22 February 2012

Wedding Wednesday: Empress Farah's Gown

HIM The Shah of Iran and Farah Diba
December 21, 1959
Tehran, Iran

By 1959, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi was in a bit of a desperate situation - he needed a wife. Well, he needed a son, to be more accurate, as only men could inherit his throne and he had no heir. An unsuccessful first marriage to Princess Fawzia of Egypt ended with one daughter; his second marriage to Soraya Esfandiary-Bakhtiari ended in 1958 when it became clear she couldn't bear children; reported interest in marrying Princess Maria Gabriella of Savoy had been shot down by Pope John XXIII.
Lucky for the Shah, 1959 was also the year in which he stumbled upon just the girl to solve the Great Matter for him. While in Paris he held one of his customary meetings with Iranian students studying abroad and was introduced to Farah Diba. By November they were engaged, and in December they married. Farah was 21; the Shah was 40.
For her wedding dress, Farah returned to France and sought out Yves Saint Laurent, then the designer for Dior. (The friendship between the empress and the fashion icon would last the rest of Saint Laurent's life.) The dress itself featured a scoop neck, with a modest coat to go over top. The whole affair was embroidered with Persian motifs depicted in sequins, imitation pearls, and silver thread. The train had a distinctive fur-lined hem; unseen, blue was sewn in to some of the hems as a sort of a good luck charm for the birth of a boy.
To go with her dress, Farah wore the Noor-ol-Ain Tiara containing one of the world's largest pink diamonds as well as a selection of other pieces from the Iranian crown jewels.
After her marriage, Queen Farah dispensed quickly with the pressure to produce a son by delivering a crown prince in less than a year. Three more children would follow - two girls and a second boy. Farah was initially quite popular; she didn't restrict herself to a purely ceremonial role as queen and dug in to some real issues. The Shah showed his appreciation for all she'd done in 1967 by crowning her Empress, or Shahbanou, of Iran in an elaborate ceremony. She was the first of his wives to earn that title, and indeed the first to carry it in modern Iran. The Shah even took it a step further by naming her Empress Regent in the event that he died before their son was old enough to rule on his own - an unusual promotion for a female in the region.
But as with all things, backlash ensued. Farah was criticized for excess, particularly in her coronation and in the lavish celebrations for the 2,500th anniversary of the Persian Empire in 1971. Unrest was building in Iran as a whole against the imperial government, and the imperial family fled the country in 1979.
Farah's coronation
Life in exile has not been kind to Farah. The Shah died of cancer in 1980. Her youngest child, Princess Leila, was found dead after an overdose in 2001; her youngest son, Prince Ali-Reza, committed suicide in 2011. Today, Farah splits her time between Paris and the U.S., and we get to see her occasionally at big royal events where she is always impeccably turned out.

What do you make of Farah's wedding gown?

Photos: Topfoto/Rex Features