Belinda Bellville, fashion designer who dressed British high society and the royal family – obituary

Belinda Bellville, who has died aged 94, founded the fashion house Bellville et Cie (later Bellville Sassoon), whose young, fresh designs became an important part of the wardrobe of ladies, brides-to-be and members of the royal family. than four years. decades.

She was dubbed ‘Belinda Bellville, the darling of the top crowd’ by the press, and her patrons included Princesses Margaret and Alexandra and the Duchess of Kent, as well as Audrey Hepburn, Julie Christie, Jackie Kennedy and Catherine Deneuve.

“Titled ladies applaud the titled models,” the Daily Mail reported from one of her early shows in the 1950s. “200 women cram into an elegant salon in Park Lane to see 18-year-old Lady Beatty and five other models showing off Belinda Bellville’s latest creations. The Duchess of Westminster, Lady Derby, Lady Rupert Neville, Lady Oppenheimer and Lady Ebury squeezed into small gilded chairs. The less fortunate had to strain to look outside from the hallway. The street was full of Bentleys and Rolls-Royces.”

A wedding dress from Bellville et Cie

A wedding dress from Bellville et Cie – Alamy

When Lady Pamela Mountbatten married David Hicks in 1960, her wedding trousseau was designed by Bellville, as was the dress worn by her bridesmaid Princess Anne. The designer Cath Kidston, whose mother was Belinda’s cousin, recalled being told how when Belinda went to Buckingham Palace to try on the dress – a yellow ruffled one – the Queen stopped by to look at it and said: ‘It’s very nice’, and then turned to Belinda and said: “Will it wash?”

In 1963, The Sunday Times reported that Bellville had just completed its 80th wedding dress of the season and had 20 more to be completed by October. By the end of the decade, a Tatler survey found that Bellville et Cie had made more society wedding dresses than any other couture house in the previous thirty years.

In 1970, Belinda Bellville entered into a partnership with David Sassoon and the company grew into a full-fledged couture house. In 1981, Belville Sassoon created the outfit worn by Lady Diana Spencer when her engagement to Prince Charles was announced, and subsequently designed her wedding trousseau and her farewell outfit. Between 1981 and 1993, Bellville Sassoon created more than 70 outfits for the Princess of Wales.

Diana, Princess of Wales, wearing a Belville Sassoon dress in Australia, 1983Diana, Princess of Wales, wearing a Belville Sassoon dress in Australia, 1983

Diana, Princess of Wales, wearing a Belville Sassoon dress in Australia, 1983 – Anwar Hussein

Belinda Bellville, the eldest of three children, was born on March 29, 1930. Her father was Anthony Seymour Bellville, whose family fortune came from Keen’s mustard. Her mother was Audrey Kidston, whose family owned Clyde Shipping.

She grew up in Leicestershire, where her parents were part of a fashionable group, fond of racing cars, planes and horses. She spent summers in Bembridge on the Isle of Wight, where her parents sailed and hosted parties on their yacht Mahelah, a converted Thames ship fitted with a grand piano and a cast-iron bath.

During the war, her father joined the RNVR and had the deck of the boat covered with concrete to transform it into an anti-aircraft platform from which he would shoot at doodle bugs – like shooting tall pheasants, he claimed.

To avoid the bombs, the rest of the family moved to a house on the River Wye, near Builth Wells, where they enjoyed riding Welsh ponies in the mountains, fishing for salmon and collecting seagull eggs.

Belinda Bellville, left, dresses her model Lady Gillian Pepys in 1959Belinda Bellville, left, dresses her model Lady Gillian Pepys in 1959

Belinda Bellville, left, dresses her model Lady Gillian Pepys in 1959 – Evening Standard

Belinda’s interest in fashion was inspired by her paternal grandmother (divorced and remarried), Gladys ‘Cuckoo’ Leith, who had run a clothes shop in Savile Row in the 1920s. Because clothes were rationed during the war, Belinda helped her mother make clothes from whatever they could find, including old curtains.

Towards the end of the war Belinda worked for a short period at Miss Faunce’s school in Wimborne St Giles, Dorset. She is 1.80 meters tall and elegant and in 1947 she was presented at court.

Determined to build her own career in fashion at a time when there were few opportunities to study for design qualifications, Belinda Bellville dabbled in fashion journalism, assisted a fashion photographer and worked for a clothing store in Bond Street.

In 1952 she married David Whately, a partner in a firm that made mobile telephones and abstract sculptures for advertising, and later a financier.

The following year, at the age of 23, she founded Bellville et Cie in partnership with Sydna Scott, who had a shop in Kinnerton Street, Knightsbridge. “The space was so small, there was a toilet outside and I visited the neighboring pub to design and sketch the dresses,” she recalls.

Belinda Bellville in 1960Belinda Bellville in 1960

Belinda Bellville in 1960 – Evening Standard

Needing money to invest in the business, Belinda sold a Citroen car that her brother Jeremy had given her as a wedding present, for £500; Amazingly, this was the only capital the company ever needed.

In 1953 Belinda Bellville held her first show at Cuckoo Leith’s house in Manchester Square, with her sister Camilla and friends as models. People lined up to see it, and the show was a huge success, appearing in Illustrated magazine. Orders poured in and by 1957 her collection included millinery, cocktail dresses, ball gowns and, most famously, wedding dresses.

She moved to new premises at 14 Motcombe Street, Belgravia, where she employed 40 people and served an upper-class clientele. “Belville understood that Cheltenham Racecourse is draughty and always knew to within an inch how much cleavage the Duchess would have at dinner,” The Times noted.

In 1958 she was joined by David Sassoon, who had impressed her with his designs at a Royal College of Art diploma show. Belinda, he later recalled, “had no formal education, but she had wonderful taste; she understood fashion moods, had a great love for fabrics and a very good sense of color. Socially, she knew the right people and brought in many royals.”

Diana, Princess of Wales, in a Bellville Sassoon dress in 1984Diana, Princess of Wales, in a Bellville Sassoon dress in 1984

Diana, Princess of Wales, in a Bellville Sassoon dress in 1984 – Tim Graham

“Boutique”, Bellville’s ready-to-wear collection, was launched in 1963 and in 1965 Vogue Patterns invited Bellville et Cie to join their pattern books. In 1970, Bellville Sassoon, as the company was now called, had more than 100 employees.

Belinda Bellville left the company in 1982, but remained a consultant. She moved with her family to a house outside Shaftesbury in Dorset as the business continued to flourish under David Sassoon.

The family moved to north Norfolk in 2001 and her husband David died in 2008. Belinda survived major brain surgery in 2011 but happily continued to live in Norfolk and was always commenting on the fashion choices of her visitors.

She leaves behind three daughters.

Belinda Bellville, born March 29, 1930, died May 5, 2024

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