All images: Andrea Riseborough as Wallis Simpson in W.E. ( out January 20th).

During her lifetime Wallis Simpson mainly made headlines for her relationship with King Edward VIII and his abdication which was constitutionally necessary for them to marry. Today, Wallis is is still in the headlines but this time relating to her spectacular jewellery and couture collections that have come to auction.

As an American divorcee still married to her second husband, Wallis was hardly marriage material when she met Prince Edward at a society party in London. While many blame Wallis for seducing the Prince, it seems likely that she was herself seduced by the glamour and power of being close to the heir of Britain’s throne. Once he was made king, Edward was forced to either abdicate or give up Wallis. He chose her.

Essentially exiled from Britain – which was also due to their seemingly sympathetic take on Nazi Germany – The Duke and Duchess of Windsor lived most of their lives in the Bahamas and  France. Her position as ‘that American divorcee’ who had caused a crisis in the British monarchy had a deep effect on the way Wallis dressed.

She thought of herself as a plain woman who would have to make the best of what she had. Her husband had given up the throne for her, and she thought it her duty to be as attractive as she could possibly be: “I’m not a beautiful woman. I’m nothing to look at, so the only thing I can do is dress better than anyone else.” Wallis wore clothing as both her armour and to provoke a reaction – she might have been the most hated woman in Britain but she wasn’t going to shy away from the stares.

“A woman can’t be too rich or too thin” is a another famous quote by her and she stuck to a rigorous diet and exercise regime that kept her body slender and athletic throughout her life.

Wallis loved to wear contemporary fashion and often turned to the key designers of the time to dress her. For her low-key wedding she chose a powder blue skirt suit by American designer Mainbocher (below right). A great fan of classic French designers like Chanel, Schiaparelli –  she famously wore the Salvadore Dalí-designed  Elsa Schiaparelli lobster print gown for a Cecil Beaton photo shoot for Vogue in 1937 – and Dior, she was often a front row regular.

Simpson might have spent her life ostracised, dying alone in France in April 1986, aged 89. However her personal style continues to fascinate.

3 Responses

  1. Liz Tregenza

    Wow, I hadn’t seen the image of her wedding dress from the film before! Such a fantastic remake of the original, which it stands (bar Princess Margaret in her Hartnell…swoon) is one of my favourite wedding dresses ever, royal or otherwise. Fascinating story behind the Molyneux design too and the fact that she chose a French designer!


  2. Dana Publicover

    I cannot figure out if the Duchess’s wedding dress was a single piece, or a skirt and jacket ensemble, or a gown, with a jacket over it. I have looked and looked for a photo of the back of the dress with no luck. How did she get into it? An inquiring mind wants to know……

    • Lena

      It’s a dress suit! A friend of mine did an exact replica of it and got to see the original for it.