Bellville Sassoon: Vogue Patterns

The Glamour of Bellville Sassoon, 20 September 2013 - 11 January 2014
Image: Fashion and Textile Museum.

The current exhibition at London’s Fashion and Textile Museum, The Glamour of Bellville Sassoon, celebrates the museum’s 10th anniversary with a retrospective of the British fashion house. If you’re in the London area this week you can bring in your Bellville pieces, including versions sewn from Vogue Patterns, for evaluation by David Sassoon at the event “Bring out your Bellville.” (The exhibition runs until January 11th, 2014.)

Bellville Sassoon sketch
Bellville Sassoon sketch. Image: Vogue Italia.

Belinda Bellville founded her eponymous couture house in 1953, and recruited David Sassoon in 1958; the Bellville Sassoon name dates to 1970. Following Bellville’s retirement in the 1980s, Sassoon was joined by Lorcan Mullany as designer of the house’s ready-to-wear line. Vogue Patterns has been producing Bellville patterns since the late 1960s.

Bellville Sassoon evening gown sketches, 2003-4
Bellville Sassoon sketches, 2003-4. Image: Vogue Italia.

Bellville Sassoon is unusual for having no licensing apart from its long-running sewing patterns with Vogue. (See Libby Banks, “Loosening a Fashion Stiff Upper Lip.”) This has the effect of giving the patterns a special prominence. As Suzy Menkes observes, although Bellville Sassoon is perhaps best known for its society wedding gowns and association with the British royal family, the sewing patterns show the house’s “more democratic side.” (See Sinty Stemp, The Glamour of Bellville Sassoon [Antique Collectors’ Club, 2009], which devotes a chapter to Vogue Patterns.) Even the couture-focused exhibition Glamour and Gowns: Couture by Belinda Bellville and Bellville Sassoon, which ran through October, 2013 at Holkham Hall (the ancestral seat of Bellville’s son-in-law), included Bellville sewing patterns.

Here is a selection of Belinda Bellville and Bellville Sassoon sewing patterns from the Sixties to now.

1960s

From early 1967, this Bellville evening ensemble includes an elegant, bow-trimmed jacket and A-line gown with optional beaded trim:

1960s Belinda Bellville pattern - Vogue 1677
Vogue 1677 by Belinda Bellville (1967) Image: Etsy.

The bodice of this popular design for a short or long evening dress extends into a large bow in the slit back:

Late 1960s Belinda Bellville LBD pattern - Vogue 2112
Vogue 2112 by Belinda Bellville (1969) Image: Etsy.

1970s

This high-waisted evening dress with waistcoat bodice could be made short, or above the ankle:

1970s Belinda Bellville pattern - Vogue 2421
Vogue 2421 by Belinda Bellville (1970) Image: eBay.

The back wrap on this bias dress creates a cowl neckline that becomes a V in the back. The model is Rosie Vela:

1970s Belinda Bellville dress pattern - Vogue 1584
Vogue 1584 by Belinda Bellville (ca. 1977) Image: Vintage Patterns Wiki.

1980s

This dramatic, one-shouldered cocktail or evening dress has a draped, asymmetrical bodice with big bows at the hip and shoulder:

1980s Bellville Sassoon formal dress pattern - Vogue 1635
Vogue 1635 by Bellville Sassoon (1985) Image: PatternVault shop.

The volume in this strapless, ruffled formal dress is amplified by an attached ruffled petticoat:

1980s Bellville Sassoon party dress pattern - Vogue 1936
Vogue 1936 by Bellville Sassoon (1987) Image: PatternVault shop.

1990s

A petticoat is also essential to this full-skirted, strapless party dress from the early 1990s. The bow detail at the bodice can be made in contrast fabric:

Early 1990s Bellville Sassoon party dress pattern - Vogue 2468
Vogue 2468 by Bellville Sassoon (1990) Image: Sew Exciting Needleworks.

This evening dress with bias-banded bodice was photographed at Los Angeles’ Biltmore Hotel for the May/June 1997 issue of Vogue Patterns magazine, which also included an article by Claire Shaeffer on couture techniques for constructing the design:

1990s Bellville Sassoon formal dress pattern - Vogue 1966
Vogue 1966 by Bellville Sassoon (1997) Image: Etsy.

2000s

Strong shoulders are achieved through extravagant sleeve rosettes on this recent Bellville Sassoon cocktail dress, which also features a piped and ruffle-trimmed neckline:

Bellville Sassoon dress pattern - Vogue 1162
Vogue 1162 by Bellville Sassoon (2010) Image: Etsy.

Current Vogue patterns, like this dress with draped and pleated bodice, show the designer as Lorcan Mullany for Bellville Sassoon:

Vogue 1362 by Lorcan Mullany for Bellville Sassoon (2013)
Vogue 1362 by Lorcan Mullany for Bellville Sassoon (2013) Image: Etsy.

As a teenager in the ’90s, one of the first things I made was a Bellville Sassoon corset top (from Vogue 1605). Have you sewn any Bellville patterns?

Vintage Bridal Patterns

1930s Blanche Rothschild illustration of a bridal gown, McCall 9284 circa June 1937
McCall 9284 illustration by Blanche Rothschild, ca. June 1937. Image: PatternVault shop.

Vintage bridal patterns offer a unique alternative to modern bridal designs. Even if you’re already married, they provide a glimpse into past bridal fashions’ sometimes exotic vintage details—making them tempting even for those not in need of a wedding dress. (Can we expect Debi Fry to make her 1940 bridal pattern, McCall 4004?)

