Wednesday, August 8, 2012

W.E. (2011); Wallis Simpson stylespiration

Good morning!

The other day, my Netflix by-mail subscription guy came in the mail, and what to my wondering eyes should appear but the Madonna-helmed Wallis Simpson/Prince Edward movie W.E. I wondered briefly if this was a commercial conspiracy between the Material Girl, Netflix, and me, as I had not remembered placing it in my queue, but I do a lot of "oh we should see that!" impulse adding, and I guess W.E. snuck in there somewhere after a particularly thrilling preview on some forgotten new release DVD. I'd heard all the reviews of said movie were pretty bad...sending my initial British-scandal-plus-thirties'-costumes interest south, with a shiver of Madonna's Swept Away remake reminding me why I'd stopped loving her, cinematically speaking, after her Susan days.

However! My lack of faith was ill-placed! The Abby Cornish, present-day plotline, reminded me of a late 90's, Gwyneth Paltrow romantic-drama, and while it wasn't 100% engrossing, and even veered into being a little silly at times, it certainly wasn't Gigli bad. Plus Abby Cornish looks eerily like Charlize Theron fifteen years ago (double bonus). The Wallis/Edward part was the movie-goers-in-seats part of the movie, and I wish to goodness Madonna had just done the entire project on that half. Andrea Risborough was very, very good as Wallis, whoever the actor was who played Edward looked nothing like him but was suitably romantic in a Gatsby kind of way. The costumes! Were so very well-researched and beautiful. It made me, naturally, want to look back at the real Wallis Simpson and check some of these styles out.

Wanna look with me?

As is pointed out in so many biographical sketches of the former Duchess of Windsor, and from what you can see in any and all photographs of her, style was something Wallis Simpson could do. I remember when I initially heard about the whole "abdication for love" scandal, way before this movie, I was expecting to see some brassy American divorcée, in the mold of say a young Melanie Griffith, hanging blondely, blithely, off the arm of the Prince. Nope! Instead, this somewhat plain, sparrow-boned reed of a woman, impeccably dressed but thin lipped and severe-looking, was the cause for the momentary King of England to give up the throne.

I wish I was less of a pear-shape and could pull off some of these racehorse-lithe silhouettes! The wedding dress in particular, from which Stella McCartney drew inspiration for Nancy Shevell's wedding dress to Stella's pappy, Paul, is so modern looking almost seventy-five years later.  Still, I can take two style ideas from the WS table: a) WS's perfectly marcelled/pinned coronet-style hair and b) her perfect choice of accessories. There's a whole book at NPL on her jewelry collection, which included a famous Tiffany flamingo brooch and another Tiffany panther pin. Do you notice that these days women seem to shy away from statement jewelry except in a very faddish way? I know it would be easier to indulge in this interest with the Windsor bankroll, but even in the rhinestone and faux pearl version, you hardly see any women not-in-an-elementary-school-classroom-on-a-festive-holiday wearing figural brooches or pins.

Things I like in the above montage:

  • The primness of the white matching collar and cuffs on a black dress with matching, tiny center brooch and earrings. So Priscilla Alden/Plymouth Colony, yet so romantic looking at the same time. I bought a pair of detachable lace collars the other day at an estate sale for a dollar apiece-- I'm waiting on the weather to get cool enough to try them out! I always think a plain white collar like this provides such a pretty frame for your face.
  • The zig-zag print dress in sequins-- what colors do you think it was?! Do you see that there are jagged, fabric cuffs at each of her wrists? An oversized velvet drawstring purse? I am truly in love with this look.
  • The elegantly coiled hair style plus enormous earrings and necklace. Like a more done-up Frida Kahlo. I swear to goodness I'm going to figure out something like this to do with my hair. It's long enough, for sure!
  • The way Wallis's jacket matches Edward's tie. All couples should go for subtle matchiness, it's just more fun.
  • The asymmetrical necklace/strap, plus brooch at-hip, plus unusual tiara, on an otherwise non descript evening gown. The dress is Givenchy-chic as it is, but something about the accessories makes it more personal; makes it "pop".
In all of these pictures, she's obviously a woman who, in lesser clothes and badly done hair, wouldn't stand out at all, but by force of personality and careful presentation, she shines with a special kind of light. Who doesn't want to be the girl everyone turns a head to see and remembers having seen?

More sartorial YESSSSSSSes below:

Did you see the W.E. movie or did poor Madonna's maligned name keep you away from the theater and the RedBox? Have you seen any other movies/read any books about the Windsors? What aspects of thirties' super-style appeal to you?

I'm going to try and study the following video to get that pinned-up hair and simple but striking makeup style down. If you see me walking down the street in elbow length white gloves and a matching brooch-and-necklace set, you know from whence the mood came! :)


See you guys tomorrow!


  1. Yes, one of the better style icons in my opinion. Her clothes always seemed to be so definitively of their time, but she definitely had a unique personal style. Good one!

    1. There's one black and white zig zag suit in the movie, I think a copy of a Schiaparelli number of the time that WS actually wore, that SLAYS ME. So chic!!

  2. I first got interested in Wallis Simpson after looking through the catalog from her jewelry auction at a bookstore. Have you seen the 70s miniseries Edward and Mrs. Simpson? I think Edward Fox is the only actor I've ever seen who really really really embodies Edward VIII. It's totally worth the watch for the costumes worn by Edward, Wallis and Lady Diana Cooper. Heaven. Lots of fabulous casual knitwear, too. I feel like I need to go watch it right now...

    Anyway, I haven't seen W.E. because of a) Madonna and b) the contemporary storyline. Although, I suppose I could always put it on the Netflix queue. I imagine it being a bit like Julie and Julia in that I might be tempted to fast forward through all the contemporary stuff.

    1. Re: the miniseries: I think it's on my Netflix queue! Edward Fox is the uncle of Laurence Fox, who plays Prince Edward in W.E....isn't that crazy? One family, two Prince Edwards. I'd seen the catalog and read Caroline Blackwood's book on Wallis's last days/her CRAZY French attorney, but now I want to read more! I had similar suspicions about Madonna and the contemporary bits, but it's really too gorgeous in the 30's timeline to be too off-put, give it a shot if it comes up on instant or something.

    2. Laurence Fox is in it?! Sign me up. I have the biggest-ever TV crush on Sergeant Hathaway.



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