The Fashion History Behind Ariana Rockefeller’s Met Gala Gown

After receiving her invitation to this year’s Met Gala, Ariana Rockefeller knew she had just the thing to wear. The granddaughter of philanthropist Margaret Rockefeller, better known as Peggy, and business magnate David Rockefeller, Ariana grew up surrounded by her grandmother’s beautiful things and her extraordinarily-made dresses, one of which she wore last night at the Costume Institute Benefit.

The dress, an Elizabeth Arden gown designed by Ferdinando Sarmi in 1954, came into Ariana’s possession “when my grandfather offered me (and his other granddaughters) the option to choose special pieces from Grandmother’s wardrobe after her passing over 20 years ago.” Made of floral gold and ivory brocade with a very of-the-decade structure — horsehair padding at the hips to make the waist look smaller, a scoop-necked bodice to enhance the decolletage, and an overall ultra ladylike sculpted silhouette. “I always had a sense that I would one day wear it somewhere very significant,” says Ariana.

After the gown was bequeathed to Ariana, it was archived at Christy Rilling Studios, the former tailor to Vogue and current designer of her eponymous label, which focuses on one-of-a-kind pieces. Rilling has often fashioned Ariana for her various red carpet outings (the two met in Wellington Florida in 2019) and together, they had Peggy’s dress stored in the back of their minds — such a dress needed an equally resplendent occasion to make her second debut.

The dress’s original label. Sewn beneath it, Christy Rilling found a label dating the exact year of commission.Photo: Angela Pham

With excess fabric leftover from the gown’s reshaping, Rilling added bows to the bodice and back. Photo: Angela Pham

“This year is about celebrating the talents and legacies of American designers and how those talents shaped American style. In that sense, my gown is a part of this story, ”says Ariana.

The exhibition, “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion,” also serves to spotlight unsung heroes of the American fashion industry. Showgoers can expect to see pieces from lesser-known designers and dressmakers like Franziska Noll Gross, Lucie Monnay, Herman Rossberg, Jessie Franklin Turner, Ann Lowe, and Charles James. The latter just happened to be the in-house designer for Elizabeth Arden’s label. Today, Arden, who was born Florence Nightingale Graham, is remembered for her red-doored salons and her position as the doyenne of the cosmetics industry; her still-active makeup line has almost totally eclipsed her dressmaking business.

“Not many people associate Elizabeth Arden as a fashion house. But in fact, in 1945 she launched her couture clothing collection, ”explains Rilling. “The first collection was designed by Charles James. James was followed by such luminaries as Antonio Castillo and

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.