FROM THIS DAY FOR­WARD

Harper’s BAZAAR UK ed­i­tor-in-chief JUS­TINE PI­CARDIE re­flects on the emo­tional sig­nif­i­cance of her wed­ding dresses

Harper’s Bazaar (Australia) - - Viewpoint -

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.

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