Wallis Simpson—born Bessie Wallis Warfield in June 1896—was a famed American socialite, known for her impeccable style and seducing King Edward VIII off his throne.
Wallis was married three times in all, firstly to U.S naval office Win Spencer in 1916. She was married to Ernest Simpson when she met Edward, Price of Wales. When Edward had been crowned King, Wallis divorced Simpson. Her reputation as a twice-divorced woman caused a constitutional crisis with the conservative British government, leading the King to abdicate the throne in 1936. After their marriage in 1937, the couple was titled the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. For her nuptials, the Duchess wore a custom “Wallis blue” gown by Mainbocher, with the pale blue-grey hue designed to match her eyes.
The Duchess was completely devoted to style and her appearance: “I’m not a beautiful woman. I’m nothing to look at, the only thing I can do is dress better than anyone else”. Jacqueline de Ribes, a society aristocrat, said of the Duchess’ elegant style, “She was chic but never casual. Other American society women, like Babe Paley, could be chic in blue jeans. The Duchess was a different generation”. Wallis often wore dresses nipped in to accentuate her tiny waist; photographer Cecil Beaton commented she was, “as compact as a Vuitton traveling case”.
She favored architecturally simplistic, pieces (she asked designers not to include pockets in their custom designs) but always with an unexpected twist, or bold counter element. Givenchy created a dress decorated with embroidered monkeys and Wallis wore the Elsa Schiaparelli Lobster gown, made in collaboration with Salvador Dali. The Duchess adorned herself with jewels, gifted to her by the Duke. Simple frocks were juxtaposed with glimmering brooches or statement cuffs. Alexandre de Paris, her hairdresser, styled her hair everyday into a smooth, sleek style “brushed so that a fly would slip off it.”
The Duchess’ couture contacts read like a laundry list, but she maintained close friendships with Christian Dior’s Marc Bohan and Hubert de Givenchy. The house of Dior helped create a haute couture little black dress for the Duchess, and the night before the Duke’s funeral, Givenchy stayed up all night to perfect the length of the Duchess’ chiffon veil. After the Duke’s passing, the Duchess secluded herself from the public eye. Though she may have taken a step back from the café society lifestyle she loved so much, her style was not forgotten. As Roland Mouret once remarked, “love her or hate her, the world is still obsessed by that woman.”