The Flowers of the Fields of France

Queen Elizabeth II made her first official state visit to Paris accompanied by her husband, Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, in April 1957. While the couple had made an official visit not long after their marriage, this was the Queen’s first visit as a reigning monarch. Aware the eyes of the fashion conscious would be on her, Hartnell created a spectacular evening gown that would not only draw attention to the Queen herself but also pay a compliment to the French nation.

The Queen wore the dress to the state dinner hosted by President René Coty at the Elysée Palace which was followed by a visit to the Opéra to see a ballet by Lifar from The Diaries of Cynthia Jebb. The Queen and the French President appeared on the balcony at the Opéra much to the delight of the gathered crowds who had flocked to catch a glimpse of the young Queen.

V&A Museum

The Flowers of the Fields of France dress was made from duchesse satin and was lavishly embroidered with motifs of miniature bees, grasses, wheat and wild flowers associated with France. The motifs were embellished with faceted glass, gold beads, brilliants, mother-of-pearl and gold petal. The bees were a nod to the emblem of Napoleon, while the dress also featured a large bow on the back.

The gold and silver of the dress was complemented by the Vladimir Tiara with its emerald pendants and the Delhi Durbar Emerald necklace. The Vladimir Tiara was once owned by Duchess Marie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, a German princess, who married Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich of Russia, a son of Emperor Alexander II. The tiara was smuggled out of Russia during the revolution and was later bought by Queen Mary who had the setting altered so the original pearl drops could be swapped for emerald pendants.

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The Delhi Durbar Necklace was commissioned in 1911 for the Indian coronation of King George V and Queen Mary which was held in Delhi. The necklace was part of a larger collection of jewellery known as the Delhi Durbar Parure and set with some of the Cambridge Emeralds and the Cullinan Diamonds which alternate along the length of the necklace. The piece also has two negligee pendants which generally feature an emerald cabochon on the longer length while the shorter has the Cullinan VII diamond. The pendants can be removed or swapped out.

The Queen wore her Legion d’Honneur sash over the dress which was held in place at the shoulder with the True Lovers Knot Brooch which was purchased by Queen Mary from Garrards, the royal jeweller, in the 1930s. The brooch features brilliant cut diamonds set in silver and gold tied in a knot with scalloped ribbon ends.

The dress is now part of the V&A Collection but is not currently on display.

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