This week’s ‘wedding dress of the week’ is an homage to classicism. Designed by Ian & Marcel this dress and coat is one of the most subtle yet rewarding ensembles included in Unveiled: 200 Years of Wedding Fashion from the Victoria & Albert Museum, London.
Ian & Marcel was founded in 1979 by two Canadians – Ian Cooper and Marcel Aucoin. Both trained in Canada, and moved to London in the late 1970s, where Cooper completed a masters degree in fashion at the St Martins School of Art. In the UK, the duo quickly established a reputation for their exquisitely hand-painted garments, and pleated silks. The latter were inspired by the work of Mariano Fortuny (1871 – 1949). Born in Spain and based in Venice, Fortuny was renowned for his ‘Delphos’ dress, a full-length, body clinging gown made of finely pleated silk which was weighted at the hem and sleeves with Venetian glass beads. The beads not only added an ornamental touch, but also assisted with the drape of the gown.
As the name Delphos suggests, Fortuny was inspired by the Classical world as alluded to in this photograph from The Metropolitan.
Influenced by neo-classicism and the 19th century dress reform movement, Fortuny’s Delphos gown was initially popular in artistic circles. Early adopters included dancer Isadora Duncan and actress Lillian Gish. Over-time the Delphos became acceptable as ‘at-home’ wear and later as evening wear.
Cooper and Aucoin saw an exhibition of Fortuny’s work in 1980 at the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery. Obviously entranced, they skilfully updated the Fortuny-look for the 1980s silhouette as this wedding dress elegantly demonstrates.
The execution of the veil, which features roses ‘drawn’ in silicone rubber, also brings Ian & Marcel’s historically inspired wedding gown into the contemporary. The duo developed a silicone rubber and silk technique to create stitch-free seams and hems, and decorative elements.
Another example of this technique, applied to an evening gown, can be viewed on the V&A’s website.
Ian & Marcel bequeathed a significant collection of their work to the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1992. Both designers sadly succumbed to AIDS related illnesses in the early 1990s. Reflecting on their approach, Lady Holly Rumbold, who co-wrote Ian and Marcel : Hand Painted and Pleated Silks with Elizabeth Vernon in 1993, wistfully observed:
‘Ian & Marcel reminded us of medieval knights, whose quest was for beauty’s perfection. They consecrated their lives to their art and the realisation of their ideals, with the same single-mindedness and fervour of Parsifal in pursuit of the Holy Grail’.