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At a 1968 British society wedding in Kent, Hollywood legend Elizabeth Taylor snaps a souvenir picture of the Queen Mum (seated), mother of Queen Elizabeth II. The Queen Mum

At a 1968 British society wedding in Kent, Hollywood legend Elizabeth Taylor cannot resist snapping a souvenir picture of "the Queen Mum" (seated), mother of Queen Elizabeth II.

“The Queen Mum,” born Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (1900-2002), was the beloved British Royal Family matriarch from 1953 until her death at age 101. Of Scottish birth, she served as Queen consort to her husband King George VI from 1936 until his death in 1952, when their daughter Princess Elizabeth took the throne as Elizabeth II.

During the London Blitz in WWII, the Queen Mum – who was then naturally referred to as Queen Elizabeth – insisted that she and the King remain in Buckingham Palace after it was bombed by the German luftwaffe. The Queen remarked to her mother-in-law that she was more affected by the bombing of the East End of London than by the bombing of the Palace:

“I’m glad we have been bombed,” she said. “Now, I can look the East End in the eye.” (1)

British King George VI and his wife Queen Elizabeth (later Elizabeth, the Queen Mother) survey the damage to Buckingham Palace from German bombs. Both the King and Queen were in the Palace when the attack hit the palace grounds and chapel on the morning of September 13, 1940. As they made their way to the palace shelter, they felt the Palace shake under the assault of high explosive and incendiary bombs. They were unhurt. Undeterred by the danger, the royal couple vowed to stay in London in the Palace.

I am still just as frightened of bombs as I was at the beginning,” the Queen wrote to a favourite niece. “I turn bright red and my heart hammers….I’m a beastly coward but I do believe that a lot people are, so I don’t mind! Well, darling, I must stop. Tinkety tonk old fruit and down with the Nazis.”(2)

Her indomitable spirit in the face of German aggression boosted British morale to such a degree that Adolf Hitler called her “the most dangerous woman in Europe.”

Her scary skinny sister-in-law, Wallis, the Duchess of Windsor, hated and mocked her, calling her by the unflattering nickname “Cookie” behind her back, mocking her love of sweets and resulting plumpness. The Queen Mum, however, did not hide her love of fun, jokes, champagne, and good food. In the 2010 movie, “The King’s Speech,” the Queen Mum, played by Helena Bonham Carter, is shown eating candies in the backseat of a car.

Her ultimate accolade for anyone or anything was “delicious.”(2)

Elizabeth, the Queen Mother

A new book by British monarchy chronicler, Brian Hoey, gives us yet another “behind the palace walls” glimpse of the Queen Mum enjoying her sweets.  Not in Front of the Corgis, scheduled for a June 2012 release, relates this anecdote: 

Lord Callaghan, when he was prime minister (1976-1979), was a frequent guest of the Queen Mother’s at Clarence House. Once, when just the two of them were present, she was eating from an enormous box of chocolates when he arrived.  She asked him if he would like one. He said, “Yes.” She then pointed to one in the middle of the box and said, “Have that one.” During the time he was eating his one specified chocolate, she ate three more. 

She then invited him to take another, once again selecting the one he should have. This went on for the remainder of the morning, with Her Majesty always pointing to the ones he could have.

As Callaghan left, he spoke to The Queen’s Page, asking why he was offered only particular chocolates by the Queen. The Page let him in on the secret:

“Those are the ones with hard centers. Her Majesty only eats the chocolates with soft centers.”(3)

(1) Source: BBC

(2) Source: The Daily Beast

(3) Source: The Daily Beast

Faithful readers:

  •  For more on the Queen Mum on this blog, click here.
  • For more on the British Royal Family on this blog, click here.
  • For more on Elizabeth Taylor on this blog, click here.
  • For more on Wallis, the Duchess of Windsor on this blog, click here.

