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Lillet started its journey in Bordeaux back in 1887, and has been sipped in the chicest of circles ever since. We invited Condé Nast Traveller readers to enjoy the wine-based spirit and learn about its eventful career in the elegant setting of The Lanesborough, in a room adorned with flowers from Jamie Aston. And we enlisted the help of fashion historian Amber Butchart to provide a window into the Jazz Age, when Lillet become intertwined with the style and culture of the era.
‘Fashion did not operate in a vacuum,’ explained Butchart. ‘Culture, society and politics were the three pillars that influenced women’s fashion in the 1920s and 30s.’ The prohibition period in the USA saw a boom in cocktail culture, nightclub attendance and cabaret and so ‘cocktail dressing came to the fore… acting as a bridge between evening- and daywear.’ Dresses were hoisted up to just below the knee and accessorised with costume jewellery, an emerging trend introduced by designers such as Chanel, giving eveningwear a more affordable face. By the 1930s, hemlines dropped as the world plunged into the Great Depression, and the rise of Hollywood films introduced risqué lower-backed dresses.
The broadening horizon of international travel also influenced trends, with the emergence of air travel and trans-Atlantic liners. Aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart designed her own line of clothing with parachute silks and propeller buttons, which adorned the pages of Vogue and were stocked in Macy’s department stores. Among the fashion-literate socialites travelling at the time was Wallis Simpson, who is said to have carried her own bottle of Lillet on her New York-London crossings. On the subject of onboard attire, Amber explained that ‘life at sea replicated life on land and people were expected to follow the same social protocols’. Daytime looks were embellished with nautical flourishes, including sailor-style trousers and anchor motifs.
While immersed in these evocative tales of a far-flung era, guests enjoyed drinks such as Fleur de Lillet and Lillet Vive Spritz, with floral notes of elderflower, topped with Merchant’s Heart tonic, and the Reserve Vesper Martini. This adapted cocktail, including a double measure of Lillet, is the slightly less mischievous sister of the traditional Vesper, made famous by Ian Fleming’s 007. As noted by Lillet’s brand ambassador Clotilde Lataille, it’s more forgiving than the original recipe, but still ensures the evening goes with a swing.
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Scroll down to see more photographs from an evening of French aperitifs at the Lanesborough…