Fundraising Friday: An American Duchess

The FIDM Museum is in the final months of a major fundraising campaign to purchase the Helen Larson Historic Fashion Collection, a private collection of 1,200 historic garments and accessories from four centuries. Each Friday, this blog will present an exquisite piece from the Larson collection. 

L201074Callot Soeurs
Paris, France
c. 1907
Helen Larson Historic Fashion Collection

It's a plotline worthy of Downton Abbey: a beautiful American heiress marries an English duke, exchanging a dowry of millions in stock in her father's railroad empire for one of the most prestigious titles in the British Empire and the keys to a palace. The fairy tale came true for Consuelo Vanderbilt (1877–1964), who at the time she donned this creation was the 9th Duchess of Marlborough. Consuelo had been the wealthiest of the American “Dollar Princesses,” and her arranged marriage made her mistress of Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, the only private palace in Great Britain. Her magnificent gown—a delicate confection of silk satin, silk tulle, and thousands of hand-tinted and hand-embroidered glass bugle beads—is attributed to the French couture house Callot Soeurs, and was likely worn as dinner attire. The deep neckline would have accentuated Consuelo's famously long, slim neck. Although her illustrious marriage did not last, this gown has been beautifully preserved, a shimmering relic of the Gilded Age.


Consuelo Vanderbilt, Duchess of Marlborough, and Her Son, Lord Ivor Spencer-Churchill
Giovanni Boldini
Oil on canvas
Metropolitan Museum of Art, acc. no. 47.71
Gift of Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan, 1946

Helen Larson spent 50 years assembling her collection; now, it is in danger of being dispersed forever or absorbed into another private collection, inaccessible to students, researchers, and the general public. The FIDM Museum needs your help to save the Larson collection. You can make a contribution of any amount online or by mail, or join our #4for400 social media campaign. Donations are tax deductible; if your company has a matching gift program, your support will go even further. The FIDM Museum has until the end of 2015 to finish raising the necessary funds, so please join the campaign and help make fashion history. 

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