Style Icons: Wallis Simpson

A recent post over on the Coletterie blog has me thinking extra-hard about style icons. These are the women who I hope to channel when I wiggle into  a pencil skirt, pair it with a frilly little blouse, clip a white silk flower into my hair, and top it all off with a gold salamander bracelet.

Mine is a somewhat diverse list, probably best tackled one at a time. Starting with:

Wallis Simpson

The late Duchess of Windsor and I have very little in common. For starters, I can hardly get a fella to spring for dinner and a movie, while this American divorcee had would-be king Edward willing to abdicate the British throne.  Not to mention the fact that only one of us has any real concerns about being either too rich or too thin.

But when it comes to fashion, I grok Wallis.  Bean-pole thin (by choice) without a hint of girlish curve, she admitted to not being the prettiest or even sexiest girl in most rooms. What she lacked in a comely bosom, though, she made up for in style. Something in the way she wore sensible 1940s skirt suits or supremely modest evening gowns in only the most luxurious — almost lickable — fabrics was both stark and strangely sensual. The way she never had so much as a windblown hair or smudged red lip spoke volumes about this dame’s approach to control. How could Edward possibly resist such whip appeal?

Wearing the Cartier Bird of Paradise pin

But my hands-down favorite thing about Wallis Simpson is her daring approach to accessorizing. She had the balls to mix her austere garb with layers of sumptuous furs and downright sinful jewels. Oh the jewels!  When her collection went up for auction last year, it included an onyx and diamond panther bracelet, a ruby, emerald, sapphire, and diamond bird of paradise pin, and a solid gold necessaire du soir (that’s evening clutch for us non-royals). All made by Cartier or Van Cleef and Arpels, natch.

She lived through nearly nine decades of fashion, always adapting her style. Slim skirt suits gave way to New Look, which gave way to caftans, and ultimately pastel colored pant suits. Still, she never lost her essential Wallis-ness.

Here she is wearing the panther bracelet.

I hear that Madonna is working on a biopic of the Duchess due out this year. I can’t wait to drool at the fashion. In the meanwhile, I’d love to sew something inspired by one of my favorite style icons. Feel free to weigh in on the comments if you know just the pattern. I would love something like this:

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