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Self-Portrait by Richard Avedon

Self-Portrait by Richard Avedon (1923-2004)

Photographer Annie Leibovitz doesn’t talk to her subjects when photographing them. “I certainly can’t talk to people and take pictures at the same time. For one thing, I look through a viewfinder when I work.” (1)

But famed photographer Richard Avedon had a different style. Leibovitz observed that Avedon “seduced his subjects with conversation. He had a Rolleiflex that he would look down at and then up from. It was never in front of his face” but next to him while he talked. (1)

 

 

Truman Capote, author of "In Cold Blood" and "Breakfast at Tiffany's" photographed by Richard Avedon in New York City, 1955.

Truman Capote, author of "In Cold Blood" and "Breakfast at Tiffany's" photographed by Richard Avedon in New York City, 1955.

In this way, Avedon got what he wanted from his sitter. According to writer Truman Capote, Avedon was interested in “the mere condition of a face.”

The Duchess and Duke of Windsor with one of their beloved pugs.

The Duchess and Duke of Windsor with one of their beloved pugs.

 

Some, though, felt that Avedon’s impulses had a cruel edge, showing the face in a harsh light. Here’s a case in point: In 1957, Richard Avedon scheduled a New York City appointment to photograph the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, formerly King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom and Wallis Warfield Simpson of Baltimore. The Windsors were very practiced at putting on happy, regal faces for the camera and Avedon anticipated that. As a royal pair, they were endlessly photographed since they had nothing better to do with themselves since the Duke abdicated the British throne in 1936, giving up crown and kingdom, and moving to France with Wallis.

But Avedon didn’t want that kind of stock photo of the royal pair. According to another fellow photographer, Diane Arbus, Avedon knew that the Windsors were avid dog lovers and would use this knowledge to cruel advantage.

Valet in livery of the Bois de Bologne, Paris, home of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor with pugs Mr. Disraeli, Mr. Chu, Trooper, Imp, and Davy Crockett

Valet in livery of the Bois de Bologne, Paris home of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor with pugs Mr. Disraeli, Mr. Chu, Trooper, Imp, and Davy Crockett

 

In 1997, Sotheby's auctioned off the contents of the Paris home of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Included in their possessions were these pug pillows arranged at the foot of the Duchess' bed. Although Wallis, the Duchess, was fastidious about cleanliness, she allowed the pugs to sleep in the bed with her. "“Paper money for the Duchess was either ordered new and crisp from a bank or wash cleaned and ironed by the housemaids; coins were always washed. Each evening, just before dinner was served, two maids could be found carrying bedsheets through the halls by their corners; the bed linens, having just been ironed, were destined for the rooms of the Duke and Duchess. Wallis could not stand wrinkles in her bed….Once the bed was made, a plastic sheet was spred atop the satin eiderdown so that the pugs could climb onto the bed with Wallis; there she would feed them the hand-baked dog biscuits prepared fresh each day by her chef. Usually the pugs slept on the bed with her, although the Duke’s favorite might disappear through the boudoir to his own spot at the foot of his master’s bed.” The Duchess of Windsor: The Uncommon Life of Wallis Simpson by Greg King

In 1997, Sotheby's auctioned off the contents of the Paris home of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Included in their possessions were these pug pillows arranged at the foot of the Duchess' bed. Although Wallis, the Duchess, was fastidious about cleanliness, she allowed the pugs to sleep in the bed with her. "“Paper money for the Duchess was either ordered new and crisp from a bank or wash cleaned and ironed by the housemaids; coins were always washed. Each evening, just before dinner was served, two maids could be found carrying bedsheets through the halls by their corners; the bed linens, having just been ironed, were destined for the rooms of the Duke and Duchess. Wallis could not stand wrinkles in her bed….Once the bed was made, a plastic sheet was spread atop the satin eiderdown so that the pugs could climb onto the bed with Wallis; there she would feed them the hand-baked dog biscuits prepared fresh each day by her chef. Usually the pugs slept on the bed with her, although the Duke’s favorite might disappear through the boudoir to his own spot at the foot of his master’s bed.” The Duchess of Windsor: The Uncommon Life of Wallis Simpson by Greg King

This is what he did: When Avedon arrived at the appointment to photograph the Windsors, he got them seated just as he wanted them then told them a lie. He explained how, on his way to meet them, his taxi had accidentally run over a dog in the street and killed it. As the Windsors flinched with sympathetic horror, Avedon clicked the shutter – and caught their expression. Here is that photo.

