FROM THIS DAY FORWARD
Harper’s BAZAAR UK editor-in-chief JUSTINE PICARDIE reflects on the emotional significance of her wedding dresses
WHEN MY FIRST MARRIAGE ENDED, amid a sea of tears and dark nights of heartbreak, I put away all visible reminders of our wedding day: gold ring, silver-framed pictures and the white linen dress that I had worn on a May morning, long ago, full of hope, with a circle of roses in my hair that had been made for me by my sister.
Sixteen years after that wedding day, I could not imagine ever falling in love again: instead, I devoted myself to my two beloved sons, was comforted by the kindness of close friends and became immersed in the research for the book I was writing at the time (a biography of Coco Chanel). Never again, I vowed, would I risk the pain of an unhappy divorce. But as everyone understands who has experienced the unexpected joys of discovering true love the second time around, I found that my bruised heart was healing, and my optimism restored. For to choose to marry again is an act of faith: a leap into the unknown, propelled by the belief that love may still prevail and endure.
Nearly two decades separated my first and second wedding days, and they could not have been more different. The first was held at a London register office; I was accompanied by my sister, Ruth, as witness, bridesmaid, best woman and my closest friend. My threeyear-old son, Jamie, was also at the ceremony, watching his parents become husband and wife, and then he came with us to the party afterwards; and his excitement and laughter was one of my abiding memories of the day.
My second wedding took place at an ancient stone chapel, high in the hills of my husband’s Scottish estate. It was a June afternoon, and our dearest friends and family were gathered around us.as I sit here now, remembering that happiest of days, the details of what I wore, and my memories and emotions, feel eternally entwined. On my left hand, an engagement ring set with a moonstone that Philip had hidden in my Christmas stocking on the morning that he asked me to marry him (having first requested permission from my sons); beside that, the white gold band that I will never remove from my finger. On my wrist and around my neck, the set of pearls that Philip’s mother had left in her will for him, in the hope that he would one day give them to a wife whom she would never meet (yet I think of her often, and always when I wear her precious pearl bracelet and necklace).
And my second wedding dress … how can I fully describe its profound significance, when its meaning for me is magical; the deep love I feel for Philip woven through its silk threads? It was a soft ivory, rather than virginal white; a long gown, tailored with a subtle elegance — a dress for a grown-up woman, rather than the young girl I had once been.and yet that girl was still within me — we carry our pasts inside us, even as our faces and bodies show the passage of time — and on my wedding day, I was filled with a sense of tenderness towards the ghosts of my past.
The gown was designed by Chanel, of course, for I met Philip while I was researching and writing the biography, and he had helped me on my journey to discover more about the elusive woman whose bravery had taught me so much; a woman abandoned in childhood, whose mother and sisters had died too young, who had subsequently lost the great love of her life, and yet had found the courage to go on and define herself as an independent spirit. although my wedding dress was from a contemporary collection, it was inspired by one of Coco Chanel’s floor-length white silk dresses from the early 1930s. Indeed, I had found a picture of her in the Chanel archives, dressed in a similar silk gown and pearls in 1933, when she was 50 — the same age as I was when I married Philip.
As it happens, I had been wearing a Chanel little black dress when I met Philip for the first time, at a dinner I had nearly missed, having felt almost too gloomy to attend. If I had chosen not to go that evening, would our paths have ever crossed again? Possibly not; although two of the women I met when I was researching my book (one, Chanel’s closest surviving friend; the other her adored great-niece and namesake) had both said to me, half-jokingly: “Chanel has sent you an English gentleman to help you write your book.” A brief aside, here, by way of explanation: Chanel had loved two Englishmen: first and foremost, Arthur ‘Boy’ Capel, who was killed in a car crash in 1919, plunging her into a period of intense suffering; and then the Duke of westminster, whom she met in 1923. Later, she told one of her friends: “i am sure it was Boy who sent Westminster to me,” as if the British upper classes, even in the afterlife, still inhabited a traditional gentlemen’s club.
