White House Weddings: Luci & Lynda Johnson
My musings about the internationally famous designer, Priscilla of Boston, prompted me to recall some of the interesting stories she shared with me as we became friends.
To set the stage, I need to bring you up to speed of the society scene in the ’60s and ’70s. Rule One: WASP’s ruled. All definition of elegance was defined as East Coast, and Boston was one of the capitals of “doing it right”.
Bridal gown designers of note back then amounted to Phyllis Bianchi, Edythe Piccione, Oscar de la Renta, Jena, Galina and of course, Priscilla. For low-end gowns, Mori Lee was the most well known (and is still in business). All the gowns were made in the States, as opposed to almost none being U.S. made now.
The first of the Priscilla/Presidential Daughter combinations happened after she had designed the soft yellow bridesmaids’ gowns for Princess Grace in 1956.
Lyndon Baines Johnson was the father of two daughters, Lynda and Luci. At 19-years-of-age, Luci joined the Catholic Church and was married in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, in Washington D.C. on August 6, 1966.
Priscilla was commissioned to create a gown worthy of such a grand venue, and she was personally on-hand to dress the bride and carry her train up the steps of the basilica.
The gown was timeless: Princess-seamed A-line skirt of English net, long sleeves, high collar and a 9′ Watteau train…all created out of the finest French Alencon lace (a Priscilla signature). The train was detachable and flowed from the mid-back, not the waist. To capture this unique placement, Priscilla designed a bubble veil that poufed up, out and under…not down. It was lightly fastened just at the top of the train. So cool.
The afternoon ceremony was followed by a White House reception. The 8′ wedding cake towered over the 700 guests in the East Room and the bride’s father even stepped in to help cut it!
The 12 bridesmaids wore azalea pink gowns, also by Priscilla. They were done in one of my all-time favorite fabrics…moiré (which is nearly impossible to find anymore). The A-line skirts were corded, the girls carried tiny nosegays of pink sweetheart roses, wore wrist-length kid leather gloves and floor length pink tulle veils. (Sidebar: Several years ago, I coordinated the wedding of a groom from Texas whose mother was one of these bridesmaids!)
A few years later, her older sister, Lynda Bird Johnson, became engaged. You would think Priscilla would be a shoe-in for an encore performance…right? Au contraire. Per Priscilla, on the day of Luci’s wedding, older and yet un-engaged sister, Lynda, was grousing around about how she blended in too much with the bridesmaids and should have something, anything, to make her stand out, to be different, to mark her as being “special”.
Priscilla had so many irons in the fire that day, what with the bride, her mother and all the attendants getting dressed in the same room at the same time, she simply had had enough. As Lynda came whining back to her to “make me stand out,” Priscilla grabbed her scissors chopped off the floor length veil to elbow length and said, “THERE, now you stand out!”
(A replacement veil was quickly made by an on-site seamstress)
Lynda was in such a huff that she never got over it. When it was time for her to choose a designer, she chose Geoffrey Beene and went with a very architectural gown devoid of all lace…very non-Priscilla like.
Fourteen months later, Lynda’s wedding was held in the East Room on December 9, 1967 before a wall screen composed of fresh evergreens and dozens of lighted white tapers attached with wall brackets. (no battery-operated fakes there!)
Her gown was indicative of the times and a true “winter bride”. (Priscilla Presley also married that year and wore a similar silhouette.) It was heavy silk satin, long-sleeved, high neck and gathered mid-back train. She had a very long, fluffy veil and carried a way-too-small bouquet of some nondescript white flowers.
She always liked the painting “Red Boy” by Francisco de Goya and thus the seven attendants wore long-sleeved gowns of what became known as “Goya Red” velvet. Hair pieces of course were expected, as the girls wore velvet bows with streamers down the back. Very pretty.
The bridal party and family went upstairs to the Yellow Room for photos, the guests were asked to clear the ceremony area and the White House staff flipped the East Room! (I just hate when that is the only option…but we do it sometimes) The platform that had staged the altar became the dias for the most famous musicians of the time…the Peter Duchaine Orchestra. Once they were in place, the East Room re-opened after cocktails and voila…the buffets were loaded and ready.
The majority of the reception was truly “receiving” the 650 guests, then the formalities cake cutting and first dance. (Veil on of course!) She tossed her bouquet, changed into a “going away” outfit and flew off in the helicopter. Perfectly orchestrated.
Oddly, in spite of the fanfare of being chosen for a First Family Daughter, Geoffrey Beene never designed another notable bridal gown. Perhaps because he had an ongoing war with Women’s Wear Daily and they never gave him the buzz they gave the other favorites.