Yvonne Gulamhusein – the passing of an icon
Posted on July 21st, 2010

– Spectator

 The passing last week of Mrs. Yvonne Gulamhusein took away from our midst a fashion icon of yesteryear who was a household name in Sri Lanka from as early as the middle of 1940s.

Tarzie Vittachi used to write frequently about her calling her ooh”¦la”¦la Jutehessian and Collette used to lampoon her. She attracted attention wherever she went both for the often outrageous fashions she would carry off with great ƒÆ’†’©lan as well as for her striking beauty.

Yvonne, then Toussaint, married On’ally Gulamhusein, then one of the most eligible young men in Colombo in August 1948 and their wedding was the talk of the town for many days that followed.

“Bathing Beauty, now Muslim bride” reported in the Sunday morning edition of the Ceylon Observer on August 29, 1948, saying that Yvonne (nee Toussaint) “who usually wear frocks looked lovely in a fragile net saree worked a overall design of stars.”

“Her silver gloves had a star-shaped necklace. She wore no veil but instead a beautiful head dress of flowers. Round her neck she wore matching garland.”

The dashing and debonair On’ally Gulamhusein who won Yvonne was also able to convince the wealthy Borah community to which he belonged to accept what at that time would have surely been considered an unconventional marriage. Gulamhusein recalled that it was the head of his family, who was also the then head of the community, who gave her away at the wedding.

Yvonne and On’ally Gulamhusein had a rock solid marriage which lasted more than 60 years and Gulamhusein, during the last lap of his elegant wife’s life accepted no invitations or social engagements after 6 p.m. as he wanted to be with her after the domestics were gone.

Despite her age, Yvonne looked as elegant as always as like in repose and many old friends gathered to reminisce about the remarkable life of the dancing teacher who became the country’s best known and most photographed fashion icon of her day.

Her warm and generous personality and acts of kindness to many were never publicized. Few remember that she was also a qualified flyer who first attracted public attention when she was crowned the Bathing Beauty at a contest at Bentota on May 27, 1946.

“Yvonne Toussaint’s costume was an overnight job,” The Times of Ceylon reported on May 27, 1946. She won the title “Queen of the Bathing Belles” at what the Times said was an “all-day picnic arranged by Ceylon Tours.”

“A man swooned in the midst of the crowd which swept forward to congratulate her,” the Times reported naming the three judges as Mrs. J. C. Kelly, Mr. R. F. S. de Mel and Mr. J. D. A. Perera, the Colombo painter.

“The five lovelies who posed before the judges first paraded to the edge of the sea, then turned and posed again. But the onlookers had already made their choice, with one yell they wanted Yvonne and screamed, number five, number five. Yvonne, we want Yvonne!” Fortunately the judges agreed and told that she was the winner.

Yvonne had kept a scrap book from 1945 replete with clips reporting her many achievements as a dancer, beauty queen, cover girl and fashion icon.

It provides a fascinating insight to an age now gone “”…” with old black and white photographs of herself and others at the races and social events. Few people will now remember that Yvonne was the third Ceylonese girl to fly an aircraft solo “”…” being preceded in that feat by Miss Croning and Miss Jennet Vairakiam.

“Yvonne who was just 21 is the youngest of them,” reported the Ceylon Observer on the evening of December 29, 1948. “I was thrilled,” said Yvonne. “It was so unexpected too. For several weeks I was expecting to do my solo and every time either the plane was out of order or the weather was unsuitable so that I had given up anticipating.”

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