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Wallis Simpson

Wallis Simpson was a frequent subject of Cecil Beaton’s photographs during the 1930s. Shortly before Simpson’s marriage to the Duke of Windsor in May 1937, Beaton was asked to take some official photographs of the bride-to-be at the Château de Candé, where she was staying as a guest of Charles Bedeaux. Since many of the past photographs of Simpson were unflattering, Beaton suggested more romantic-looking pictures, including an image of her standing in the château’s garden wearing a Schiaparelli dress printed with a large lobster. The infamous lobster dress was a design collaboration with Salvador Dalí that grew out of the lobsters that started appearing in the artist’s work in 1934, including New York Dream-Man Finds Lobster in Place of Phone, which appeared in the magazine American Weekly in 1935, and the mixed-media Lobster Telephone created in 1936. Dalí placed the lobster amid parsley sprigs on the front of the skirt (and apparently was disappointed when Schiaparelli would not allow him to spread real mayonnaise on the finished gown), and master silk designer Sache translated the sketch to the fabric. Beaton took almost a hundred photographs during the session with Simpson, and Vogue devoted an eight-page spread to the results. For Dalí both the telephone and the lobster had sexual connotations. His placement of the lobster thus charged the design with erotic tension, effectively defeating the public-relations purpose of Beaton's photographs.

I was reminded of this anecdote—recounted by Dilys E. Blum in Shocking! The Art and Fashion of Elsa Schiaparelli—when I was painting my nails with butter LONDON’s new polish named after the infamous Mrs. Simpson. Wallis is a glimmering gold-green. It’s hardly a radical choice today, but it’s a distinctly off shade, and I can easily imagine it being worn by that scandalous divorcée who was so fashion-forward that she had no idea just how fashion-forward she was.  

August 25, 2011 | Permalink