Fair Cecily, and other fair-weather friends

by Sally Steele


Rex Whistler; Cecil Beaton; Georgia Sitwell; Sir William Turner Walton; Stephen Tennant; Zita Jungman; Teresa Jungman, photograph by Cecil Beaton

Rex Whistler, Cecil Beaton, Georgia Sitwell, Sir William Turner Walton, Stephen Tennant, Zita Jungman, Teresa Jungman, photograph by Cecil Beaton

All I want is the best of everything and there’s very little of that left.

Never in the history of fashion has so little material been raised so high to reveal so much that needs to be covered so badly.

What is elegance? Soap and water!

…quotes by Cecil Beaton

Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, photograph by Cecil Beaton, 1939

Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, photograph by Cecil Beaton, 1939


I have an affinity for everything Cecil Beaton, well almost everything (see Beaton’s humiliation & firing from Vogue here). Was there ever a more boulevardiering bad boy Boulevardier, that’s debatable? I envy his eye, and his wit, minus his “acidity”. What a life he lived. Beaton’s first camera was a Kodak 3A folding camera. Over the years Beaton used large format cameras, and smaller Rolleiflex cameras. Not known for his skill as a technical photographer, for Beaton it was all about the gorgeous moment. Truman Capote, “The camera will never be invented that could capture or encompass all that he actually sees.”

Bright Young Things, Costume Balls and Country House Parties: From the Roaring 20s to the Swinging 60s, is an extravaganza of never before exhibited Beaton works, featuring black & white prints from Sotheby’s Cecil Beaton Studio Archive. The show is sponsored by Sotheby’s and Wilton House, designed & curated by Jasper Conran. “Providing a fascinating glimpse into a charmed age where Beaton and his posh friends frequently let the good times roll, capturing the spirit of country house parties and costume balls in Britain.”


Cecil Beaton

Cecil Beaton



Cecil Beaton photographing Marilyn Monroe, 1956

Cecil Beaton photographing Marilyn Monroe, 1956


“…renowned for his flair for fancy dress and costumery, his Academy and Tony awards for his designs, as well as the lavish, fantastical parties he threw at Ashcombe, his Wiltshire home. As fancy dress became the de rigeur dress code of country house parties, Beaton was able to integrate his high-society personal life with his professional one, persuading his aristocratic friends to pose for him in their exotic costumes, often designed by him, for photographs set against Britain’s grandest country houses…”


Edith Olivier, then Mayor of Wilton, as Queen Elizabeth I for a pageant in 1932, photograph by Cecil Beaton


Beaton: “For me, coming out of punk and the New Romantics, Ascot was a little like sleeping with the enemy. However much I might balk at conservative society, that was always balanced by the Ascot scene from My Fair Lady which was genius.”


Cecil Beaton photographing Audrey Hepburn, My Fair Lady

Cecil Beaton photographing Audrey Hepburn, My Fair Lady


Beaton, artist, photographer, illustrator, theatrical and film designer, diarist, bon vivant, troublemaker, war documentarian, creative genius, won an Academy Award for Costume Design in 1964 for his work on My Fair Lady.

From The Telegraph:

“In the course of his decades-long career as a photographer for Vogue and Vanity Fair, photographer to the royal family, and a British war correspondent, Cecil Beaton documented lives famous and quotidian with his trademark theatrical panache.”


Cecil Beaton, contact sheet

Cecil Beaton, contact sheet


Beaton was born in Hampsted, UK, and said to have been instructed in photography and photo processing by a nanny. He attended Harrow and Cambridge, and was an office clerk in his father’s successful timber business.

The Telegraph: “Beaton – or ‘Fair Cecily’ as editor Diana Vreeland loved to call him – was born with a compulsion to respond to the world around him. Even as his second-floor studio in the former family home in Sussex Gardens teemed with debutantes and intellectuals queuing for their sittings (it was so crowded one could not move about, reported one visitor), he also found time to paint, to caricature, to sketch, to design theatre sets and a line of fabrics, and stuff the pages of his journals with delightfully bitchy comments.”

“By Beaton’s own account, his interest in photography began at the age of three, when he glimpsed a picture postcard of a beautiful Miss Lily Elsie, a popular actress of the time. Smitten, he began to collect all the cards of his heroine that he could find.”

“In 1937, Beaton – now well established at Vogue – was summoned to France by the Duke of Windsor on a PR exercise to counterbalance the unflattering pictures of Wallis Simpson appearing from Fleet Street. His success in softening her angular features led to a commission to photograph their wedding a month later, which became one of the most important series he ever produced.”

Following his dismissal from Vogue, Beaton served as a War Photographer/Correspondent for the Ministry of Information. Beaton became a Knight Bachelor in 1972. Following this, at the age of 68 he had a stroke that paralyzed his right side. Despite attempts at repurposing his left side and his photographic equipment, Beaton never escaped the stroke’s impact. Philip Garner, Sotheby’s legendary photographic curator undertook management and auction, from 1977 through 1980, of Beaton’s archives, minus all portraits of the royal family.


