Sixty-five years ago today, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were in Paris for a state visit—a trip that included a very glamorous, tiara-filled night at the opera.
An incredible crowd gathered outside the Opera Garnier in Paris on the evening of April 8, 1957, waiting for the Queen and the Duke to arrive and make a balcony appearance with President René Coty. The Associated Press reported, “Thousands shoved and tussled for vantage points. Many scrambled on top of chairs and tables in nearby sidewalk cafes. Scores were nearly trampled.”
Elizabeth and Philip had made a trip to Paris shortly after their marriage, but this was the first official visit by a reigning monarch since her parents had visited in the 1930s. On the first evening of the visit, following a state dinner at the Elysée Palace, the Queen and President Coty traveled together to the opera. The Queen dazzled in the emerald setting of the Vladimir Tiara and jewels from the Delhi Durbar Parure for the occasion. One correspondent wrote, “To see Elizabeth II wearing her grandmother’s tiara, I could only think how proud the old queen would have been if she could see her favorite granddaughter today.”
When Elizabeth and Philip had visited Paris in 1948, they hadn’t made a balcony appearance at the opera house, much to the dismay of the people of the city. This time, they made sure to step out and wave to the crowds. Here, the Queen stands beside President Coty as she waves to the crowd. According to the Associated Press, “The crowd waved back and shouted, ‘Vive la reine!'”
Here’s the Duke of Edinburgh standing just behind the Queen and waving to the people below. President Coty’s wife, Germaine, had died in November 1955, and their daughters, Geneviève Egloff and Anne-Marie Georges, shared the duties of the French first lady afterward. I think the woman in the bandeau-style tiara beside Prince Philip in this photo is Geneviève (but don’t quote me on that!).
The press had reported breathlessly about the Lanvin evening gowns and day dresses that the sisters ordered ahead of this important state visit. If I’m correct, Geneviève is wearing a Lanvin dress described by Reuters as “a blue organza evening gown embroidered with lighter blue silk flowers,” which she had ordered “for the Elysée Palace dinner followed by a gala performance at the Opera House.”
After the gala performance, the Queen and the Duke met two of the dancers who had performed that evening. Liane Dayde and Michel Renault had danced in “The Knight Errant and the Damosel” during the gala.
The presentation of the dancers also offers us an excellent look at the spectacular state gown that the Queen wore for the banquet and the gala. Made by Norman Hartnell (who was also in France for the visit), the ceremonial dress was called the “Flowers of the Fields of France” gown.
Here’s a look at the dress, photographed in color in 2007. The Daily Telegraph did an extensive write up on the gown when it debuted on the Queen at the opera: “A compliment to France was reflected in the Queen’s magnificent State dress, worn last evening to attend the opera. It was of ivory satin with a spreading skirt embroidered in tones of gold and topaz.
“The theme of the embroidery was the flowers of the fields of France: poppies of gold tissue centred with amber, marguerites with white mother-of-pearl petals and cascades of buttercups expressed by raised petals with gold and jewelled centres. All these were strewn across a background of waving wheat. Here and there a small bee embroidered in gold chenille and topaz represented Napoleon’s emblem of industry.”
The overall effect would have been an amazing blaze of color and splendor. The golden tones of the gown, plus the silvery flash of the diamonds and green fire of the emeralds, was combined with the bright crimson red of the sash of the Legion d’Honneur. The order sash was secured by one more jewel: Queen Mary’s Lover’s Knot Brooch.
The gown was especially triumphant, and it was preserved as an excellent example of Sir Norman Hartnell’s art. Here, in September 2007, it was photographed as part of “The Golden Age of Couture,” a post-war fashion exhibition at the V&A in London.