Design House: House of Lanvin (French, founded 1889)

Designer: Jeanne Lanvin (French, 1867–1946)

Date: 1939

Culture: French

Medium: silk, spangles

Credit Line: Gift of Mrs. Harrison Williams, Lady Mendl, and Mrs. Ector Munn, 1946

Accession Number: C.I.46.4.18a, b


This gown is part of a collection assembled and brought to New York by Mrs. Ector Munn and Mrs. Harrison Williams who, among others, chaired the American branch of the WWII French war charity, "Le Colis de Trianon-Versailles." In 1940, with the support of Lady Mendl and the Duchess of Windsor, they organized an exhibition, "Paris Openings," to raise money. The exhibition, which was held at the John Wanamaker Auditorium in New York, featured evening dresses of the women of society and were chosen either for their "hallowed memory," or if they had been worn on some "Great Occasion." They all revealed the supreme and unsurpassed craftsmanship of the couture métier in the five years leading up to World War II.

This "Cyclone" evening dress by Jeanne Lanvin was worn by her daughter the Comtesse Jean de Polignac. According to Bettina Ballard, she was a "soft beauty" who belonged more to the intimacy of the private salon than to public places of entertainment. This spectacular creation of Lanvin's was featured in the 2002–2003 exhibition "Blithe Spirit: The Windsor Set," and had not been shown in New York since its debut in 1940.