Wallis Simpson in Lobster Dress, photograph by Cecil Beaton

Wallis Simpson in Lobster Dress, photograph by Cecil Beaton


Dressing up has so many formal forms. Some say the tuxedo was invented by Boulevardier Pierre Lorillard IV. Headline of his obituary, from the New York Times, “PIERRE LORILLARD DEAD; Famous in Society, in Commerce, and in the World of Sport. First American to Win the English Derby — Other Triumphs on the Turf in Both Hemispheres.” Lorillard was step-grandfather to photographer Peter Beard.

At a formal ball, held at the Tuxedo Club in October 1886, Lorillard wore a new style of formal wear for men that he designed himself. He named his tailless black jacket the tuxedo, after Tuxedo Park. The tuxedo caught on and became fashionable as formal wear for men. As for Tuxedo Park, from Wikipedia, “What is now the village and the areas immediately surrounding it were first developed as a private hunting-and-fishing reserve by Pierre Lorillard IV in 1885. At that time it became known as Tuxedo Park. Lorillard IV initially built small cottages, renting or selling them to his friends and family. The project grew so popular that he organized the Tuxedo Club and the Tuxedo Park Association, and surrounded the property with a high game fence. This fence fairly accurately marked the present boundaries of the area restricted to use of the residents of Tuxedo Park. In 1924 the Tuxedo Securities Corporation acquired from the Estate of Peter Lorillard, deceased, all of the stock of the Tuxedo Park Association.”

According to English clothing historian James Laver, the idea of wearing black for evening wear was first introduced by the nineteenth century British writer, Edward Bulwer-Lyttonn who wrote in 1828 that “people must be very distinguished to look well in black.” A resident of Tuxedo Park, James Brown Potter vacationed in England in the summer of 1886. Potter and his wife, Cora were introduced to the Prince of Wales (who later became King Edward VII) at a court ball in London. Potter asked the Prince for advice on formal dress. The Prince sent Potter to his own Saville Row tailor, Henry Poole & Co. Potter was fitted with a short black jacket and black tie that was unlike the formal tails with white tie that was worn in the United States for formal occasions.

The new tailless formal wear was said to have been designed by the Prince of Wales. The Prince and his tailor drew inspiration from the British military uniforms of the time, which used short jackets with black ties.


The Tuxedo Club

The Tuxedo Club, Tuxedo Park, NY


The Tuxedo Club: “A Google search of Tuxedo will reveal more than sixteen million references. This would be a direct consequence of the dinner jacket, known around the world as a Tuxedo. The short-tailed dinner jacket as we know it today was first introduced to America by a member of The Tuxedo Club. There are differing reports of how this event occurred, but the account by Mr. Grenville Kane, founding member of The Tuxedo Club as told to J. Earle Stevens in 1929 appears to be the most authentic. In the summer of 1886, Tuxedo Club member James Brown Potter and his lovely wife, Cora, while on a visit to England, were invited by the Prince of Wales to join him at Sandringham, his country estate, for the weekend. Prior to going, Mr. Potter asked the Prince what he should wear for dinner. The Prince replied that he had adopted a short jacket in the place of a tailcoat for dinner in the country and that if Mr. Potter went to his tailor in London, he could get a similar jacket made. Mr. Potter did as the Prince suggested. When he returned to America, Mr.Potter’s friends at The Tuxedo Club were not only impressed by the account of his visit to Sandringham but also found the jacket Mr. Potter brought back more appropriate than tails for informal dinners, and so they had it copied by their own tailors. It then became the custom for members of the Club to wear this attire to informal dinners in Tuxedo Park. One evening, a group of members wore their new dinner jackets to a bachelor dinner at Delmonico’s. Their jackets attracted the attention of other diners who, upon enquiry were told “oh, that is what they wear for dinner up at Tuxedo.” And so, from that day forth, the name Tuxedo was forever associated with this style of formal wear.”


Edward, Prince of Wales

Edward, Prince of Wales



Boulevardiers Update, by Steve Winer:

Cecil Beaton – What Can Be Said!!!

While visiting friends and touring Istanbul with them having been there before and having seen most if not all the most renowned sites this amazing city has to offer we opted to walk (some of) the neighborhoods and the museums less visited by the non-locals. Our friend Ziya, who also is one of the finest tour guides we have met in all our travels knowing my love of photography thought it best to experience two of the photo exhibitions currently in Istanbul.



Now to the point… Cecil Beaton: Portraits exhibition at the Pera Museum.
How many of the photographs on exhibit have been part of so many of my memories. SO many that I had seen in magazines as far back as I can remember and here they were to be seen up close, as prints, as Cecil Beaton had intended. Yes the subjects were famous individuals that I had seen in the news, books, movies, television and more recently on the Internet but that wasn’t what made these images so special and important. In all of the images on display he caught the essence of each person in the photograph. Was it the staging, the lighting, the costuming, the makeup (if used), the angles, the lens selection, the film he used, the time it took to setup each photo or the processing once the shutter was clicked? I venture to say it was all of these and more, but most of all it was an almost unfathomable talent.


Cecil Beaton, in full regalia

Cecil Beaton, in full regalia, c. 1948


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