Chanel had introduced the little black dress in the early 1920s, as she emerged from the torment of her bereavement; and in doing so, she had transformed the colour of mourning — so prevalent during the terrible years of World War I — into an emblem of female independence throughout the Jazz Age and thereafter. Indeed, my own mother had worn a little black dress, cut along the lines of a Chanel pattern, on her wedding day at a
London register office in 1960; and as such, had signified her sartorial rebellion from a conventional upbringing, where she would have been expected to marry in a while bridal gown in a church. (As it happens, her parents were not at the wedding, and I was born eight months afterwards.)
In turn, I chose to wear my mother’s little black dress, as a defiant teenage punk, accessorised with bluestreaked cropped hair and adorned with safety pins. When the dress finally gave up the ghost, after myriad outings — taking me from early encounters with the Sex Pistols to Cambridge May Balls and cocktail parties — I had it copied, and still wear it today, where it has retained its miraculous ability to make me feel appropriately dressed (though now I team it with Chanel black slingbacks and pearls).
Intriguingly, after the wild years of the Jazz Age — brought to an abrupt end by the Wall Street Crash — Chanel had presented long white gowns as an alternative to the little black dresses that had been her signature style in the 1920s. She characterised this apparently perverse shift in fashion as representing “candid innocence and white satin”, an antidote to the long shadow cast by the Great Depression.yet she never lost her instinctive feel for the power of black, telling a friend in 1946: “I have said that black had everything. White too. They have an absolute beauty. It is perfect harmony.”
On my second wedding day, Philip wore a Gordon-tartan kilt and a black kilt jacket; my two sons, now fine young men, accompanied me into the church and down the aisle, in dark suits and white shirts. Sadly, my sister — my only sister, my dearest Ruth — was not by my side, for she died of breast cancer in 1997 and had never met the man I love. But her spirit was with me in the church, within and without me; her own wedding day in my heart, when I had walked beside her, and she was breathtakingly beautiful in a white linen dress, with roses in her hair that I had given her.
Ruth’s daughter, Lola, was my bridesmaid when I married Philip, her cloud of dark curls, so like her mother’s, framing her lovely face; the same questing intelligence in her eyes — and yet Lola also looked entirely herself, a bright young woman with a life of her own making. And oh, how blessed I felt to have Lola there, and my sons, as I married Philip in their presence. For, as our Scottish minister observed in his address to the congregation that day, whatever the fractures and flaws that cause us pain, and the fissures of loss that make us human, it is through these cracks that the light shines in.
All of these memories,and more,were contained by the serenity of my silk Chanel gown; and though my voice trembled with emotion as I made my wedding vows to Philip, I felt his hand steady mine, and heard his voice, strong and reassuring as always.
These, then, are my wedding stories … but there is one more postscript to add. Soon after I married Philip, we moved house in London, and as I sorted out a cupboard of clothing and papers that I had shut out of sight at the time of my divorce, I discovered that its contents had been attacked by moths. Everything had to be thrown away; the moths had even destroyed the anguished letters and despairing diaries I had written during the breakup of my first marriage.yet, inexplicably, only one item had remained untouched: my first white wedding dress, a little dusty, and yet still intact. I took it out of the cupboard, washed it by hand, and then hung it outside in the garden to dry in the summer sunlight.and as I did so, I realised that I had no regrets, nor did I harbour any lingering resentment towards my first husband, for the hope-filled girl who had wed him in that white dress had not been obliterated by the ending of our marriage. Instead, my hope had sustained me, and been strengthened by the shared love of our sons.
So now I am a woman with two wedding dresses, and a wealth of happiness, while also possessed of a hard-worn understanding that none of us may ever know what lies ahead. It is that knowledge — or rather, the acceptance of an unknown future — that has made me celebrate the present, and cherish the daily miracle of all that it means to love, and be loved …
Justine at her first wedding with her sister, Ruth, and her then husband.
Justine Picardie, wearing Chanel, on her wedding day in 2012, with her husband, Philip Astor, and, above, her sons and niece.
Justine’s parents on their wedding day.