Saturday, 25 June 2011

Royal Ascot is 300 years old this year!

It’s hard to believe that Royal Ascot is 300 years old! Right from the start in 1711, when Queen Anne declared the area would be ideal for horseracing, it has attracted the fashionistas of society. And to celebrate the Big 300, Vivienne Westwood and Stephen Jones have designed three outfits collectively named the Three Graces. Each ensemble represents a different century- 19th, 20th and 21st.

The first gown is in the style of the Victorian era and made from a select silk taffeta named Quality Viola. The word taffeta is Persian in origin and means ‘twisted woven’ and is a luxurious fabric often used for ball gowns. The fabric has 100 thread counts per square centimetre and is hand dyed with 300 different colours producing an overall grey ombre shading from soft yellow, gold to violet, mauve and black.  Honouring the sewing process of the late 1800s the machine used to create the gown is more than 150 years old and each thread had to be introduced individually by hand in to the machine.
Stephen Jones bonnet is made with the same taffeta silk as the dress and is reminiscent of the prim ‘poke’ style worn in the Victorian times (called poke as the ladies could poke their hair inside the hat). But rather than hide the face with the typical forward projecting rim, Jones’ rim soars upwards to frame and reveal the face. The bow tied around the neck is flamboyantly large instead of dainty and demure, and complements Westwood’s gown. The hat’s style also is reminiscent of the jockey’s cap.

The second gown nods to the Edwardian ‘Belle Epoque’ period and was inspired by the black and white Cecil Beaton dress worn by Audrey Hepburn in the 1964 My Fair Lady movie . In the film Eliza Doolittle attended Royal Ascot at the time of ‘Black Ascot’ in 1910 when the ladies wore large black picture hats out of respect for the death of King Edward VII. The Edwardians loved wearing white, cream or ecru as it was a symbol of wealth- it meant that you could afford plenty of maids to clean your soiled hems made dirty from a leisurely stroll on the lawn. 
Wider hats were fashionable and became a statement of extravagance with their over the top trimmings of large cabbage roses or gerberas, lace, bunches of berries, rosettes and ribbon streamers. And Stephen Jones’ large fascinator with its ears of wheat, bows, plumes and flowers is in keeping with the era and also pays homage to Cecil Beaton’s hat worn by Hepburn in My Fair Lady.

The third creation brings us in to 21st Century glamour. This lipstick red demi-couture piece is from Westwood’s Gold Label collection.  It is hand sewn with red embroidery on black silk with an all over flower theme. Sculptural finishes are seen around the neckline and shoulders.
The hat is of hi-tech lacquered straw in the same deep red as the dress. Fashioned in Jones’ signature miniature top hat style and softened with veil netting.

Throughout the fashion stakes, you can see the style may have changed but the flamboyant look always remains stable. 

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