The Duchess and Duke of Windsor, New York, 1957. Photograph by Richard Avedon

The Duchess and Duke of Windsor, New York, 1957. Photograph by Richard Avedon

The photograph caused an international sensation. Some said it made the Duchess look like a toad. British Royalists were outraged at the unflattering portrait. But Avedon defended lying to the couple to conceive the portrait, arguing that his photographs tended to show what people were really like.

If that was indeed true, the Windsors appeared to be two very dreadful people, a suspicion already aroused by their most ungracious familiarity with Adolf Hitler and his Nazi cronies in the pre WWII years. While living in an elegant Paris home provided by the French government on a lavish income bestowed on them by the  British government, the Windsors regularly made pro-fascist remarks to the press as well as disparaging comments about their lack of loyalty to either of  their host countries, France and Britain. They palled around with British traitors like Oswald Mosley and wife Diana Mitford in the French countryside until the Duke’s brother, the reigning King George VI of the United Kingdom got wise to the danger and shipped them off to the Bahamas for the duration of the war.

Avedon once remarked that the Windsors loved dogs more than they loved Jews.

(1) Leibovitz, Annie. Annie Leibovitz at Work. New York: Random House, 2008.

Readers: For more posts on this site on Annie Leibovitz or the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, scroll down the right sidebar: Categories: People.

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1936 The Year of Three British Kings: George V, Edward VIII, George VI

1936 The Year of Three British Kings: dad George V and his 2 sons - George VI & Edward VIII

The year 1936 brought many changes within the British monarchy. In January of that year, the first monarch of the House of Windsor, King George V, died and his son, Edward VIII ascended the throne. King Edward VIII though was not destined to rule long. He had a married American mistress – Wallis Warfield Simpson – who was in the process of divorcing her second husband. The King’s choice of sweetheart would soon bring him tumbling down.

Wallis Warfield Simpson, Duchess of Windsor (1896-1986). Wallis' second husband Ernest Simpson couldn't keep her happy. She was accustomed to a grander style of living than he was capable of providing. She found that way of life with the then Prince of Wales, who ascended to the British throne in 1936 as King Edward VIII. The King was obsessed with Wallis, showering with jewels and clothes and taking her on expensive cruises - while she was still married to Mr. Simpson. Wallis had cast her spell.

Wallis Warfield Simpson, Duchess of Windsor (1896-1986). Wallis' second husband Ernest Simpson couldn't keep her happy. She was accustomed to a grander style of living than he was capable of providing. They were living well beyond their means and having to fire servants when, in 1931, she was introduced to the playboy Prince of Wales, who ascended to the British throne in 1936 as King Edward VIII. The King - called "David" by his friends and family - dropped all his other married girlfriends and became obsessed with Wallis, showering her with jewels and clothes and taking her on expensive ocean cruises - while she was still Mrs. Married Simpson.

The King shocked the nation – already reeling from the King’s scandalous behavior of appearing in the society pages with Mrs. Simpson – by announcing that he planned to marry Mrs. Simpson.

The British people and the government would never have accepted Mrs. Simpson as their queen. Divorced people were not accepted at court, especially ones with two living ex-husbands. Although the King was not forbidden to marry Mrs. Simpson, Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin advised him, on religious and political grounds, that he must make a choice between the throne and marrying Mrs. Simpson – or the government would resign.

By December 1936, King Edward had made his decision. He used his power to expedite Wallis’ divorce from Ernest Simpson [divorces took years back then] then, declared to his kingdom – the United Kingdom, Canada, and India – that it was impossible to carry out his duties “without the help and support of the woman I love,” and gave up the throne. Edward became the only monarch in the history of Great Britain to voluntarily abdicate. Edward’s younger brother, King George VI, then ascended the throne. Edward did marry Wallis and they became the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, settling in France until World War II began.

