Style Icon: Dürrüsehvar- The Ottoman Princess

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It’s not easy to portray simple, elegant, timeless, and regal style when wearing a traditional or should I say a national dress. Yet Durru Shehvar has somehow managed to pull all that in this one picture! This picture alone turned her to a style icon in my books! That necklace is beyond beautiful. Her makeup is perfection and her eyebrows are on point! Wish I knew what color her Sari was!

Born in Istanbul on January 26, 1914, she was the only daughter of Abdülmejid II, the last Sultan to rule over the Ottoman Empire. Growing up in Dolmabahçe Palace in Istanbul, the princess was exposed to a world of art and literature at an early age thanks to her father, a cultured man who spoke several languages including Turkish, Arabic, French and German. In addition to composing music, he was an accomplished painter, producing landscapes and scenes from Ottoman history, which in later years she went to great lengths to buy when they surfaced at auctions.

With the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire, in 1924 the sultan and his family went into exile splitting their time between Paris and Nice in the South of France. She was soon sought by the Shah of Persia and King Fuad I of Egypt as a bride for their respective heirs, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi and Farouk. But also vying for Dürrüsehvar’s hand was the Nizam of Hyderabad, who wanted her to marry his eldest son Azam Jah, Prince of Berar and heir apparent to the throne of Hyderabad. The Nizam won and in 1931, 18-year-old Dürrüsehvar married his son Azam Jah. `The wedding took place in the south of France, and their marriage was widely hailed as a “union of two great dynasties”.

After the honeymoon, the couple returned to Hyderabad, where they settled into the lakeside palace of Bella Vista. Already fluent in French, Turkish and English, the princess quickly learned Urdu and took to wearing French chiffon saris embellished with Art Deco embroideries by the leading Paris couture houses of the day.

Her arrival in Hyderabad would also cause a seismic shift in the lives of local women, and it began with her efforts to end the practice of purdah. Until the reign of the seventh Nizam, the women of the royal family were never seen in public; that is until the princess moved to Hyderabad. In 1933, Dürrüsehvar became the first female member of the Nizam’s family to attend a tennis match where she presented the winning team with a silver cup. It would be the first of many public appearances including charity events, polo matches, and state banquets. Over time she became a respected public figure who advocated for women’s rights and the education of young girls, establishing a junior college for women as well as a nursing school and hospital that still carry her name today.

In 1937, she traveled with her husband to England to attend the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in Westminster Abbey. Although statuesque and regal in public, Dürrüsehvar was also intensely shy and private. Known for shunning publicity, she closely guarded her friendships, which included one with the noted fashion photographer Cecil Beaton and the famous actress Greta Garbo, who often referred to the princess as “our Turkish friend.”

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A few years after the marriage, she realised her incompatibility with her husband, and left with her 2 children, Mukkaram Jah and Muffakham Jah, to London where she lived and visited Hyderabad occasionally. Her last public appearance was when she presided over the opening ceremony of the Nizam’s Silver Jubilee Museum in 2000…. She passed away in her London apartment on Queens Street in 2006 at the age of 92.

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