ALEXANDRA SHULMAN explains the enduring appeal of The Falconetti dress

Very, very occasionally a dress comes along that has exceptional staying power and overrides the usual celebrity desire for wearing something never seen in public before.

Such a dress is The Falconetti, by Susie Cave — the designer wife of rock star Nick Cave — aka The Vampire’s Wife.

To demonstrate this, there it was, out and about again at the weekend, worn by actress Rachel Weisz on a publicity tour for her new series, Dead Ringers. Both she and the dress were looking as gorgeous as ever.

The pretty, floral, pale metallic, silk-satin fabric was perfect for the bright light of New York spring, although since its launch in 2017, the dress has appeared in corduroy, velvet, chiffon and sequins on actresses, royalty, musicians and, importantly, a large number of ‘real women’, too.

Generally, a high-profile dress like this has a very clear sell-by date in terms of fashion-ability. Its pulling power may last a season, possibly two, but then it’s consigned to the holding pen of fashion, lingering there for years until it becomes a cool vintage piece.

Actress Rachel Weisz wore The Falconetti in New York last week on a publicity tour for her new series, Dead Ringers

The Falconetti has also had the Royal approval after the Princess of Wales wore the much-loved dress in Dublin in March 2020

The Falconetti has also had the Royal approval after the Princess of Wales wore the much-loved dress in Dublin in March 2020

When an item has been as exposed as The Falconetti, that turn of the carousel might take a decade. But this £1,595 dress and its sister design The Cinderella (a longer version with a deeper tiered hem for £850) have defied the trend. They continue to be worn by women who could appear in any dress they wish, by any designer in the world.

So what is it about this frock? What makes it so alluring that the Princess of Wales has worn it twice? Both times she chose the shimmery emerald version — for a 2020 trip to Dublin and for her and William’s first official joint portrait as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. (She also wore a similar gown in pink by The Vampire’s Wife on their royal visit to Belize.)

How has it won over such different personalities as model Alexa Chung, singer Florence Welch, Princess Beatrice, and actresses Keira Knightley, Jennifer Aniston and even Tilda Swinton, whose wardrobe is usually far more eclectic and unpredictable.

All have happily trooped out in front of the cameras in The Vampire’s Wife, a small independent British brand that certainly doesn’t have the PR budget to buy such massive product placement.

No, it’s the dress itself women love. It achieves the tricky combination of being at once demure and sexy.

Although the cut is high-necked (no dodgy cleavage on display), unlike many of the prim prairie styles that became popular about the time The Falconetti first appeared, it enhances the wearer’s shape, skimming over the hips with the focus on a slightly high waist. While it flatters most women, it can’t be said that the shape works well for the big-breasted, but few dresses suit absolutely everybody.

Given the range of fabulous fabrics it comes in, the dress can be worn on the red carpet, for dinner with friends and even for the most serious of occasions. Just look at Carrie Johnson’s rented black floral version worn for greeting the late Queen at a G7 reception in 2021. 

The three-quarter length sleeves cover any upper-arm concerns, while the faintly peaked shoulder shape gives the wearer dignified rigour, as does the fitted bodice. (It’s still available to rent from By Rotation for £121.)

Actress Keira Knightley wore what could be the world's most flattering dress in November 2017

Actress Keira Knightley wore what could be the world’s most flattering dress in November 2017

Leighton Meester wears the dress in September 2018

Jennifer Aniston wears the dress in December 2018

American actresses Leighton Meester (pictured left in 2018) and Jennifer Aniston (right in 2018) have also worn the popular dress

This is a dress which announces you are not afraid to be noticed. Nobody lingers on the sidelines in it, though there is nothing tacky or overtly sexual about it — unlike the thigh-slit, side-boob dresses seen on the red carpet nowadays.

The Falconetti says that the wearer is a grown-up player, and this is an essential element of its lasting appeal. Although there are cute mini versions of the dress, the most popular longer-length lines are beloved by sophisticated women who don’t need to flaunt their bodies to attract attention.

While young actresses such as Daisy Edgar-Jones and Jodie Comer love the brand, its core success is part of the welcome shift towards celebrating older women. Nobody, after all, would suggest beautiful 53-year-old Rachel Weisz is invisible or not at the height of her career.

And a reason for this is that it is headed up by the 56-year-old designer Susie Cave, an endlessly intriguing, faintly mystical, mother, designer and style muse. Like all the most successful female designers, she is the embodiment of her work.

Coco Chanel designed the cardigan-style boucle jackets, extravagant costume jewellery and wide-legged trousers to fit her own lifestyle. Donna Karan always wore the slimming black drapery that defined most of her collections. And Diane von Furstenberg created the iconic wrap dress as a response to her own life as a young working woman in the newly sexually liberated 1970s.

Carrie Johnson wearing dress in June 2021

Holly Willoughby wearing dress in December 2020

The Falconetti says that the wearer is a grown-up player, and this is an essential element of its lasting appeal. Pictured: Carrie Johnson (left) and Holly Willoughby (right)

Maggie Gyllenhaal is also a fan of The Falconetti, donning it at a New York event in December 2017

Maggie Gyllenhaal is also a fan of The Falconetti, donning it at a New York event in December 2017

Susie Hardie-Bick (as she then was), a successful model in the late 1980s and 1990s, always had a reserve and cool look, with her ebony black hair, ivory skin and long Modigliani face.

The first time I ever saw her was in the early 1990s, at a collection of punky schoolgirl looks by fellow British designer Bella Freud. It was Freud, now 62, who introduced Susie to Nick Cave, and who is a cheerleader for The Vampire’s Wife label. Freud is godmother to the couple’s 22-year-old son Earl.

Earl’s twin brother, Arthur, died from a cliff fall on the South Coast near their home when he was 15. It was after this unimaginable tragedy that Susie’s work gained the potency it now has.

After a period of shattered withdrawal from the world, she returned with a need to work that propelled her vision of The Vampire’s Wife label. If you visit, you’ll find a page of Susie’s inspirations and general musings — when purchasing the dress, it is clear you are also buying into this woman’s personal style.

All of which suggests that, even if The Falconetti fades gracefully into the distance, The Vampire’s Wife will continue to dress celebs and non-celebs alike well into the future for weddings, parties, christenings — well, just about anything really.