In writing an account of the Ball for The Graphic, Lady Violet Greville felt, as she spoke of the Princess of Wales, constrained to quote the 16th-century French author Brantôme who described Marguerite de Valois as “robed in cloth of silver with long sleeves, her hair richly dressed and her whole appearance of such grace and majesty that she resembled more a goddess from heaven than a Queen upon earth.”
At long last I can share my costume with the world. Eight months ago I entered my final year at Wimbledon College of Art studying Costume Interpretation. Our first assignment was to create a costume to compliment the new exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace entitled ‘In Fine Style’. As I walked around the Red Room during the Da Vinci exhibition I could never imagine that just a short while later my own costume would grace this majestic room.
I chose to recreate the fancy dress costume of Alexandra, Princess of Wales dressed as Marguerite de Valois worn to the Duchess of Devonshire House Ball in 1897. As I was the intern for The Tudor Tailor last year and helped to make the costumes and work on the photo shoot for the new book The Tudor Child (I cried when I found my name in the Acknowledgements) I was requested to create the costume of the Hon. Louvima Knollys who accompanied Alexandra as her page.
The skirt and bodice is entirely finished by hand. I started with eight small appliqués to build my shape and completed the surface decoration by hand based on the photos. I thought after this costume I would never wish to string another pearl or couch another row again but for my final costume I am still working on beading. I was able to study close ups of the image at the National Archives and I was graciously granted permission to study hi-res images of the 4 existing photographs of Alexandra. Both of these allowed me to re-create what is hopefully a very close historic reproduction of this costume.
I am grateful to both of my models, to all of the researchers who assisted me in this endeavour to track down photos to study, to you my followers who continue to inspire me, and most of all to my mother who was very patient during my frantic midnight phone calls.
I will leave you with the quote that first came to mind when my models descended the staircase into the gallery last night, ‘ She [Alexandra] came down one day in a marvellous … long flowering train. She dazzled me utterly, I was speechless with adoration’.