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 point to wear. The grand also alsodaughter of philanthropist Margaret Rockefeller, a better known as Peggy, and also also business magnate David Rockefeller, Ariana grew until now surrounded by her grand also alsomother’s beautiful points and also also her extraordinarily-made dresses, one of which she wore last night at the Costume Institute Benefit.

The dress, an Elizabeth Arden going town designed by Ferdinand also alsoo Sarmi in 1954, pertained to into Ariana’s possession “when my grand also alsofather offered me (and also also his other grand also alsodaughters) the option to choose special pieces from Grand also alsomother's wardrobe after her passing over 20 years old agoing to.” Made of floral going told and also also ivory brocade, the going town features 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 also also 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 going town was bequeathed to Ariana, it was archived at Christy Rilling Atelier, the former tailor to Vogue and also also 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 also also together, they had Peggy’s dress shopd in the back of their minds—such a dress needed an equally resplendent occasion to make its second debut.

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The dress’s original label. Sewn beneath it, Christy Rilling found a label dating the exact year of commission.Photo: Angela Pham
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With excess fabric leftover from the going town’s reshaping, Rilling added bows to the bodice and also also back. Photo: Angela Pham

“This year is about celebrating the talents and also also legacies of American designers and also also how those talents shaped American style. In that sense, my going town 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. Showgoing toers can expect to see pieces from lesser-known designers and also also dressmakers like Franziska Noll Gross, Lucie Monnay, Herman Rossberg, Jessie Franklin Turner, Ann Lowe, and also also Charles James. The latter just so 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 also also her position as the doyenne of the cosmetics industry; her still-active makeuntil now 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 clopoint collection,” explains Rilling. “The initially collection was designed by Charles James. James was followed by such luminaries as Antonio Castillo and also also

Oscar de la Renta.” Between Castillo and also also de la Renta was the Italian Ferdinand also alsoo Sarmi, who helmed the Arden label from 1951 to 1959. During that time, he designed Peggy’s dress, perhaps for one of her husband also also’s formal business functions. “Very likely Granny wore this going town to a Chase Bank event or related to banking business during the year of 1954,” explains Ariana.

After considering and also also then tabling the idea of wearing the Arden dress to 2019’s “Camp: Notes on Fashion” exhibition (it was also regal for such a fantastical theme) the stars aligned and also also 2022 proved the absolutely ideal moment for the dress to make a comeback. An American-made dress designed for an American scioness made of gilt going told threads (last night’s dress code was gilded glamour, after all). Consider also that the 1950s was a period of fashion history that heavily referenced the 19th century and also also the Gilded Age, and also also the parallels draw themselves.

Ariana Rockefeller leaves The Mark Hotel for The Met.
Ariana Rockefeller leaves The Mark Hotel for The Met.Neil Rasmus/

But before it could be walked until now the steps of one of the most famous red carpet in the world, the dress needed a bit of rehab. Though shopd properly, the ivory dress had yellowed, requiring conservation-level zhushing to revitalize its pearly white color. Plus, Rilling opted to subtly modernize the silhouette so that it didn’t feel out of place today. “Overall the skirt has less volume than the original design and also also a more tailored look, but we very much left the essence of the going town,” says Ariana.

Rilling adds that the dress was initiallyly entirely disassembled and also also pieced back together in a way that would lengthen the silhouette for Ariana; horsehair panniers around the hips the were removed and also also replaced with crinolines in silk charmeuse; and also also boning was applied using an overcast hand also also stitch technique that is rare in modern couture. Bows were added to the sleeves and also also the excess fabric was used to cover pointed-toe pumps for coordinating appeal. The end result is a showstopping going town that achieves the elusive sartorial quality of timelessness.

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Decades after it was initially worn by Ariana's grand also alsomother, the dress going tot its Met Gala debut.Photo: Evan Agoing tostini/Invision/AP

After several fittings, at Rilling’s garment district atelier, on the initially Monday in May, it traveled until now to the Upper East Side for Ariana to slip into. She added family heirloom jewelry and also also a beaded bag from the 1920s which has originally belonged to her great grand also alsomother Abby Aldrich Rockefeller. 

“Wearing this going town, I get to be in conversation with 1950s style and also also also honor my dear grand also alsomother,” says Ariana. “It’s a special moment. I feel like the luckiest girl to have this opportunity to wear this going torgeous piece of my family’s history to the Costume Institute Benefit.”

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