August 06, 2019
Many of the outfits worn by the Motown greats have ended up in museums – but Wilson still has all three of these African-inspired gowns
The Supremes’ Mary Wilson: ‘We were one of the most fabulously dressed girl groups of all time’
We called these the “Queen Mother” gowns because we wore them for the Royal Variety Performance at the London Palladium in 1968. Diane [Diana Ross], Cindy [Birdsong] and I performed there alongside Petula Clark, Engelbert Humperdinck and Diahann Carroll, and each of these gowns weighed about 35lb, although they didn’t feel that heavy when we had them on. They were made of pink silk crepe, and the designer was Michael Travis. There was a diamond pattern, outlined in pearls, and the centre of each diamond contained a large crystal rose montee. It was really something. A lot of our gowns were covered with sequins, but sequins are not as heavy as pearls and diamonds. The neckline on these dresses was similar to some of the rounded, necklace-like African designs – the same on the sleeves, around the wrists. It was exquisite. Nowadays, beadwork is often done by machinery, but our gowns were all beaded by hand. It would take weeks to make them.
The gowns belonged to the Supremes. We didn’t intend for members to leave, but when they did the gowns had to stay with the group. I was a founding member and I stayed put, so I ended up with all the gowns. I still have all three of the Queen Mother gowns, but unfortunately, when Motown closed its doors and moved to Los Angeles [in 1972], a lot of things went missing, and many of our clothes had been stored in Detroit. I have found some of our gowns online and had to buy them back, but there are still many out there. Some show up at museums and I have no idea how they got them.
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