The princess and the frock: one-of-kind gowns

These one-of-a-kind gowns fit for a fairy tale are sure to go for a princely sum

Not every girl grows up dreaming of being a Disney princess, this much we know is true. But there is undeniably something enchanting about the heroines of these illustrated editions of folklore and fables.

Many women who have long outgrown other cartoonish creations still hold a candle for romanticised leading ladies such as Belle, Aurora and Ariel. Today, as part of Christie’s annual Vintage Couture auction, a collection of 10 gowns as imagined by some of the world’s most talented designers will go on display, before being auctioned on 13 November. The funds raised will go to Great Ormond Street Hospital in an ongoing partnership between the hospital’s charity and Disney.

Oscar de la Renta may be best known for dressing the Park Avenue Princesses of Manhattan, but his vision for Snow White is perhaps the truest to the Disney original – which was actually the first animated feature from the studio. A floor-length ruby-red cape with puff sleeves and exaggerated stand-up collar is matched to a red bow headpiece, and the final flourish of authenticity is a golden metallic minaudiere in the shape of an apple – although, sadly, there aren’t seven companion costumes.

The Italian label Valentino has a long history of dressing those of royal descent, and though bookish Belle from Beauty and the Beast may be of humble origins, she is transformed in the final scene of that particular fairy tale. For this reimagining, Valentino has created a ball gown in every sense of the word, as a boned structure supports buttercup yellow silk cascading panels and a tulle underskirt that will swish and swirl as the wearer dances. For make no mistake, the buyers of these dresses, each with a minimum estimate that would buy a decent used car, are likely to be the sort of people for whom attending a ball is a regular occurrence.

Of course, the beauty of the project is that each designer has put his or her own spin on princess style, with a little help from the Disney design team. “Each designer was sent the characteristics and personality traits unique to their specifically selected Disney princess and was asked to respect the heritage and legacy within their design,” says Matthew Grossman,  the vice-president of corporate citizenship for the Walt Disney Company. The more is more aesthetic of Versace and Roberto Cavalli may not spring to mind with the classic conservatism of Disney, but their versions of, respectively, Cinderella and Pocohontas’ outfits make complete sense, in a somewhat strange way. Cavalli returned to the natural world for the inspiration for his asymmetric, feather embellished gown for the Elizabethan era Native American, while the Atelier Versace version of Cinderella’s ball gown is just a touch more fabulous than the fairy godmother’s creation.

“Disney Princesses epitomise the art of storytelling which is at the heart of Disney,” says Grossman. And what are designers if not storytellers and dream weavers? “The [characters] resonate so strongly because they are compassionate and kind, trustworthy, inspiring and creative. This resonance has also long inspired designers and artists: from 1937 when Cartier created a piece inspired by Snow White and the Seven Dwarves to 2012 when world-renowned shoe designer Christian Louboutin unveiled the ultimate, modern-day Cinderella inspired slipper in Paris during Haute Couture week.”

The heavyweight designers involved were each chosen by Harrods to create a “show- stopping interpretation” which spot-lit the dresses in its Christmas windows last December. These mega-watt names, along with the power of Disney, will no doubt ensure that the worthy cause at the heart of such levity will not go neglected. The relationship between Great Ormond Street and Disney may only have been formalised in 2008, but dates back to 1951 when Walt Disney visited the world-renowned children’s hospital.

Most people may be planning their Christmas shopping on the local high street, but the Christie’s customer will inevitably do things a little differently from the norm. “Our Winter Vintage Couture sale is the biggest of the year,” explains Pat Frost, director of Christie’s fashion department. “This one is set to provide the fashion conscious around the world with a wealth of striking collections from across the ages.”

Whether the gowns go to real-life royalty or collectors with a particular passion remains to be seen, but Clare Borthwick, vintage couture specialist at Christie’s, believes the “inspirational fashion pieces that embody both high-end fashion and childhood nostalgia [will garner] much interest from around the world.”

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