The memories keep flooding back.

Very nearly 60 years ago, this writer reluctantly decided, like so many other Burghers, to emigrate to places like Australia, England, Canada etcetera, in order to escape what was termed the “Sinhala-only” policy brought in by the Sri Lankan Government of the era.

I was only around 26 years old at the time, with a young family, having actually moved from the famous Town of Bambalapitiya, (or Colombo 4, as I think it was also called), after marrying a girl from the Town of Dehiwala, but that is indeed a different story to be divulged later.


For this introduction to the fascinating tale regarding the Gulamhussain family of Onally and Yvonne (nee Toussaint), also bringing back Bambalapitiya, where they lived in absolute luxury, I believe, we have to thank, once again, my good ex-Naval friend Chris Lawton.

While I did not know Onally or Yvonne personally, as they were always on the side where the “grass was greener”, if you know what I mean, I did know OF them, as they were frequently in the news over there, and now, after what seems like eternity, this elaborate “post” makes for very good reading.

This being the case, and I am sure that Chris will agree, e’Lanka, the largest website for Lankans everywhere, is, by far, the best watch-tower from which to view some BAMBALAPITIYA BEAUTIES

Desmond Kelly

 Desmond Kelly.
(Editor-in-Chief) e’Lanka. 

El Patio Yveony, Bambalapitiya

The beautiful home and mansion,”El Patio Yveony”, owned and lived in by Onally Gulamhussein and his celebrity wife Yvonne Toussaint starts off the next block of land adjoining Station Road. Onally, nicknamed “Jutehessian” and his wife the socialite Yvonne Gulamhussian, nee Toussaint, was refereed to as Mrs. Ooh La Jute Hessian.


Yvonne weds Onally

Extracted from HI Magazine Online – http://www.hi.lk

When Yvonne Gulamhusein passed away on the 12th of July, 2010, it marked an end of era. She was a legend in her lifetime – as a very young delicate and petite beauty, who started life as a cabaret dancer, married her handsome young prince and lived her fairytale life! It was a life well lived, as Yvonne was much loved by her devoted husband, Onally Gulamhusien, the scion of a wealthy Borah family.

Yvonne weds Onally

Extracted from HI Magazine Online – http://www.hi.lk

When Yvonne Gulamhusein passed away on the 12th of July, 2010, it marked an end of era. She was a legend in her lifetime – as a very young delicate and petite beauty, who started life as a cabaret dancer, married her handsome young prince and lived her fairytale life! It was a life well lived, as Yvonne was much loved by her devoted husband, Onally Gulamhusien, the scion of a wealthy Borah family.

Yvonne Gulamhusein was the most paparazzied young fashion plate in her day – and as one gets an exclusive peek at her Scrap Book from 1945, with paper clippings from various newspapers and magazines which reported her many accomplishments as a dancer, her triumphs as a beauty queen, cover girl and then later on , as a much admired fashion icon, we begin to realize that she was way ahead of the times in her understanding of the power of the press! Certainly, for a teenager way back in the ‘40s! It is when browsing through this scrap book, that it strikes one that Yvonne’s life as documented in these pages provide an enchanting and fascinating insight into an era long gone…an era in which our country was called Ceylon under the British, then Independence in 1948. And as the decades roll on post-Independence to the present, when old black and white photographs change to colour, in these pages of Yvonne’s rich life, we catch glimpses of the history of our country – how British Ceylon to came to be the Socialist Democratic Republic of Sri Lanka.

Back to the Beginning – a Bathing Beauty

“Yvonne Toussaint’s costume was an overnight job,” reported The Times of Ceylon reported on May 27, 1946, headlining the article “Colombo Dancer Wins Beauty Title”. This was when she won the first ever “Queen of the Bathing Belles” at the all-day picnic arranged by Ceylon Tours at Bentota.

“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.

