18 January 2012

Wedding Wednesday: Queen Paola's Gown

 HRH Prince Albert, Prince of Liège and Donna Paola Ruffo di Calabria
July 2, 1959
Brussels, Belgium

Today's post is a request which I am delighted to fulfill because I adore looking at early pictures of the lady we know today as Queen Paola of the Belgians. Paola was born in Tuscany to an Italian princely family; her father was Prince Fulco Ruffo di Calabria, Duke of Guardia Lombarda. She met Prince Albert, second son of King Leopold III of the Belgians, at the coronation of Pope John XXIII and married him less than a year later.
The two lovebirds preferred a Vatican wedding but under pressure from the Belgian government, the Pope refused. The government wanted Belgium to have a royal wedding to celebrate, and they got their wish.
For her Brussels wedding, Paola's gown was made of specially woven heavy satin. The dress features a 5 meter long train and a bow at the waist accented with a small brooch. The standout feature is her veil, a family heirloom first worn by her Belgian grandmother and made, so fittingly, of wonderful Brussels lace.
Since Paola brought the veil "home", the family tradition has continued with her daughter and two daughters-in-law wearing it at their weddings. Paola wore a small cluster of orange blossoms in lieu of a tiara with her grand veil.
It's worth noting here that at the time of the wedding, Albert and Paola weren't set to be the future King and Queen of the Belgians. Albert's older brother, Baudouin, was an unmarried king then; their father abdicated in his favor in 1951. It would be another year before Baudouin married his queen, Fabiola. Surely they couldn't have imagined that Baudouin and Fabiola would be childless, leading to Albert's accession in 1993. And this is certainly not the gown of a queen, as Fabiola's was.
To tell you the truth, I've never liked this dress. It's basic with a fab veil, which is usually right up my alley, but the problem is simple: when I look at it, I don't see Paola. I only see her gown, and all the shine, and the hefty veil. But the lady herself looks rather...plain. And young Paola, well, let me tell you, was anything but plain. She was quite a legendary beauty, in fact. And any dress that tries to compete with that level of exquisiteness is bound to fail.
Young Paola
Albert and Paola have now been married for more than 50 years and have three children (Prince Philippe, Princess Astrid, and Prince Laurent). Unfortunately, it hasn't been smooth sailing all this time. By their tenth wedding anniversary, Albert had fathered an alleged illegitimate daughter with his mistress (he has never recognized her). They were jointly unhappy, and the infidelity rumors came from both sides. King Baudouin and Queen Fabiola were very much against the idea of a divorce, so they remained married yet estranged for many years. But just as others were preparing to accept a divorce, they reconciled. By the early 1980s they were in love once again, and today the affection they show in public is very real. They've both acknowledged that their marriage has had rough patches and Paola has noted that in the end, they're made for each other.

What do you think of Paola's wedding gown?

Photos: Bunte