number: C.I.46.4.1
Cecil Beaton photographed the Duchess of Windsor wearing this dress for British Vogue in 1939. To highlight and complement the eighteenth-century silhouette of the gown, Beaton photographed the duchess seated in a Louis XV chair against a Piranesi backdrop. During the late 1930s, as a reaction against sociopolitical realities, fashion and the decorative arts were heavily influenced by period revivalism.
Cecil Beaton was the Duchess of Windsor's official photographer and played an important role in constructing her public image. The pair first met in 1930, when the duchess was married to Ernest Simpson. Beaton's initial impressions of Wallis Simpson were far from favorable, describing her as "brawny and raw-boned in her sapphire blue velvet." On his next meeting, however, which took place in 1934, he found her appearance much changed: "I liked her immensely. I found her bright and witty, improved in looks, and chic."