 

Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon [pictured] was Wallis’ sister-in-law. She was married to King George VI, the Duke of Windsor’s younger brother who ascended the throne following his  1936 abdication. Elizabeth was known as “The Queen Mum” in later years, after King George VI died in 1952 and their daughter, “Lilibet,” became Queen Elizabeth II. Queen Elizabeth II’s mother – also called Queen Elizabeth when she was queen – died in 2002 at the age of 101.  The Queen Mum hated Wallis, the Duchess of Windsor, and was determined that Wallis would never reenter British society after causing the abdication crisis. She also blamed the Duke and Wallis for the premature death of her husband George VI in 1952 upon the stress of his reign as king – again, because of her brother-in-law’s abdication to marry Wallis. Wallis wasn’t so happy with the Queen herself and returned her hostile sentiments, ridiculing the Queen’s fussy style of confectionary dress by nicknaming her “Cake.” Wallis had never forgotten the snub that King George VI gave her – at his wife Queen Elizabeth’s insistence – of refusing to allow Wallis to be referred to as “Her Royal Highness.”"The Queen Mum" in later years. Queen Elizabeth II's mother died in 2002 at the age of 101. She hated the Duchess of Windsor and the Duchess of Windsor returned her sentiments, calling her the dowdy duchess [when the Queen Mum was the Duchess of York] and "Cake" for her confectionary style of dressing.

The abdication and the subsequent exile to France of the newly titled Duke and Duchess of Windsor turned out to be a gigantic blessing for the UK, because, by September of 1939, Great Britain would declare war on Nazi Germany. It was a good thing King Edward VIII had been replaced with the level-headed King George VI and his queen, Queen Elizabeth (known later as the Queen Mum). They had the good sense to see the threat a Nazi Germany presented and the courage to lead the British people through the terrible bombings of Great Britain by the Nazis. King George VI began his reign as a reluctant king. He was a nervous man with a pronounced stutter who never wanted to rule. But, with Queen Elizabeth by his side, they were able to summon the strength from God and selves to help the British people endure the war and oppose the Nazi regime.

“When war broke out in 1939, George VI and his wife resolved to stay in London and not flee to Canada, as had been suggested. The King and Queen officially stayed in Buckingham Palace throughout the war, although they usually spent nights at Windsor Castle to avoid bombing raids. George VI and Queen Elizabeth narrowly avoided death when two German bombs exploded in a courtyard at Buckingham Palace while they were there.”

So, as history would have it, Great Britain owes an enormous debt to Wallis, the Duchess of Windsor, for spiriting the Duke away before he could do any real harm. At the time, it seemed a great sadness for the Duke to have to give up the throne because convention wouldn’t allow for him to be married to the Duchess. But now we know that it would have been a disaster for him to be King during World War II. Because, as it turned out, both he and the Duchess were  Nazi sympathizers. They held their wedding ceremony at the Chateau de Cande in Mont, France, the home of Nazi collaborator Charles Bedaux.

Within months, Bedaux had arranged for them to travel to Germany to dine with Adolf Hitler. It was widely believed that Hitler planned to install the Duke back on the British throne after the Germans had conquered England. The Duke was desperate for a kingdom and made no secret of his fondness for fascism. Fortunately,the Duke’s brother, the King, got wind of his brother’s nefarious activities and schemes and, at the start of the War, whisked him and the Duchess off to a British island [the Bahamas] far out in the Caribbean. Had  Edward been the British monarch during WWII, not George VI, we might today to looking at a frighteningly different world order.

King George V, the Duke of Windsor’s father, never thought much of his son David. He was disgusted by his son’s playboy ways and inability to grow up and settle down.

The King [George V] was reluctant to see Edward inherit the Crown, and was quoted as saying of Edward [the Duke of Windsor]:”After I am dead, the boy will ruin himself in 12 months.”

George V knew his son well. King Edward VIII…or “David,” the Prince of Wales,  the Duke of Windsor, – he had so many names, it can be so confusing – was self-indulgent to the point of self-destruction. King Edward VIII’s reign as monarch was one of the shortest in British history, lasting  only 325 days, or about 11 months, one month less than his father had so sagely predicted. Edward never did have a coronation ceremony. He was never crowned king.

Readers, for more on the Duke and Duchess of Windsor on this blog:

See “Wallis, the Duchess of Windsor” and “Coco Chanel, Nazi Lovers, and the Windsor Set.”

