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Recreating Wallis' wardrobe: How Madonna's stylist captured Mrs Simpson's iconic look

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“I’m not a beautiful woman,” Wallis Simpson once said. “I’m nothing to look at, so the only thing I can do is dress better than anyone else.” This mantra took the American temptress, who was a divorcee twice over, right to the portals of the British establishment and into the heart of a king.




Edward VIII's affair with the impeccably dressed Mrs Simpson scandalised Thirties society, leading to his abdication and exile to France where the couple lived as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

Her name has echoed through the ages as a byword for glamorous schemers and her story has been the subject of many films.The latest by Madonna  who has said she identifies with her status as the outsider American from her own time married to a Brit, is W.E.An essential aspect of the Pennsylvania-born divorcee's mystique was her exquisite wardrobe stuffed full of striking monochrome couture, which she paired with eye-socking jewellery.Madonna entrusted the task of making sure the costumes captured her heroine's fabulous style and talent for reinvention to Arianne Phillips.Arianne has been the queen of pop's stylist for years and is an Oscar-nominated costumer designer for her work on films including Tom Ford’s A Single Man.  


To recreate Wallis' look, she visited the museums in London, Paris and New York which house her attire. Andrea Riseborough, who plays the title character in W.E., had 60 outfit changes, including three wedding dresses. Most famous was the pale, ‘Wallis-blue’ dress, she wore to marry the Duke of Windsor in 1937. For the film this was hired from Cosprop, a London-based costume house.


The other outfits were, however, not so simple. As Arianne explained to the Daily Telegraph: “She was a client of haute couture in Paris in its heyday, the Thirties. “So I had to figure out how I was going to recreate it. The problem was my whole budget could have gone on making one dress.” But she used her extensive list of fashion contacts.The Duchess was a client of Madeleine Vionnet, “who had been cited as the mother of couture”. A trawl through Vionnet's archives revealed the precise details of what she had ordered and the company agreed to make four new couture creations for the film. One, a sparkly silver dress, is used in a scene where she hosts a cocktail party.


"I wanted something twinkly for that scene, for all the intoxication and jazz. I'd seen the original in the Louvre and fallen in love with it." Wallis was also one of the first clients of Christian Dior, and the house remade three dresses for Andrea based on the originals.

She died in 1986 but her fashion legacy endures. Nancy Shevell's vintage style for her wedding to Paul McCartney earlier this month was thought to be inspired by the Thirties siren. "[Nancy's wedding dress] looks like it was inspired by Wallis Simpson's Mainbocher wedding dress, but in a different colour," Arianne said.

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