A tragically touching tale told through tasteful tailoring
On August 18, 2007 an old woman died in Kylemore Clinic in County Dublin largely unnoticed – with little indication that she was once an heiress with a taste for designer clothes (and hundreds of couture dresses to her name). However, this was in fact, Anne Moen Bullitt and she had a tantalizing tale to tell.
(1950-55) Printed silk dress, with full skirt – designed by Balenciaga but bought from the Madrid boutique, called Eisa.
The renowned American journalist and radical, Louise Bryant and the American diplomat and novelist – appointed by Roosevelt as the first US Ambassador to Moscow – William Bullitt, jr. married in 1924 and had a daughter, Anne. However, due to an alleged lesbian affair with an English sculptor (Gwen Le Gallienne) and problems with alcoholism, Anne’s father divorced her mother and won full custody of the child. Louise sadly died of brain haemorrhage in Paris in 1936 after spending her last years desperately trying to hear news of Anne. Due to the lack of her mother’s presence Anne therefore grew up close to her father, as they travelled around Europe together for his job. They were so close that according to Freud (a good friend of her father’s) she proved his greatest theory – when asked if she loved her father, she replied ‘my father is God’.
(1962-67) Wool tailored couture suit, designed by Christian Dior, London.
Anne’s adult life was to prove as eventful as her childhood! She very sadly experienced four unsuccessful marriages. However, she also proudly became the first woman breeder and trainer of thoroughbred horses in Ireland, managing the largest horse farm in Ireland and became chatelaine of a famous Irish estate where she lived for most of her life – and at Leeds Discovery Centre Anne’s memory lives on as they will always be thankful for her intense interest in fashion and what is described as Anne’s ‘‘amazing collection‘ of vintage clothes from all the famous Parisian designers from the golden era of haute couture’ (Jane McDonald). Especially a grey Carnegie suit in the ‘New Look’ style…
(1947-49) Tailored couture suit, designed by Hattie Carnegie. The jacket has a fitted waist with padding on the hips, to make it flare out over the full skirt, giving the suit a typical ‘New Look’ style.
The ‘New Look’ style was a name given to Christian Dior’s first collection at the fashion house he founded in 1946. His designs were much more voluptuous than the fabric-conserving shapes of the recent World War II styles and revolutionised woman’s dress. Dior is quoted as saying ‘I have designed flower women’ as his look used bustier-style bodices, hip padding , wasp-waisted corsets and petticoats to give his models a curvaceous form. Hattie Carnegie was a fashion entrepreneur based in New York from the 1920s to 1960, who also used this style. She was known for her elegant couture collection and secondary ready-to-wear lines – this was ground-breaking as she was one of the first to introduce ready-to-wear to the high end market.
At first Anne bought clothes in New York, mainly from Hattie Carnegie, while living the American socialite lifestyle. However, her second husband was vice consul in the American Embassy in Madrid which gave her access to Balenciaga’s couture clothes under the Spanish name ‘Eisa’. She then later lived in Ireland and moving in racing circles, increased her collection, buying clothes by Sybil Connelly, Lanvin, YSL and others. However, Anne was famously tiny with a remarkable 18-20 inch waist which made her clothes virtually un-wearable for anyone else! Hence the wonderful collection that now exists today of Anne’s fabulous clothes, partly stored in Leeds Discovery Centre!
By Rebecca Jenkins