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The Duchess of Windsor filled her empty life by buying expensive clothes and getting the Duke to buy her costly jewels. She was always immaculately dressed and never casual. In 1935, she made the Paris Couture best-dressed list and remained there for 40 years.

Wallis, the Duchess of Windsor (1896-1986), is remembered for her stylishness. She filled her empty life by buying expensive clothes from the big Paris fashion houses like Chanel and getting the Duke to buy her costly jewels from Cartier. The Duchess of Windsor was always immaculately dressed and never casual. In 1935, she made the Paris Couture best-dressed list and remained there for 40 years.

In my previous post, “Coco Chanel, Nazi Lovers, and the Windsor Set,” I described the wave of attention the Duke and Duchess of Windsor received when they settled in Paris in the late thirties. A glamorous social set of fashion designers, Nazi sympathizers, American heiresses, British ex-pats, and assorted other idle rich people welcomed the Windsors and became a sort of parallel court for the displaced royals. This French upper-crust group was dubbed “the Windsor Set.” The press buzzed about them like bees around a hive. All  their comings and goings, designer clothes, fancy homes, and elegant soirees were endlessly photographed and reported in the society columns of the day.

The Duchess and Duke of Windsor at hone

The Duchess and Duke of Windsor at home

At the center of this new social whirl was the Duchess of Windsor. She had never gotten over being snubbed by the British Royal Family and being barred from getting the attention she felt she and the Duke deserved.

Wallis had always been obsessed with her appearance. She knew she wasn’t a great beauty, having once said,

” Nobody ever called me beautiful, or even pretty.”

What she lacked in looks, she made up for in other ways. She selected simple, well-tailored clothes that accented her slim, almost boyish figure. Against this plain backdrop, she dripped with sometimes enormous jewels, sometimes mixing real gems with costume pieces, the real things being given to her by the Duke. Her taste ran to big colorful stones and yellow gold. She amassed a huge collection of jewelry which was sold at auction in 1987 for a record-shattering $50 million. “An 18-karat-gold cigarette case from Cartier—engraved with a map of Europe and set with 37 gems to mark the couple’s premarital holidays—sold for more than $290,000; Elizabeth Taylor phoned in a bid of $623,000 and snagged a diamond brooch.”

In 1949, the Duchess of Windsor acquired this diamond and sapphire panther pin from Cartier. The panther is crouched in a life like pose on a large perfect round cabochon star sapphire weighing 152.35 carats. This panther pin was one of the Duchess' favorite pieces which she frequently wore. It created an envy among other jewelry collectors and a demand for Cartier to produce more panther pieces. Today, the panther is a Cartier icon. The Duchess of Windsor's animal pieces became her signature.

In 1949, the Duchess of Windsor acquired this diamond and sapphire panther pin from Cartier. The panther is crouched in a life like pose on a large perfect round cabochon star sapphire weighing 152.35 carats. This panther pin was one of the Duchess' favorite pieces which she frequently wore. It created an envy among other jewelry collectors and a demand for Cartier to produce more panther pieces. Today, the panther is a Cartier icon. The Duchess of Windsor's animal pieces became her signature.

Wallis and Edward with best man Edward "Fruity" Metcalf at their royal wedding, June 3, 1937, at the Chateau de Cande, Mont, France

Wallis and Edward with best man Edward "Fruity" Metcalfe at their royal wedding, June 3, 1937, at the Chateau de Candé, Mont, France

Necklaces, bracelets, lapel pins – she had them all. The only gap in her jewelry collection was rings. The Duchess hated her hands. She thought they were big and ugly. (Notice the black gloves in the first photo above). Acclaimed British photographer Cecil Beaton photographed the Windsors many times. He took their wedding photos at the Chateau de Candé. Beaton remembered of that session that Wallis

“twisted and twirled her rugged hands. She laughed a square laugh, protruded her lower lip. Her eyes were excessively bright, slightly froglike, also wistful.”

