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How to dress for the Vienna State Opera


Winter in Austria brings a flurry of glittering social events, and the country’s designers and boutique owners have the show-stopping eveningwear and jewels to match. Stephen Doig reveals the names to know

Stephen Doig
Stephen Doig,

Winter in Austria is not a time for drawing the curtains and retreating indoors until spring. In fact, the very opposite is true; the country’s winter season, from Salzburg to Vienna, is a social whirl in which style, culture and a sense of the grand occasion take centre stage.

The grande dame of these lavish occasions is the world-renowned Wiener Opernball (Vienna Opera Ball), held every February at the elegant opera house. This annual event is a time when the members of Austria’s high society can don their finery, relive the glory days of the past and embrace the glorious ceremony of it all.

In fact, from September until the gradual emergence of spring, Austria’s social calendar is heaving with cultural riches: the Internationales Brahmsfest Mürzzuschlag, Vienna Fashion Week, Vienna Design Week, the biennial Viennale film festival, Le Grand Bal at Vienna’s Hofburg palace, Mozart Woche in Salzburg … Thankfully, Austria’s fashion labels and the stores that make the local scene so enticing have a wealth of suitably operatic eveningwear for every stylish event.

Sight, a cult concept store in central Vienna run by fashion duo Vivien Sakura Brandl and Mario Kiesenhofer, focuses on promoting cool and innovative designers from across Austria, Europe and Scandinavia, with local names such as Andrea Auer, Büro Baumann and Werkprunk. Auer’s opulent strings of costume pearls and beads bring added drama to any evening dress, as do Baumann’s gleaming, geometric jewellery pieces.

Jewellery is a key component of the winter-glamour wardrobe, and nods discreetly to Austria’s place as a leader in the field throughout the decades – who can forget Franz Xaver Winterhalter’s iconic portrait of Empress Elisabeth of Austria with a constellation of glinting stars in her hair? For women with modern-day empress aspirations, Michaela Arl de Lima creates lavish, multi-strand coral necklaces, tourmaline cylindrical earrings and white gold and Tahitian pearl rings that will glint to perfection in the candlelight at Le Grand Bal.

And when it’s time to make a spectacular entrance? Viennese-born Anelia Peschev understands the importance of a show-stopping dress that will fit in with the city’s glamorous social diary. Intricately beaded, richly embroidered and in saturated jewel tones, her timeless formal gowns are positively operatic in their grandeur.

Similarly classic, Patricia Vincent is an Austrian-based designer who creates bespoke women’s pieces to order; specialising in bridalwear, she also conjures up fairy-tale evening gowns and a stellar line-up of pin-sharp evening jackets, too. If, however, that gilt-edged invitation arrives at your hotel at the last minute, head to the boutiques in and around Vienna’s chic Kohlmarkt and Kärntner Strasse. Valentino and Philipp Plein specialise in stunning eveningwear that’s more than a match for any winter-wonderland setting; Valentino’s flowing, embroidered folkloric gowns are particularly enchanting as the snow falls.

And when the well-heeled gentleman needs formal attire that will take him seamlessly from classical-music concerts to film premieres? Paul’s, a tailoring institution in Vienna, offers a range of pin-sharp tailoring from Armani Collezioni, Hugo Boss and Z Zegna, alongside handsome formal footwear from Austrian cobbler Ludwig Reiter.

So whether you’re sweeping up an opulent staircase in flowing silks or adjusting your jacket before stepping on to the red carpet, Austria’s luxury contingent have your eveningwear needs richly catered for.

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