December 24 2011
Finding a dress to wear for a formal occasion in tropical climes is a pleasant problem to have, but not an easy one. Summer maxi dresses seem too casual when you know that local guests will be in their finery – in this case vivid, bejewelled saris – yet most winter evening dresses are too structured and dark to be comfortable in night-time temperatures that can reach the mid-20s or higher. Add high humidity outside, fierce air conditioning indoors, and the problems of packing a long dress, and you see the pitfalls.
I found this out when searching for an appropriate gown last month for a trip to Sri Lanka, and nearly resorted to a knee-length dress. Then a friend suggested the website of Libelula, whose designer, Sophie Cranston, has made a number of successful outfits for the Duchess of Cambridge. She is known primarily as a designer of dresses, so this seemed a good idea and I was not disappointed. Her designs, including interesting prints and strong plain colours, have a softness of cut and detail that seemed right for the heat, but have plenty of presence to cope with a dressy occasion.
My eventual choice, though it came from the winter collection, is a seasonless, dateless piece that I expect to wear for years at home as well. Bias-cut in a wonderful emerald-green silk crepe (it also comes in plum), it is lined in thin silk and has cap sleeves to cope with the chill of air conditioning, yet remained comfortable on an outdoor terrace with only the lightest of tropical breezes. A sparkly black sequin trim obviates the need for jewellery – a small clutch bag, strappy sandals and earrings were all it needed and, after being packed away rolled, it hung out beautifully within 24 hours.
Typically for the Duchess’s choice, Cranston does not overprice – £515 seems reasonable for such a striking dress. My only tiny reservation was that the vintage-inspired design, which I think Wallis Simpson would have loved, might be too colonial for current tastes – but if anyone thought so, they were too polite to say and I received only compliments.