 

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Wallis Warfield marries the former King Edward VIII of Britain on June 3, 1937, in France. The day before the wedding, the Prince's brother, the new British king, George VI, sent him a letter granting him and Wallis new titles: the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. The titles were hollow; there was no dominion of Windsor to rule. Even worse: the King's letter contained a bomb - the Prince, despite his abdication of the throne, could continue to "hold and enjoy...the title, style or attribute of Royal Highness," but his bride, the Duchess, could not, nor could any of their offspring. She, though a duchess, was denied what her sister-in-laws would enjoy - that her name would be preceded by the magic initials 'H.R.H.' "What a damnable wedding present!" Windsor shouted. (J.Bryan III and Charles J.V. Murphy,

Wallis Warfield (Simpson) marries the former King Edward VIII of Britain on June 3, 1937, in France, after he gave up the British throne to be with her. Wallis Warfield Simpson was an American divorcee. For the King to have married her and tried to install her as his Queen would have precipitated a constitutional crisis in Great Britain....The wedding day dawned bright and sunny. It was Wallis' third wedding; her dress was not white but blue. Blue was also the mood. The day before the wedding, the former king's brother, the new British king, George VI, sent Edward a letter granting him and Wallis new titles: the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. The titles were hollow; there was no dominion of Windsor to rule. Even worse: the King's letter contained a bomb - the former king, now titled the Duke, despite his abdication of the throne, could continue to "hold and enjoy...the title, style or attribute of Royal Highness," but his bride, the Duchess, could not, nor could any of their offspring. She, though a duchess, was denied what her sister-in-laws would enjoy - that her name would be preceded by the magic initials 'H.R.H.' At her entrance, no women had to curtsey, no men to bow. She would not be referred to as "Her Highness" but with the lower form of "Her Grace." "What a damnable wedding present!" Windsor shouted upon reading the King's letter. (Bryan III, J. and Murphy, Charles J.V., The Windsor Story. New York: Dell, 1979.)

In 1937, after King Edward VIII had given up the British throne to marry his American divorcee, Wallis Warfield Simpson, the two tiny, trim party animals were exiled to France, where they were doomed to live a life of idle nothingness. They were given the new but hollow titles of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Accustomed to a lifetime of adulation and privilege yet denied a kingdom, the Duke (and the Duchess), set about creating an imaginary realm of their own that would given them the validation they craved as royals. This new kingdom:

“…was a region whose borders were outlined in society pages, peopled mostly by glamorous nobodies lucky enough to have been born into wealth. It was an ornamental place, whose citizens, according to Andrew Bolton, the curator of ”Blithe Spirit” [a past costume exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum], were unsurpassed ”in the beauty, elegance and craftsmanship” of their dress. For self-indulgence, they were also hard to beat.”

The people who congregated around the Duke and Duchess were dubbed the “Windsor set.” They were all-consumed with the photographic image.

“They arranged those lives to suit the lens. Voluntarily estranged from the real aristocracy, the Duke of Windsor, with the aid of his wife, the former Wallis Warfield Simpson, set up a parallel court composed of people like Elsie de Wolfe, the interior decorator and social arbiter; Mona Bismarck, a gorgeous adventuress who was the daughter of a stableman on a Kentucky horse farm; and Daisy Fellowes, whose fortune derived from sewing machines and who had the distinction of being one of the first people on record to alter her nose surgically.”

the Duke and Duchess of Windsor at home with their precious pug dogs. The Duchess, the former Wallis Warfield Simpson, often appeared in her stylish best in public with a pug tucked under one arm. It became a fashion trend - to carry a dog around with you when away from home.

the Duke and Duchess of Windsor at home with their precious pug dogs. The Duchess, the former Wallis Warfield Simpson, often appeared in her stylish best in public with a pug tucked under one arm. It became a fashion trend - to carry a dog around with you when away from home.

Granted, the Windsors were despicable people, dining with Adolf Hitler in 1937 and hobnobbing with fellow Nazi sympathizers and British ex-pats Oswald Mosley and wife Diana Mitford. Nevertheless, the Duke and Duchess – and their fancy friends – obsessed with clothing,  had tremendous style.

