Ava Lavinia Gardner (24 December 1922 – 25 January 1990) was an American actress and singer. She first signed a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1941 and appeared mainly in small roles until she drew critics' attention in 1946 with her performance in Robert Siodmak's Noir film The Killers.
Ava Gardner was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in 1953 for her performance in John Ford's Mogambo, and in 1964 for best actress for both a Golden Globe Award and BAFTA Award for her performance in John Huston's The Night of the Iguana(Ava Gardner's last major leading role).
During the 1950s, Gardner established herself as a leading lady and one of the era's top stars with films like Show Boat (1951), Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951), The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952), The Barefoot Contessa (1954), Bhowani Junction (1956) and On the Beach (1959). She continued to act regularly until 1986(her last movie was Regina Roma (1982)).
A bout of pneumonia, after a lifetime of smoking, coupled with her underlying condition of lupus erythematosus brought on a stroke in 1986 that left Gardner partially paralyzed. She died in January 1990, at the age of 67 of pneumonia and fibrosing alveolitis at her London home 34 Ennismore Gardens, where she had lived since 1968.
In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked Gardner No. 25 on their greatest female screen legends of classic American cinema list.
Ava Gardner has married three times in her life, and her third husband was Frank Sinatra, American singer and actor. Their tumultuous marriage lasted five years, from 1952-1957, and after Gardner divorced Sinatra in 1957, she went to Spain, living in Madrid.
In Spain she began a friendship with writer Ernest Hemingway (she had starred in an adaptation of his The Sun Also Rises that year, and five years earlier, Hemingway had successfully urged producer Darryl F. Zanuck to cast Gardner in The Snows of Kilimanjaro, a film which adapted several of his short stories). Her friendship with Hemingway led to her becoming a fan of bullfighting and bullfighters, such as Luis Miguel Dominguín, who became her lover. "It was a sort of madness, honey", she later said of the time.
Ava Gardner found Spain ‘unspoiled . . . dramatic . . .and so god-damn cheap to live in, that it was almost unbelievable’.
And it is also during this period that Ava Gardner found the Spanish Couturier Cristóbal Balenciaga.
She bought Balenciaga designs both in Paris and at Eisa, Balenciaga's Spanish fashion house, where the price is about half the price of his Parisian fashion house. After her death, it's found that many of her clothes from the 1950s and 60s carry the EISA label, although some carry the Parisian label.
Black dominates Gardner's surviving 'Spanish' wardrobe (a colour so beloved of Balenciaga that he made a single black dress with his own hands for each of his collections).
Ava Gardner's black 'rags' often had dramatic trims (diamante bands of decoration on one garment from 1967, feathers on another) or were teamed with such striking contrast such as the ecru lace evening coat. Her wardrobe therefore embraced certain Spanish institutions: the bolero, lace and heavy embroidery."
Since 1968, Ava Gardner moved to London, and lived at 34 Ennismore Gardens until her death, which is just around the corner from the V&A museum. She donated several of her clothes to the museum, including the Tulip evening gown by Balenciaga.
The 'tulip' dress is made from stiff silk gazar fabric which stands away from the body and provides the strong architectural shape. The fabric is joined at the centre front and centre back with no side seams – a signature of Balenciaga's designs. A second panel of fabric hangs from the shoulders and is secured with bar tacks under the arms, creating the illusion of a loose, unstructured garment.
Since 2016, The Victoria & Albert museum has been collaborating with artist Nick Veasey, a specialist in the field of X-ray photography, to make high-quality X-ray studies of their Fashion collections. And that included some of Balenciaga's iconic designs to shed new light on his exquisite craftsmanship and challenge some of the myths that have built up around the elusive designer.
And the tulip evening dress donated by Ava Gardner is one of the Balenciaga's garments that have been x-rayed to reveal the complicated inner structure of the seemingly simple dress.
And another silk taffeta dress also x-rayed further demonstrated Balenciaga's extraordinary understanding of female body as an architect.
Christian Dior used to say: “Haute couture is like an orchestra whose conductor is Balenciaga. We other couturiers are the musicians and we follow the direction he gives.”
And thanks to Ava Gardener, one of the most legendary stars in the golden age of Hollywood and the new technologie, we are able to appreciate the Spanish master couturier's extraordinary technique through garments like the Tulip evening gown.