Ball Gowns

Now I live in a permanent 1994-1995 time warp…

Edward Meadham [1]

Oh, dear Edward! I can totally feel your pain. You were a teenager in the 90s, just like me, so I totally get what you’re talking about. That decade has been largely idealized by younger generations, but we lived it and realized how special it was. I don’t know if it’s only a problem of mine but, besides still listening to the music that I used to at that time, I’m gradually retreating to the visual fashion imagery of that decade and I realize its unique magic is still intact. Some time ago I had the chance to see an editorial which appeared on the couture supplement of Vogue Italia in September 1995, one of my favourite editorials ever. I don’t know why but I had lost memory of it, so finding it again has been like opening a long-forgotten box of secrets.

The model, Stella Tennant, was 25 years old and perfectly captured what being effortlessly cool meant. She posed for Mark Borthwick and was styled by none other than Anna Dello Russo, the bizarre bird of paradise that everybody knows. “Traditional ball gowns in ’95 version” says the caption in the opening shot, and this was actually an interesting project – introducing ball gowns into a minimal background.

The opening shot sets the tone of the whole photoshoot and is impressive in its extreme simplicity. A gorgeous Pierre Balmain Haute Couture black strapless ball gown stands on a neutral background and is kind of suspended: nobody is wearing it but its beauty is emphasized by the human absence.

Stella Tennant sported a short haircut with side parting, she wore a little make-up and no jewellery, yet she managed to look wonderful. The picture above was shot in front of a green metal wall, which beautifully contrasts with the pink satin of the embroidered ball gown by Guy Laroche Haute Couture. Her androgynous figure created another contrast with the elaborate decorations and shapes of the dresses: the result was extremely modern and fresh, far from some artificial industrial/urban atmospheres present in some pictures by Helmut Newton, for example.

Here she leant on a white tiled wall, the ideal background for a dramatic velvet and faille dress by Yves Saint Laurent. The strapless bodice was balanced by a spectacular back panel and a black bow.

Those who remember the fashion of the 90s know the importance and the cultural impact of Christian Lacroix’s creations. His world was exotic, influenced by other cultures and countries, and made us travel without moving. The peculiar pink shade of the dress above was his trademark. I remember I gave a bottle of his C’est la vie perfume to a friend of mine (who loved it) and that shade of pink was on and in the box. Sublime! Here we can also see Stella’s make-up was focused on eyes, rimmed with black eye pencil.

A different shade of pink – a mix of pastel pink and lavender – characterized another strapless ball gown: this was a creation by Nina Ricci Haute Couture, made of printed satin. I love the bra effect and the boning on the bodice and I also love Stella’s expression here.

Too bad this shot was printed in black and white. We will never have the chance to know the real colour of this dress, but, being a Christian Lacroix Haute Couture creation, I bet it was made of satin duchesse in a vibrant colour. The balloon sleeves and the off-shoulder neckline were so 80’s, such as the matching pumps. Despite the black and white, I like this shot because it shows Stella in an ordinary – but not banal – situation, dealing with a paper bag that she was about to throw away.

This is the first shot in which some buildings appear. The setting of the whole photoshoot was clearly urban, but here we’ve got something different. The dress worn by Stella is definitely my favourite – a black velvet dress by Yves Saint Laurent with panier skirt and plunging neckline, contrasting with the long sleeves. The shape of the dress and the pose of the model are so delicate.

I love this triptych in black and white, where Stella wore velvet and taffeta dresses by Christian Dior Haute Couture, characterized by spaghetti straps and bouillonnée skirts. The first from the left was paired to a short embroidered sweater, an unusual match for such an important dress.

Drama in the streets! This beautiful green dress by Nina Ricci Haute Couture in printed satin was dramatic indeed, with its train, back rosette and spaghetti straps, plus matching pumps. The setting is still urban, but the trees and the bushes in the background clearly were intended to echo the colour of the dress. The model, straightly looking at the camera, gives us a strange, alienating effect, as if she were a noblewoman [2] thrown into an alien world.

What are your impressions about this photoshoot coming from the past? Do you think its charm is still intact or do you think it’s definitely outdated?

[1] The British designer of the duo Meadham Kirchhoff is clearly still obsessed with that decade, with the kinderwhore aesthetics and with Courtney Love. Here some beautiful backstage pictures from their spring/summer 2012 fashion show and here some thoughts about their sources of inspiration.

[2] Stella Tennant is actually a noblewoman: she’s the granddaughter of the late Andrew Cavendish, 11th Duke of Devonshire; her parents are The Hon. Tobias William Tennant, son of the 2nd Baron Glenconner, and Lady Emma Cavendish.




  1. Re the black & white photo. I had a similar dress in 1983 but I think it was a Gunne Sax that I purchased in one of the mall boutiques of the time. Might have been Limited (but at the time I think it was called something else). The color was a pink lavendar like the Ricci dress and it was made from a taffeta. It was very poofy. I have no pictures alas. My boyfriend at the time got picked up on a warrent so I sent the dress back and never attended the prom. I wish I still had it but Dad wanted his money back. It had a tight fitting bodice and the elastic at the top of the sleeves gava a bit off shoulder leg o mutton shape. It was terribly romantic. I was such a punk rock princess then, but couldn’t resist a pretty dress. I was planning on accessorizing with black. In fact, I was going to wear black ankle boots with it to be edgy.

    1. Hi Kathy!
      Thanks for sharing your memories related to your prom dress. I’m so sorry you actually didn’t attend it and you missed the chance to wear your purchase. It would have been great if you still had had a picture of it, though.

      Strange how often we keep on thinking of dresses we’ve never actually worn. The same happened to me with a red jersey column dress I bought at a thrift store when I was studying at university: I bought it because it was awesome, but when I went home and put it on, I realized I could never leave my room with it on, because it was particularly form-fitting on the belly area (I’ve always had a round belly), just the idea was uncomfortable. I don’t know what happened to it, probably I asked my mother to hand it down to someone, but I still think of it: it had such a gorgeous Studio 54 vibe!

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