Adolf Hitler kisses the hand of the Duchess of Windsor as her husband the Duke looks on, admiringly. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor visited Germany in 1937 before WWII broke out across Europe. They were outspoken supporters of Nazi fascism and suspected of spying for Germany. At the beginning of the war, the Windsors were whisked out of France to safe haven in the Bahamas, where the Duke served out the war years as governor. There he could do Britain little harm - and he was less likely of being kidnapped by the Germans who were reportedly interested in installing him as a puppet king in a conquered Great Britain under German rule.

Adolf Hitler kisses the hand of the Duchess of Windsor as her husband the Duke looks on, admiringly. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor visited Germany in 1937 before WWII broke out across Europe. They were outspoken supporters of Nazi fascism and suspected of spying for Germany. At the beginning of the war, the Windsors were whisked out of France to safe haven in the Bahamas, where the Duke served out the war years as governor. There he could do Britain little harm - and he was less likely of being kidnapped by the Germans who were reportedly interested in installing him as a puppet king in a conquered Great Britain under German rule.

Fashion designer Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel (French, 1883-1971) at Lido Beach in 1936

Fashion designer Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel (French, 1883-1971) at Lido Beach in 1936

"Evening Dress," 1938. Gabrielle ("Coco") Chanel. Black Silk Net with Polychrome Sequins. The Metropolitan Museum of ARt, New York. Special Exhibit: "Blithe Spirit: The Windsor Set" The decoration of sequined fireworks on this evening dress, which was worn by the Countess Madeleine de Montgomery to Lady Mendl's seventy-fifth birthday party in 1939, is a fitting climax to le beau monde of the 1930s. It was the end of an era when, on Sept. 1, 1939, Parisians heard an early-morning radio announcemen from Herr Hitler in German, at once translated into French, that "as of this moment, we are at war with Poland." The thirties were over; the Second World War had begun.

"Evening Dress," 1938. Gabrielle ("Coco") Chanel. Black Silk Net with Polychrome Sequins. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Special Exhibit: "Blithe Spirit: The Windsor Set" The decoration of sequined fireworks on this evening dress, which was worn by the Countess Madeleine de Montgomery to Lady Mendl's seventy-fifth birthday party in 1939, is a fitting climax to le beau monde of the 1930s. It was the end of an era when, on Sept. 1, 1939, Parisians heard an early-morning radio announcement from Herr Hitler in German, at once translated into French, that "as of this moment, we are at war with Poland." The thirties were over; the Second World War had begun.

The Windsors were famous for their elegant Paris dinner parties, creating a demand for expensive clothes and jewels for them and their guests. Thus, the prewar years in France from 1935-1940 were rich in the decorative arts, putting trendy fashion designers front and center. It was a time when Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel was “rethinking the suit” to allow for the way women really move and Elsa Schiaparelli* was designing lobster dresses with surrealist Salvador Dali.*

Then Hitler invaded Poland and World War II shattered the fantasy world of endless cocktail parties and silk and organza gowns made to order. The Germans invaded and occupied France.

Shockingly, Coco Chanel spent the war years living at the Ritz in Paris with a Nazi officer. After the war was over, Chanel was arrested by the free French for suspicion of collaborating with the Nazis. She purportedly offered this explanation for sleeping with the enemy:

 “Really, sir, a woman of my age cannot be expected to look at his passport if she has a chance of a lover.”

It is generally believed that Winston Churchill  intervened with the French government, convincing them to let his old friend Coco Chanel escape to Switzerland rather than be paraded through the streets of Paris with her head shaved like other female Nazi collaborators.

Women accused of being Nazi collaborators are humiliated after the liberation of France, 1944. © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis

Women accused of being Nazi collaborators are humiliated after the liberation of France, 1944. © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis

Jackie Kennedy in her pink Chanel suit and pillbox hat, riding through Dallas in a motorcade just minutes before a sniper kills her husband, President John F. Kennedy

Fast forward 19 years. It's November 22, 1963. Jackie Kennedy,* in her pink Chanel suit and pillbox hat, is riding through Dallas in a motorcade just minutes before a sniper kills her husband, President John F. Kennedy

*For more on the Kennedys on this blog, please see right sidebar – Categories – People  – the Kennedys.
See “Wallis, the Duchess of Windsor,” which follows this blog post.