Now that wedding season is in full swing, here’s a selection of vintage bridal patterns, from the Twenties to the Eighties.

1920s

In the Twenties and Thirties, bridal patterns usually did double duty as patterns for formal dresses. This 1920s Peerless Patterns sign features a wedding illustration promoting a number of patterns:

1920s Peerless Patterns advertising poster with bridal scene
1920s Peerless Patterns advertising poster. Image: PatternVault shop.

This fantastic bridal or evening dress is short, in keeping with the current fashion, and may have one or two extended side panels that give the effect of a train:

1920s evening or bridal dress pattern - McCall 4985 CoPA-KLS
McCall 4985 (1927) Image: Commercial Pattern Archive, Kevin L. Seligman collection. For research purposes only.

1930s

Thirties bridal patterns have the same glamour we associate with the decade’s evening wear. This pattern for a bridal gown or dinner dress dates to circa June 1934:

1930s bridal gown or dinner dress pattern - McCall 7852
McCall 7852 (1934) Image: Etsy.
McCallFBJunMidSummer1934
McCall 7852 on the cover of McCall Fashion Book, Mid-Summer 1934. Image: eBay.

A reproduction version of this pattern for a bridal gown or afternoon dress is available from the Vintage Pattern Lending Library:

1930s bridal gown or afternoon dress pattern - McCall 8331
McCall 8331 (1935) Bridal gown or afternoon dress.

A copy of McCall 8331 recently seen on eBay was accompanied by this wedding portrait, which shows the dress made up:

San Francisco estate wedding portrait showing McCall 8331
1930s wedding portrait from a San Francisco estate. Image: eBay.

1940s

In the Forties the bride begins to take centre stage on pattern envelopes, although evening and bridesmaid versions are still included. This bridal or evening dress was reissued in the Vintage Vogue line as Vogue 2384:

1940s Vogue Special Design wartime bridal pattern S-4532
Vogue S-4532 (1944) Image: Vintage Patterns Wiki.

This strong-shouldered, postwar design has a sweetheart neckline and waist piping detail. The pattern also includes a bridesmaid’s dress with short, shirred sleeves (click image for the technical drawings):

1940s bridal pattern - McCall 6353
McCall 6353 (1946) Image: Etsy.

1950s

By the 1950s the bride, in her full-skirted glory, dominates the pattern envelope. This Jacques Fath design for a bride’s or bridesmaid’s dress has a bustled back and tiny shawl collar. The bridesmaid’s version simply lacks a train:

1950s Jacques Fath bridal pattern - Vogue 1331
Vogue 1331 by Jacques Fath (1956) Image: carbonated on flickr.

John Cavanagh was known for his connection to the English court. He licensed several bridal patterns with Vogue, and designed the Duchess of Kent’s wedding dress in 1961. (See my earlier post here.) This short-sleeved Cavanagh design has a simulated train; the smaller figures show bridesmaid’s and evening versions:

1950s John Cavanagh bridal pattern - Vogue 148
Vogue 148 by John Cavanagh (1958) Image: VADS.

1960s

Also by John Cavanagh, this 1960s bridal design with a cathedral-length Watteau train was modelled by Jean Shrimpton:

1960s John Cavanagh wedding dress pattern - Vogue 1347
Vogue 1347 by John Cavanagh (1964) Image: Vintage Patterns Wiki.

No bridal pattern survey could be complete without this Halston pattern for bridal headpieces:

Vogue 7082 Halston of Bergdorf Goodman 1960s bridal headpieces pattern
Vogue 7082 by Halston of Bergdorf Goodman (c. 1965) Image: eBay.

1970s

From the early 1970s, this Pierre Cardin bridal gown, shown in a silk knit, has an optional overskirt with handkerchief train:

1970s Pierre Cardin bridal gown pattern - Vogue 2520
Vogue 2520 by Pierre Cardin (1971) Image: eBay.
Vogue 2520 Pierre Cardin back
Illustration and technical drawing for Vogue 2520. Image: eBay.

Although it isn’t for everyone, Yves Saint Laurent’s couture bridal design for a gathered, bias dress, filmy coat, and five-yard veil distinguishes itself by showing the bride as wayward Vestal virgin (see Paco Peralta’s post here):

1970s Yves Saint Laurent bridal pattern - Vogue 1590
Vogue 1590 by Yves Saint Laurent (c. 1976) Image: Patrones Costura on Etsy.

1980s

Released in 1980, this opulent Dior design for a bell-skirted bridal gown, complete with bias necktie, cummerbund, and bow-embellished headpiece, is drawn from the Christian Dior Haute Couture collection for Fall 1979 (read Dustin’s post here):

1979 Christian Dior couture bridal gown pattern - Vogue 2545
Vogue 2545 by Christian Dior (1980) Image: PatternVault shop.

Perfect for steampunk weddings, Vogue 2180 by Bellville Sassoon has an elaborate bustle that gives it a neo-Victorian flair:

1980s Bellville Sassoon bridal or evening pattern - Vogue 2180
Vogue 2180 by Bellville Sassoon (1989) Image: eBay.

For more on the history of bridal fashion, see the V&A Weddings page and Edwina Ehrman’s The Wedding Dress: 300 Years of Bridal Fashions (V&A, 2011).