A man swooned in the midst of the crowd which swept forward to congratulate her! Then the spectators broke through the circle and mobbed the new Beauty Queen. They swept her along the beach up to a mount where the cameras were waiting for her to pose. There were still cameras and movie cameras all clicking away. Yvonne was wearing an exotic, scanty two piece costume in red and black. She said she had made it herself overnight. “ Exotic and scanty two piece –indeed! No wonder the pictures of Yvonne in that costume still can make cover page news. We at Hi!! Magazine, had no hesitation in selecting that picture of her as our Cover girl in this issue.

For after all, Yvonne was our second ever Cover Girl , back in 2003, the year we started the Hi Magazine.

Herald Cover Girl

In 1946, Yvonne applied for an advertisement by the Herald, for the Cover Girl Competition, and the picture she forwarded was selected as one of the joint winners of the competition; and hence on 15th of September, 1946 Yvonne graced the cover of Herald Vol No 12, and was described in it as “ a Ceylon born girl, educated at St Clare’s College, Wellawatte. Expert ballroom dancer and swimmer and an experienced cabaret entertainer. At present a well reputed dancing instructor.”

Flair for style, THE filly at the Races!

As mentioned earlier, Yvonne was already in the public eye as a dancer who did demonstration dances at Service dances and other gala events. Quoting one of the many clippings in her scrap book, “Miss Yvonne Toussaint whose new dance number ‘Viennese Waltz’ was a highlight of the gala opening night at the Silver Fawn, Colombo.

It is said that Onally Gulamhusein came to learn dancing from her and fell in love. For we find the gorgeous Ms Toussaint and the handsome Onally Gulamhusein strolling elegantly at the Races in August, 1948. Dressed exquisitely, she made it as the Cover Girl of The Ceylon Causerie in August, 1948. The magazine states, “Miss Yvonne Toussaint had her exquisite off-shoulder white lace picture frock partnered by a large white lace crownless picture hat and an elegant frilly white parasol. Nesting amongst the folds of her frock were posies of purple flowers – the whole a most striking ensemble.”

No wonder that she was a living legend for her iconic flair for style! Chic to the core, with an inborn elegance, she was the cynosure of all eyes in her heyday – and no wonder that the Cartoon of the Times of Ceylon, on August 10, 1948 had Yvonne among the celebrities – “ Incidentally, some women too went to great lengths to look ‘new’ but in one case at least, what was added to the bottom was taken from the top!”

On Friday, August 27th, 1948, Yvonne wed Onally Gulamhusein at a reception at the Galle Face Hotel. Yvonne was a very demure bride, clad in “ a fragile net saree worked in an all over design of stars. Her blouse was in silver. She wore no veil, but a beautiful headdress of flowers.

In the morning, Yvonne went through rites of a Muslim wedding. In the evening she entertained a gay crowd of friends as the Galle Face Hotel. In her scrap book, the Wedding Invite and the accompanying Thank You notes, the Menu of the Wedding Buffet are well preserved for posterity.

Racing Cars

In February, 1949 the Ceylon Observer reports that “ Mrs. Onally Gulamhusein , wearing a striking costume of green, white and black and white rimmed sun-glasses, had little difficultly in winning the even for ‘Open Cars with Extra Equipment’ driving a grey Triumph Roadster upholstered in blue.”

High Flyer!

Yvonne’s many new talents did not stop there. The new Mrs. Gulamhusein next conquered the skies. The Ceylon Observer of December 29, 1948 reports that Mrs. Onally Gulamhusein went on her first solo flight the week before, becoming only the third Ceylonese girl to do so. And at just 21, she was also the youngest of the three.

Differed Honeymoon

The Gulamhuseins’ had a differed honeymoon, and sailed on the RMS Queen Elizabeth to London. Yvonne attended races at Ascot, and In her dainty sarees and striking hair-dos where even with many beauties vying for the honours, the petite Mrs. G, was the cynosure of all eyes. Yvonne was presented to the Queen in 1954, (who first visited Ceylon as Princess Elizabeth and then returned as the Queen after the death of her father) at the Queen’s House, where she reminisced in the first interview I did with her way back in 2003, “As I was being presented to her, my fan fell down. And the next day, the papers were full of the incident and the million dollar question was “WHO picked up my fan- was it Prince Philip?”

