13 July 2011

Wedding Wednesday: Queen Fabiola's Gown

 HM King Baudouin I of the Belgians and Doña Fabiola de Mora y Aragón
December 15, 1960
Brussels, Belgium

Despite the fact that there are several high-profile royal wedding gowns that I have not yet written about, this is the gown I get the most requests for. And it surprises me, I won't lie, because I generally don't think of Fabiola as a well-known royal. (Perhaps you Fab fans are a small, but vocal, minority.) Nevertheless, the requests are for a gown that has been rightly called a masterpiece, made by a man that was rightly called the king of haute couture, and we always have time for that.
Baudouin wasn't even 21 years old when he became the King of the Belgians in 1951, following the abdication of his controversial father, Leopold III. After years of speculation, he surprised his country by announcing his engagement to Fabiola, a well-born Spanish nurse.
Fabiola chose a fellow Spaniard to design her wedding gown: Cristóbal Balenciaga. The design, in theory, was simple: just white silk, tulle, and fur. But the overall effect was regally over the top.
The dress features a high neckline and three-quarter length sleeves with a drop waist and a full skirt. The neckline is trimmed in ermine, which extends back to border the 7 meter (about 22 feet) long train. The skirt is also trimmed in ermine. She accessorized with white silk gloves and the Nine Provinces Tiara to anchor the tulle veil in place. The tiara had been a gift to Baudouin's mother, Astrid, from the Belgian people.
The dress was heavy, and complicated to move. The devoutly Catholic bride had been up most of the night in prayer, and was fasting in order to receive the Eucharist on an empty stomach. As a result, Fabiola was teary and nearly fainted during the course of the four hour wedding. (Yes, four hours: a civil ceremony at the palace, followed by a religious ceremony at the cathedral, with complicated transportation for the guests in between.)
This is a gown that couldn't be replicated today, and not just because any royal bride using ermine would be tarred and feathered in today's politically correct climate. This was a gown for an occasion the likes of which have rarely been seen since. Belgium hadn't had reason for such pageantry in years. It hadn't had a queen, either, since Queen Astrid died in a car crash in 1935. And this gown was fit for a queen; not a princess.
I think people that are big fans of this gown are fans of more than just the cloth; they're fans of the story, too. By all accounts, Baudouin and Fabiola had a genuine love story. They remained a devoted team through the Queen's fertility struggles, including five miscarriages, right up until the King died suddenly of heart failure in 1993. Since they were childless, the throne passed to Baudouin's brother, Albert. As for the gown, Fabiola donated it, and it can now be admired at the Balenciaga museum in Spain.

What do you think: is it a masterpiece?

Photos: fotomarket/Life/balenciaga/ANP