Christian Dior turquoise and gold brocade cocktail dress, 1950s

This dress belonged to Sara Neill's grandmother, Nancy Spence Orbell Tripp who was born in Timaru in 1910 to Robert Leslie and Ellie Orbell.

Nancy and her sister June, who suffered from the effects of polio, spent their childhood in Timaru at ‘The Croft’, a very grand home with a large garden with two entrances through wooded areas and two tennis courts where the family held regular tennis matches and parties.

Nancy attended Craighead Diocesan Girls school and one of her favourite hobbies was horseriding. When she married Englishman John Howard Tripp they farmed their Glen Cary Station in the Hakataramea Valley. There were hard times during the second world war and the following years. John was elected to stay home during the war and help run many of the farms in the district as well as his own and their farm became overrun with rabbits. In the post-war years however this proved lucrative as they made a lot of money from poisoning rabbits and selling the skins.

Nancy kept up her riding at the farm and would meet up with her cousin who rode from Blue Cliffs Station. They would meet up on the Hunter Hills, the inland range from Blue Cliffs station and Timaru.

Nancy, John and their two children, Joanne and Tony went on a world trip. Buying a caravan and Citroen in Paris, they drove back home travelling across the continents. This was quite an adventure!

Perhaps it was Nancy’s rather privileged upbringing but her family remembers that she did have quite expensive tastes and that she always dressed nicely and with artistic flare. This Christian Dior by El Jay brocade cocktail dress is a testament to this.

The dress has unusual pleating details around the waist and upper hip and these are anchored at the centre front by a self-covered buckle, and the skirt is given its structured A-line shape with strategic directional pleats and internal stiffening to make sure it holds its shape. 


Photographer: Denise Baynham
Credit: Courtesy of Sara Neill
Copyright: Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 Licence
Credit: Courtesy of Sara Neill
Copyright: Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 Licence
Designer: Christian Dior
Maker: El Jay
Manufacturing location: Kingston Street, Auckland
Garment type: cocktail dress
Material: turquoise and gold double sided brocade with rose motif
Features: pleating, buckle, A line skirt, v neckline
Colour: Turquoise, gold
Label: Christian Dior by El Jay
Date: late 1950s