Jet Set

Yvonne and Onally were part of the jet set in the post-Independent Ceylon. They were great friends of Sir John Kotelawala, who later became Prime Minister after Dudley Senanayake. She was part of the smart set of women who formed a fan club around Sir John, and were dubbed the ‘Purple Brigade’. They partied with the likes of Viscount Soul bury, the then Governor General of Ceylon. Aga Khan was a dear friend of the couple, and visited them twice in Ceylon.

They lived in a ranch style house, with sprawling gardens in the heart of the city; the mansion was called ‘El Patio Yveony’ and many were the memorable parties hosted there to the jet set of the day.

Fashion Columnist

Yvonne in her later years was a fashion columnist for the Sunday Times, a job which she enjoyed very much. Read one of her fashion articles below, where she reported on the first ever Yves Saint Laurent fashion show in Sri Lanka,

The Last Years

Yvonne and Onally had recently celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary in August 2009. They were soul mates. Even during her last years, Yvonne remained the eternally elegant woman she always was. Always perfectly turned out, we will remember her not only as a striking beauty with an incomparable sense of style, but also for her kindness and her warm, caring and generous personality.

Yvonne Gulamhusein – the passing of an icon July 17, 2010, 1:56 pm

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 élan 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 repeat 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.”
– Spectator – The Island July 18 2010

The stadium which belonged to Donavan Andree and Mubarak Thaha where there was a lot of water circus and many overseas performance that took place and was later managed by Donavan’s son Malcolm Andree who was famous for various broadcating and musical shows along with Chris Greet as his compere.Along a row of businesses, which included Silk Paradise owned and managed by a Sindhi family, was a two storeyed building which was used for residential purposes one of which was occupied by the Jansz family. Linda Jansz attended St. Paul’s Milagiriya at Bamba.

Anniversary bash at the Patio

Yvonne, the fashion icon no more DN Thu July 15 2010

Yvonne Gulamhusein (nee Toussaint), a name reverberated in the local and international fashion circles bid adieu to her life’s ramp Monday. Yvonne was in the lead in the fashion designing line and has made spectacular designs that have kept wearers want more. She has always been a sensation and news wherever she went.

In England she walked barefoot and made headlines. The sophisticated woman mixed with the biggest socialites in the country.

She began her career as a cabaret dancer and everything she wore was nothing compared to the ‘in’ style. It was a mix of everything. She met her husband Onally at her dancing classes and what she told her friends laughing was, “See what you did, I went for dancing classes and he asked me to dance and this is where I am today”. She will be remembered fondly by her husband, family, friends and fashion fans world around.

obit: GULAMHUSEIN – YVONNE – Precious wife of Onally Gulamhusein, loving daughter of the late Royston and Mavourneen Toussaint, passed away on 12th July, 2010. Remains will lie at 20, Bambalapitiya, (Galle Road), Colombo 04. Service will be held at The Cathedral of Christ the living Saviour, Bauddhaloka Mawatha, at 3.00 p.m. on 14th July 2010. Cremation will take place thereafter at 4.00 p.m. at Jawatte General Cemetery. DN Wed July 14 2010

The area facing the Galle Road which used to be the front yard of the villa has now been blocked, sold and built up into another mall where many lucrative and flourishing businesses have sprung up alongside including Perera & Sons bakers, Vijitha Yapa Book Store and several other new and old enterprises. Along this same row was located the famous Stadium that hosted many scintillating entertainment performances organized by the famous Donovan Andree during his hey days of the entertainment business.

The way she was
End of an era: Yvonne Gulamhusein, fashion icon of yesteryear bids goodbye

She was the delicate beauty who first wowed pre-independence Ceylon. The striking Ceylonese face with its winged eyebrows that the likes of Elizabeth Arden created hairstyles for when she made her appearance at Royal Ascot in the ’50s. Famously she even dyed her pet poodle ‘Cherie’ to match her outfits.

