Like Marilyn Monroe, Jackie-O, and other female icons of the 1950’s and 1960’s, there have always been women of character, elegance, talent, and style that have captured the imagination of the public since the first paparazzi arrived with their flashbulbs and voracious appetite for the zeitgeist. Today, those “IT” gals of universal fame might be Kate Middleton, Beyonce, Meghan Markle, and Rihanna. Such “gliteratti” have long been an element of our world’s social fabric, and from the history book of alpine sport such personalities were, often born high society, which afforded these women a posh lifestyle inclusive of exotic travel and elevated sporting recreation.
During the mid 1900’s skiing took a monumental leap forward from its travel and militaristic origins to a novel means of recreation in which first-class alpine sport clubs was singularly reserved for the elite of society. As such, participation from wealthy upper crust families generated an aura of exclusivity surrounding this new form of winter recreation and produced a glamorous and fashionable atmosphere which appealed to the royalty, nobility, and celebrities of the times. Whether one could say that the stylish and powerful female skiers of the early 20th century made the sport fashionable or the sport’s exotic nature and far away destinations created the big bang of winter glamour, it is without doubt that once fueled by its en-vogue status, skiing became rapidly adopted as the posh activity of the era, garnering participation from highly visible individuals of significant wealth, fame, and political stature.
Throughout the 1920’s – 1960’s the sporting of skiing and destinations in the French, Italian and Swiss Alps ushered in an era of red carpeted exclusivity. In part driven by the less accessible nature, both geographically and economically, of Europe’s mountain villages, a metaphorical velvet rope fell around the mountains thereby generating a glamorous and fashionable atmosphere. Among Queens, Princesses, Duchesses and the like, skiing was anointed and adopted as the posh activity of the era. Such luxury sporting exploits transformed the then perception of royalty from strictly political figures to those of pop-cultural and iconic status all of which gave ground to the advent of modern celebrity culture. With such a fever of wealth and fame arriving to mountain towns, ski slopes became fashion runways in which photos and reports of royal and celebrity ski trips were circulated widely among the press, paparazzi, and major newspapers of the day.
As an adherence to the fashion protocols of the day and an unwillingness to compromise their high-class style, female skiers assembled their on-mountain ensembles in sophisticated combinations that made skiwear a category of clothing that was as appropriate off-piste as it was on-piste. With the aid of fashion houses and eponymous designers interested in exploring the new and luxurious complexion of natural materials, protective requirements, and elegant lines demanded by their clients of “Winter Royalty” the first women’s specific alpine sportswear was designed as much for the red carpet of the slopes, to see and to be seen, as it was for proper winter recreation. With custom characteristics and allure of expensive fabrications and construction techniques, such pieces and separates were soon embraced by the likes of Princess Alexandria of Greece, Queen Farah of Iran, and at mid-century by Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco. Sporting subdued colors or neutral tones of rich wools and waxed cottons evoking their upper-class origins, these female sportswomen were the skiing’s first female celebrities commanding beauty, athleticism, and fashionable taste which endeared them to a curious and envious public.
As it was then and is today, alpine sport continues to draw the rich, famous, and royal to the feet of its hills and resorts. While not literally emblazoned with coats of arms and crests of heritage and lineage, the story of elevated elegance carries on among female alpinists, their passion for skiing, and their highly fashionable taste on and off the mountain. And while today’s skiing Princesses are more likely to be named Lindsay or Makaela, the paparazzi of sport and fashion continue to descend upon ski slopes around the world to crown, photograph, and bathe in the high-profile glamour of first-class female skiers of power, personality, and panache.