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Italian-born fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli in the 1930s

Italian-born fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli in the 1930s

Between the two world wars, fashion design was dominated by two extraordinary pioneers, Gabrielle Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973). Whereas Coco Chanel was a craftswoman who considered dressmaking a profession, Schiaparelli, on the other hand, regarded her work as art and herself as an artist.  

Schiaparelli’s designs were heavily influenced by artists in the dada and surrealist movements, particularly by Salvador Dali.  While Chanel’s clothes were known for their simplicity, Schiaparelli’s were known for their daring.

“Shocking-pink” was Schiaparelli’s signature color. She described hot pink as “life-giving, like all the light and the birds and the fish in the world put together, a color of China and Peru but not of the West.”

Schiaparelli shoe-hat which debuted in her Fall-Winter 1937-38 collection

Schiaparelli shoe-hat which debuted in her Fall-Winter 1937-38 collection

The designs Schiaparelli created in collaboration with Dali are among her best known. One of her most memorable designs created with Dali is known as the “shoe-hat” (shown here). Note that the hat is shaped like a woman’s high-heeled shoe, with the heel standing straight up and the toe tilted over the wearer’s forehead. The heel is of a shocking-pink color. This hat was worn by Singer sewing machine heiress Daisy Fellowes, among others.

Daisy Fellowes was one of Schiaparelli’s best clients. Fellowes was a French-American heiress with a taste for expensive jewels and clothes and a reputation for cutting remarks. “Though a footnote today, for nearly 50 years, Fellowes, the daughter of a French duke and granddaughter of the sewing-machine magnate Isaac Merritt Singer, was the trans-Atlantic fete set’s No. 1 bad girl.” She was also editor in chief of French Harper’s Bazaar, a philanthropist who donated her salary to an orphanage, and the author of a few sexy romance novels.

movie siren Mae West (1893-1980) by Miguel Covarrubias, 1928, for the New Yorker

a caricature of the American movie actress, the provocative Mae West (1893-1980) by Miguel Covarrubias, 1928, for the New Yorker magazine

Among other jewels purchased at Cartier‘s shop at 13 rue de la Paix in Paris, Fellowes owned a stunning 17.27ct pink diamond  called the Tête de Belier (Ram’s Head). It was Fellowes’ pink diamond that inspired the color known as shocking-pink or hot pink. Elsa Schiaparelli took note of the diamond, using shocking pink for the box design of her 1937 perfume which she named “Shocking.” The packaging of the box, designed by Leonor Fini, was also notable for the bottle in the shape of a woman’s torso. The shape was inspired by another of Schiaparelli’s celebrity clients, the American screen actress Mae West.

The Lobster Dress by Elsa Schiaparelli

The Lobster Dress by Elsa Schiaparelli

Another of the Schiaparelli/Dali designs is the iconic “Lobster Dress” which debuted in Schiaparelli’s Summer/Fall 1937 Collection. The Lobster dress is a simple white silk evening dress with a crimson waistband featuring a large lobster painted (by Dali) onto the skirt.It is rumored that Dali wanted to apply real mayonnaise to the lobster on the dress but that Schiaparelli objected.

Dali’s lobster design for Schiaparelli was then interpreted into a fabric print by the leading silk designer Sache. It was famously worn by Wallis Warfield Simpson in a series of photographs by Cecil Beaton taken at the Château de Candé shortly before her marriage to Edward VIII. (shown here)

Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor (1895-1986), photo Cecil Beaton (1904-80). UK, early 20th century.

Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor (1895-1986), photo Cecil Beaton (1904-80). UK, early 20th century.

 Dali had been incorporating lobsters into his mixed media creations since 1934, most famously with “Lobster Telephone” (1936).

"Lobster Telephone," by Salvador Dali, 1936

"Lobster Telephone," by Salvador Dali, 1936

To see more of Schiaparelli’s fashion designs, click here.

A modern room with touches of Schiaparelli pink in the two chairs and flowers in foreground

A modern room with touches of Schiaparelli pink in the two chairs and flowers in foreground

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