Darling of the fashion columnists for her style and daring at a time when straitlaced Colombo society was bound by convention, Yvonne Gulamhusein who died earlier this week will be remembered for her iconic style and fashion sense.

Yvonne at the Governor’s Cup              Yvonne in Paris. Pix courtesy Hi!! magazine

Born Yvonne Toussaint, one of four daughters, the young Yvonne literally danced her way into society as a student of Marjorie Sample. Her unerring eye for fashion saw her winning applause as a model and designing her own creations, revelling in reinventing the saree by wearing it with sleeveless blouses (a shocking development in those days). 

With her marriage to Onally Gulamhusein she was soon in the jet set, being presented to the Queen, partying with the likes of Prince Aly Khan and being part of Sir John Kotelawela’s inner circle as a member of the much vaunted ‘Purple Brigade’. Always backed by Onally in all her endeavours, she even learnt to fly, piloting a Tiger Moth with no fear.

Onally and Yvonne lived in their Bambalapitiya mansion ‘El Patio Yveony’- a ranch style house with sprawling grounds at the Galle Road/ Station Road junction. In later years, she took to writing on fashion and was a regular columnist for the Sunday Times enjoying her role as a commentator on the scene that she was so much a part of in years gone by, visiting Paris to attend the spring/ summer showings of Dior and Yves St. Laurent and reporting on them with her customary flair. 

The newly married couple aboard the R.M.S. Queen Elizabeth on their way from England to New York

When I heard that Yvonne Gulamhusein had passed away, I had a sudden vision of Yvonne making a fashion statement on the Colombo racecourse of over half a century ago. 

Few there must be who remember the splash that the racing season made every August way back in the 1940s and early ’50s. 

I, who had never been within kicking distance of a horse, brought up as I was in a family which would have considered going to the races – let alone betting on the horses! -a sure path to hell, was unexpectedly plunged into the thick of it all at age 22 when the great man of Lake House, D.R. Wijewardene, sent for me and said I had to attend the Roberts Cup and the Governor-General’s Cup to cover the fashions. 

My fashion sense was as lacking as was my knowledge of the sport of kings. But it wasn’t mine to ask questions, so, attired in a new saree and with moral support provided by veteran punters, Sooty Banda and Fred de Silva (also of Lake House), I made my debut at the races.

Two names that dominated the fashion scene of that time were those of Yvonne Gulamhusein and Frances Smith and even I had heard of the former. Yvonne’s maiden name was Toussaint and if my memory serves me right, she first hit the fashion scene when she won a bathing beauty contest somewhere. The young Yvonne was as slim as they came and her facial expression, – at least on the few occasions on which I saw her – had a suggestion of a pout – she didn’t readily smile. Anyway, she continued to be in the news every now and then and more so after she married her handsome prince, Onally Gulamhusein.

By the time I got round to going to the races, she was very much in evidence. She didn’t, I thought, have the sweet feminine charm of Frances Smith. Yvonne’s style was striking: “Distinctive was the word for the black and red pettitcoat format with the new corsetted hand-span waistline, worn with a black hat enhanced with red flowers.” 

Yvonne continued to make news and to titillate fashion writers long after I departed from Lake House. She belonged to a coterie of smart women who formed a sort of fan club for Sir John Kotelawala, and were dubbed “The Purple Brigade.” The gallant Sir John welcomed them to Kandawela, basked in their smiles and revelled in the attendant publicity. She enjoyed making fashion news and she liked to be the cynosure of all eyes. 

There is an old story which may be apocryphal, of how at the ball held at Queen’s House for the young Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, so many years ago, Yvonne dropped her fan at the right moment when the Prince was near where she stood, and he courteously bent down and picked it up and restored it to her. If true, it would certainly have made her happy. 

Yvonne Gulamhusein was a simple person at heart and there was no malice in her. May she rest in peace.


Comments are closed.