The Glamorous World of Belinda Bellville

Last Updated: June 8, 2024By

The Glamorous World of Belinda Bellville

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The Beginning of a Fashion Empire

When Belinda Bellville opened her dressmaking studio in 1953, the same year as Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, she aimed to make dresses fit for the red carpet. Back then, the red carpet wasn’t for Hollywood stars but for high society events making a comeback after the tough years of World War II and its aftermath.

Debutantes would walk the red carpet to be presented to the Queen, attend balls, cocktail parties, and of course, grand weddings.

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A Life Shaped by Tradition

Bellville, who passed away at 94, was a debutante herself in 1947. Growing up in a family that strictly observed these high society traditions, she realized there was a growing demand for custom-made dresses. French couture was too expensive and British salons weren’t stylish enough for many women.

A Dream Takes Shape

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To start her label, Bellville et Cie, she sold her Citroën car, a wedding gift from her brother, for £500. She partnered with a Knightsbridge shop owner to get a small space to work from—so small she couldn’t even sketch in it—and had access only to an outside bathroom.

Her first fashion show took place at her grandmother Gladys “Cuckoo” Leith’s elegant home. Gladys had run a Mayfair boutique in the 1920s. Bellville’s sister Camilla and other debutantes modeled the dresses.

Making a Name in Fashion

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Though Bellville had no formal design training, she had worked as a photographer’s assistant, dabbled in fashion journalism, and had a knack for understanding fashion trends. She preferred word-of-mouth over advertising, stayed away from Mayfair locations, and avoided fashion shows with the Incorporated Society of London Designers.

Bellville’s clients trusted her taste and discretion. She often designed dresses around the jewels her clients brought in. One client even sent her to Garrard’s vaults to pick out diamond earrings to match a dress.

Royal Recognition

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Her designs became the go-to for grand wedding dresses—up to 100 a year. She created outfits for every royal woman except the Queen herself. When Princess Anne was getting fitted for a bridesmaid dress, the Queen famously asked, “Will it wash?”

This practical question would have resonated with Bellville. During WWII rationing, she and her mother made clothes out of whatever they could find, even curtains. Her family, rich from a mustard fortune, lived a life of luxury before the war, complete with racing cars, horses, and yachts.

Partnership with Sassoon

Bellville’s education was limited because she was expected to marry well, which she did in 1952. However, inspired by her grandmother, she pursued a career in fashion. At 6 feet tall, she dressed the part of a fashion icon herself.

A key decision in her career was hiring David Sassoon, a Royal College of Art graduate, in 1958. He stayed on and eventually became her partner in 1970. Sassoon brought in a fresh perspective, attracting new clients from diverse backgrounds. He introduced her to the twist dance and persuaded her to add ready-to-wear clothes to her couture line.

A Lasting Legacy

Their partnership flourished, attracting famous clients like Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, and Jackie Kennedy. Lady Diana Spencer, who later became Princess Diana, chose Bellville Sassoon for many of her outfits, including her engagement announcement dress and several maternity coats.

Bellville retired in 1982 but continued to advise the company. She had exhibitions in 2013 at the Fashion and Textile Museum in London and Holkham Hall in Norfolk, showcasing her timeless designs.

Her husband passed away in 2008, and she is survived by her three daughters. Bellville’s legacy in the fashion world remains strong, remembered for her elegant and practical designs that graced many red carpets and royal events.

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