Belinda Bellville, fashion designer who dressed the British high society and the Royal family – mortality

Belinda Bellville, who has died aged 94, founded the fashion house Bellville et Cie (later Bellville Sassoon), whose young, fresh designs were a staple in the wardrobes of society women, wives and members of the Royal family. over four years of age. twenty years.

Dubbed “Belinda Bellville, the treasure of the best” by the newspapers, her patrons included Princesses Margaret and Alexandra, the Duchess of Kent, and, a little further down the social scale, Audrey Hepburn, Julie Christie, Jackie Kennedy and Catherine Deneuve.

“The titled ladies suggest the title models” reported the Daily Mail on one of their early shows in the 1950s. “200 women are ushered into an elegant drawing room in Park Lane to see 18-year-old Lady Beatty and five other models show off Belinda Bellville’s latest creations. The Duchess of Westminster, Lady Derby, Lady Rupert Neville, Lady Oppenheimer, and Lady Ebury pressed into small gilt chairs. Those unlucky were forced to watch from the corridor outside. The street was full of Bentleys and Rolls-Royces.”

Wedding dress by Bellville et Cie

Wedding dress by Bellville et Cie – Alamy

When Lady Pamela Mountbatten married David Hicks in 1960, her wedding trousers were designed by Bellville – as was the dress worn by her princess Anne. The designer Cath Kidston, whose mother was Belinda’s first cousin, recalled being told that when Belinda went to Buckingham Palace to be fitted for the dress – a yellow ruffled affair – the Queen came to see it and said ” It’s very nice”, then. He went to Belinda and said, Will he wash?

In 1963 the Sunday Times reported that Bellville had just completed its 80th wedding dress of the season with another 20 to be completed by October. By the end of the decade, a survey by Tatler showed that Bellville et Cie had made more society wedding dresses than any other couture house for over 30 years.

In 1970 Belinda Bellville partnered with David Sassoon and the business expanded into a full blown couture house. In 1981 Belville Sassoon created the dress worn by Lady Diana Spencer when her engagement to Prince Charles was announced, and she created her wedding trousers and evening dress. Between 1981 and 1993 Bellville Sassoon created more than 70 outfits for the Princess of Wales.

Diana, Princess of Wales, wearing a Belville Sassoon dress in Australia, 1983Diana, Princess of Wales, wearing a Belville Sassoon dress in Australia, 1983

Diana, Princess of Wales, wearing a Belville Sassoon dress in Australia, 1983 – Anwar Hussein

The eldest of three children, Belinda Bellville was born on 29 March 1930. Her father was Anthony Seymour Bellville, whose family fortune came from Keen’s mustard. Her mother was Audrey Kidston, whose family owned Clyde Shipping.

She grew up in Leicestershire where her parents were part of the fashionable set – fond of racing cars, airplanes and horses. Summers were spent at Bembridge on the Isle of Wight, where her parents sailed and had parties on their yacht Mahelah, a converted Thames barge with a grand piano and cast iron bathtub.

During the war, her father joined the RNVR and the deck of the boat was covered in concrete to make an anti-aircraft platform from which he would shoot doodle bugs – like shooting high pheasants, he claimed.

To avoid the bombs, the rest of the family moved to a house on the river Wye, near Builth Wells, where they enjoyed riding Welsh ponies in the mountains, salmon fishing and collecting gull eggs.

Belinda Bellville, left, dressing her model Lady Gillian Pepys in 1959Belinda Bellville, left, dressing her model Lady Gillian Pepys in 1959

Belinda Bellville, left, dressing her model Lady Gillian Pepys in 1959 – Evening Standard

Belinda’s interest in fashion was encouraged by her grandmother (divorced and remarried), Gladys “Cuckoo” Leith, who ran a dress shop in Savile Row in the 1920s. With clothes made during the war, Belinda helped her mother make garments from whatever they could find, including old curtains.

Towards the end of the war, Belinda did a short stint at Miss Faunce’s school at Wimborne St Giles, Dorset. Six feet tall and elegant, in 1947 she was brought before a court.

Determined to forge her own career in fashion at a time when there were few opportunities to study for design qualifications, Belinda Bellville took up fashion journalism, assisted a fashion photographer and worked for a clothes shop in Street Bond.

In 1952 she married David Whately, a partner in a firm that made abstract globes and sculptures for advertising, and later a financier.

The following year, aged 23, she founded Bellville et Cie in partnership with Sydna Scott, who had a shop in Kinnerton Street, Knightsbridge. “The space was so small, there was an outside toilet and I visited the pub next door to design and sketch the dresses,” she recalled.

Belinda Bellville in 1960Belinda Bellville in 1960

Belinda Bellville in 1960 – Even Standard

She needed money to invest in the business, and Belinda sold a Citroen car that her brother Jeremy had given her as a wedding present, for £500; amazingly it was the only capital the company ever needed.

In 1953 Belinda Bellville had her first show in Cuach Leith’s house in Manchester Square, with her sister Camilla and her friends as models. People queued up to see it, and the show was a huge success, appearing in Illustrated magazine. Orders flooded in and by 1957 there were ball gowns, cocktail dresses, ball gowns and, most notably, wedding dresses.

She moved to new premises at 14 Motcombe Street, Belgravia, where she employed 40 people, serving an elite clientele. “Belville understood that Cheltenham racecourse was a sordid place and that he would always know to within an inch how much cleavage the Duchess would stand at dinner,” said The Times.

In 1958 she was joined by David Sassoon, who impressed her with his designs at a Royal College of Art graduation show. Belinda later said, “she had no formal training but she had great taste; she understood the spirit of fashion, she had a great love for fabric and a very good sense of color. Socially she knew all the right people and introduced many of the royals.

Diana, Princess of Wales, in a Bellville Sassoon dress in 1984Diana, Princess of Wales, in a Bellville Sassoon dress in 1984

Diana, Princess of Wales, in a Bellville Sassoon dress in 1984 – Tim Graham

“Boutique”, Bellville’s ready-to-wear collection, was launched in 1963 and in 1965 Vogue Patterns invited Bellville et Cie to join its pattern books. By 1970 Bellville Sassoon, as the company was now known, had a staff of over 100.

Belinda Bellville retired from the company in 1982, but remained a consultant. She moved with her family to a house outside Shaftesbury in Dorset, and the company continued to flourish under David Sassoon.

The family moved to North Norfolk in 2001 and her husband David died in 2008. Belinda survived major brain surgery in 2011, but continued to live happily in Norfolk, always commenting on the fashion choices of her visitors. .

She is survived by three daughters.

Belinda Bellville, born 29 March 1930, died 5 May 2024

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