26 October 2011

Wedding Wednesday: Queen Soraya's Gown

 HIM The Shah of Iran and Soraya Esfandiary-Bakhtiari
February 12, 1951
Tehran, Iran

A reader request today, for one of the most fairy tale royal wedding gowns of all time, worn by a royal bride that ended up living a fairy tale gone wrong.
The beginning was certainly straight out of a storybook: the recently divorced (from Princess Fawzia of Egypt) Mohammed Reza Pahlavi fell in love immediately with a picture of the young half-Persian, half-German Soraya. He asked for her hand in marriage after just one meeting, and sealed the deal with a massive 22.37 carat diamond engagement ring.
The fantasy continued at the couple's grand wedding at Golestan Palace. Soraya's Christian Dior gown is quite possibly the most couture couture gown ever seen at a royal wedding; it's just utterly, unabashedly over the top. Made of 37 yards of silver lamé studded with pearls, 6,000 diamond pieces, and 20,000 marabou feathers, the creation weighed a whopping 44 pounds (20 kilograms).
The strapless dress came with a matching jacket and veil for the ceremony itself as well as a full-length white mink cape to keep the bride warm. In the evening, both jacket and veil were discarded and an emerald and diamond parure from the crown jewels was added.
But as we all know, things are rarely what they seem, and not even the wedding was as much a fairy tale as it appeared. The ceremony, originally scheduled for December 27th, had to be postponed when Soraya came down with a serious case of typhoid fever. She still wasn't entirely well in February but further postponement wasn't possible, so she had to soldier on. The bride could barely move in her heavy gown, as you can see in this video:
Seeing her stagger, the Shah ordered a lady-in-waiting to take a pair of scissors to the priceless gown and cut the petticoats and train until she could walk again. She also had to deal with the chill in the non-heated palace; there were wool socks underneath that voluminous skirt.

Seven years later, the Shah and his Queen found themselves in a predicament: Soraya had not been able to have children, and the Shah needed a son to continue the dynasty (he had one daughter with his first wife, but a boy was required). In 1958, the Shah tearfully announced their divorce. It was "a sacrifice of my own happiness," Soraya said. Given the title HIH Princess Soraya of Iran and generous funding, she lived the rest of her life as a jet-setting socialite in Europe, but she never managed to find real happiness. Even a romance with director Franco Indovina ended tragically with his death in a plane crash. Soraya became known as the "princess with the sad eyes" and titled her memoir Le Palais des Solitudes, or The Palace of Solitude. She died on October 26, 2001; her belongings were auctioned off and that famous wedding gown sold for $1.2 million.

The Shah married again, to Farah Diba, and had four children including two boys. The Shah was exiled in 1979 and the heir he fought to have has never had the opportunity to rule Iran.

What did you think of Soraya's gown?
Photos: Life/Corbis