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The Trousseau of the May Queen

The big Vionnet exhibition in Paris at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs is, deservedly, attracting lots of attention. It presents a spectacular overview of Madeleine Vionnet’s brilliant career. But, there’s a complementary exhibition in Paris at the moment as well: the trousseau of Italian princess Marie-José of Savoy at the Mona Bismarck Foundation Paris Cultural Center. It has been little publicized, but it’s equally stunning.

Fortunately, my friend Didier Ludot (he of vintage couture fame), mentioned it to me when I was with him the other day in Paris, saying what a perfect addition it would to the Vionnet exhibit. Both exhibitions focus strongly on gowns of the 1930s, after all. My goodness, was he right! You’ll see by the photos below just how special the exhibit is.

I have a feeling that the beautiful Marie-José of Savoy was the Princess Diana of her day, and the gorgeous garments (all sewn in Italy, in the manner of the French haute couture) from her trousseau in the exhibit are what she wore after her 1930 wedding to Umberto II until she left Italy in 1946, after World War II. Fortunately, her attendants had carefully packed away her finery, and 60 years later, the gowns are still in perfect condition.

Marie-José, Belgian by birth, was groomed early on to be the bride of the future king of Italy. Her husband served briefly as King Umberto II (after the abdication of his father), until Italy voted to become a republic (no longer a monarchy) after World War II. Her reign was brief—from May 9 until June 2, 1946, and for that reason, she was known as the May Queen. As she said rather touchingly, “I was called the May Queen. It is a name which does not displease me . .…

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  1. sews4fun | | #1

    Simply stunning! Thank You for sharing these beautiful gowns with us, I can't stop looking at them!

  2. PetalRose | | #2

    How fascinating that a gorgeous collection like this has survived. It makes me wish I lived in Europe and could see couture vintage like this. I am in awe of the sewing skill of that era.

  3. operadraper | | #3

    both of these are amazing! the detail is mind blowing.

    Any idea if either show has a book that goes with? I would love to have a coffee table version of these dresses -- they are simply beautiful.

  4. perendales | | #4

    Vionnet's work is truly stunning. Whenever I see photos of it, I want to see more. Wouldn't it be wonderful if an exhibit such as this toured the US where the rest of us could see it?

  5. User avater
    bushbunny | | #5

    The Vionnet exhibit has a catalogue available on the website, but it is in French only. I already inquired if it would be available in an English edition. I guess the language doesn't effect the beauty of the photographed garments too much ! Such talent ... it would be a wonderful afternoon just studying the pictures.

  6. WhiteBow | | #6

    You can look at the website here:


    and order the exhibit catalog here:


    Gorgeous! Thank you, Susan, for bringing this to our attention!

  7. lheck1108 | | #7

    Isn't it so strange how much skin is shown these days on the gowns, when back in the day, really so little was shown, and yet the gowns were done in such wonderful taste, and must say looked just as sexy as they do toady, and maybe even more so.

  8. User avater
    shaedee | | #8

    The work is exquisite and the styles so ageless, its awesome.

  9. JanFan123 | | #9

    This is gorgeous, a divine pleasure to see. Thank you for sharing them with us.
    Sewingmonk: There is more detail of each design in English here http://www.lesartsdecoratifs.fr/IMG/pdf/157-vionnet-angl.pdf

  10. fotofashion | | #10

    operadraper: Although the book I have is not generated by the exhibit, there is a book about Vionnet. It is entitled: Madeline Vionnet. Author is Betty Kirke. Publisher is Chronicle Books. ISBN 0-8118-1997-3 Warning, the book is rather expensive but it is not only about her fashions, it is about her, her life, her fashion business, etc. And it is a coffee table size.
    I was fortunate to buy the book at a discounted price as it was offered to us in college studying Fashion Design.

  11. fotofashion | | #11

    I should have looked at the website of the Vionnet exhibition before commenting. There IS a book offered in conjunction with the exhibit. Madeleine Vionnet, puriste de la mode. 304 pages,306 illustrations. 55 euros. ISBN: 978-2-916914-13-8

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