So she sat, corpse-like, as we played at cards;
the frillings and trimming on her bridal dress, looked like earthly paper.
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
As a teacher and a fashion nerd, I’ve always admired the designers who are able to encapsulate the mood of a novel or of a literary period in their creations, like Marchesa’s Georgina Chapman and Keren Craig did in their fall/winter 2011 collection. Furthermore, as a lover of all things from the Victorian Age, you may realize my excitement when I learnt that the primary source of inspiration had been one of Charles Dickens’ masterpieces, Great Expectations. The semi-autobiographical bildungsroman was originally published in instalments from 1860 to 1861; thanks its success, it was transposed into several movie versions, the most notable of which is the one directed by David Lean (Craig got the idea of a Victorian-tinged collection after watching it).
If you have read the novel or watched the movie, you should remember one of the most memorable characters is Miss Havisham , a rich spinster, adoptive mother to Estella, the female protagonist of the story. Even if the story is centered on the life of an orphan, Phillip “Pip” Pirrip, we get many glimpses on Miss Havisham’s past, explaining why she lives secluded: when she was younger, she fell in love with a man, Compeyson, whom she fell in love with; at twenty minutes to nine on their wedding day, while she was getting dressed, Havisham received a letter from her soon-to-be husband, who was leaving her. Shocked from the event, she had all the clocks stopped at the exact time in which she had learned of her betrayal. From that day on, she lived in her mansion, always wearing her wedding dress and a single shoe (she was wearing one shoe only when she received the letter), the wedding cake left uneaten. Miss Havisham is a symbol of betrayed love and decay, a woman who cannot accept what happened to her and thus forces herself (and the few people who know her) never to forget the worst moment of her life.
It’s stunning to see how Chapman translated all these elements into her collection. Most of Marchesa’s distinctive style signs are still there, but infused with a bit of darkness, destruction and the idea of a slowly decaying process. Tulle, lace effects, taffeta and velvet in black, red and white are featured in an impressive set of dramatic outfits.
Nothing speaks Gothic Victorian to me like this black dress, where chantilly lace and tulle mix. The ruffles at the hips and on the shoulders, the touch of veil on the neckline, the delicate scalloped hem concur in creating a magnificent and perfectly balanced example of mystery and seduction.