#c424 $1,950 Reserved
Catherine Donovan silk brocade ball gown, c.1890
Born in Ireland, Mrs. Donovan became a top dressmaker for the New York carriage trade at the end of the 19th century. The gown makes a strong fashion statement with its bold color scheme that perfectly captures the optimism of the newly wealthy American elite.
The gown—separate bodice and skirt—has not been remodeled, a special find for the collector who demands design integrity. It features a boned bodice with lavish appliqué, sequin embellishment, and princess lace neckline inserts. The skirt has a long back train.
Both pieces were made from ivory satin damask brocaded with metallic gold, which has mellowed to a rich bronze. Red velvet bows decorate the shoulders and cascade down the skirt. The gown closes in back with hooks.
The bodice is boned and lined with ivory taffeta. The skirt lining, which was probably shattering, was removed. You can see traces of the lining at the waistband. The label reads Mrs. C. Donovan/280 Madison Ave./New York.
The brilliant palette of metallic gold and vermilion red in a luxe ivory setting strikes just the right note of brash confidence and stylish panache affected by members of—and aspirants for—the Social Register, created by Mrs. Caroline Astor. She decided who qualified for society's inner circle.
Her official list of 400 top families was the original "social register." (Her ballroom accommodated 400 guests.) If you had been invited to Mrs. Astor's home, you had to dress the part. You could take a trip to Paris for the latest fashions. Another choice was a new gown from Mrs. Donovan, like our brilliant brocade ball gown.
The condition is almost excellent. I found a few splits in the bodice lining and light soiling along the hemline. The silk is stable and is not shattering.
It measures: 38" bust, 30" waist, and 42" skirt-front length.