Embassy Ballgown Recreation Series – Part 2

Continuing our dressmaking tale of recreating the Embassy Ballgown, we have the elaborate process of researching and discovering many mysteries along the way. After discussing with the bride about this exciting wedding gown assignment, Jennifer immediately set off to find all the information she could gather on this iconic gown. Many hours were spent on research and development for this gown. 

Jennifer had high hopes of finding the actual gown from the 1964 film for inspiration in her recreation. However, tracking down the actual location of this gown turned out to be quite the scavenger hunt. Jennifer tried to locate the gown through her connections in Hollywood from her time working on various films and tv series as a costume shop supervisor. But much to her surprise, no one knew where this dress could possibly be. Warner Brothers did not have it in their costume vault. It was not in any museum. The head of the UCLA Costume Department said the gown had most likely been auctioned off, and was in the hands of a private collector. On the internet, the rumors said that this gown was actually borrowed from a person in the UK and was then returned back to the original owner after the making of the film. To this day we still have yet to find out where the original Embassy Ballgown is located. If you know where it could be, let us know. The mystery is yet to be solved!

Another exciting discovery Jennifer found while researching this dress came from Cecil Beaton, the Costume Designer of My Fair Lady.  He wrote a diary of his experience working on the film.  Jennifer found this entry about the Embassy Ballgown:

Wednesday, 19 June (1962)

“This afternoon, however, Eliza’s ball dress was pinned, in rough form, on a stand for the first time. This is a dress that everyone will see. Agnes has the responsibility of creating this gossamer shift. She started to cut the sequin, crystal and chenille embroidery from a genuine 1910 evening gown which will be an invaluable guide for our embroideries. Absorbed in such fascinating detail, I didn’t realize the day was long since over, yet none of the women seemed in a hurry to get back to their homes.” 

So, it appeared that the gown was modeled after a 1910 evening gown that a dressmaker named “Agnes” cut apart to use a guide.  It seems that the gown Audrey Hepburn wore must have been an original gown made in-house at the costume studio.  Jennifer longed to find out who Agnes was, but never figured that out.  If anyone knows about Agnes, we’d love to hear!

After accepting the fact that the gown could not be seen in person, Jennifer set off to find some high resolution photos of the dress in order to really see all of the intricate details. Jennifer ended up spending hours studying photos from Warner Brothers, still shots from the film, and through watching the film over and over again. After gathering as many details as she could from these resources, she came up with a design for this gown. Having the initial vision of the dress was thrilling! She knew this was going to be a very memorable experience in dressmaking and design.

Researching and creating the first design and sketch of the gown was the exciting beginning of a long dressmaking process. We will pause the dressmaking tale here for now, and continue back in part 3 on the process of creating the gown and the many adventures as a part of the creative process. See below for some photos of the research process… 

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