Featured Image: Emma Corrin as Princess Diana. Netflix: The Crown, Season 4 Episode 3. Photo: Des Willie/Netflix
The Royal family has always used fashion for power, control, entertainment, traditions, new trends, or just to enjoy the pleasure of having the nicest fabrics, trims, and accessories to adorn themselves as they please. Among these different uses of fashion, the ones that caused the most impact in British society were: The sumptuary laws during the Tudor dynasty, the Masques organized by the Stuarts, the extravagant court dresses of the Georgians, and Queen Victoria’s ivory wedding gown, which imposed the still present tradition of brides to wear white on their wedding day.
Throughout the years, the Royal wedding has always caught the entire world’s attention, allowing us to witness how grand and exquisite these wedding gowns have been. For many of the past monarchs, we only have paintings to admire and learn from. Fortunately, Queen Elizabeth’s II reign has been portrayed on the acclaimed Netflix series The Crown, where the production team has made outstanding work to highlight the beautiful and delicate fashions that belong to the Royal family. In many of the cases, they have recreated outfits, while other times they have combined period silhouette with character interpretation to create some impeccable designs. The costumes of The Crown, designed by Michele Clapton in season 1, Jane Petrie in season 2, and Amy Roberts in seasons 3 and 4, have been incredibly amazing and are a huge part of what has made this series as astonishing as it is.
Each one of these designers has been in charge of making the wedding gowns for Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Margaret, and Princess Diana, and the result has been magical.
Right: ‘‘Queen Victoria in her Wedding Dress’ by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1849. Photo: Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2018
In the first episode of the series, we have the delight to see Princess Elizabeth’s and Philip’s wedding. The production of The Crown made it feel as if history was happening all over again. Every single detail mattered, and everyone on the team made a tremendous effort to portray how important this day was in Queen Elizabeth II’s life.
Her gown, originally designed by Normal Hartnell, maintained a 1940’s silhouette, princess style, with a tailored bodice, high neckline, long sleeves, and full skirt made of ivory satin. The latter was all embroidered by hand with a floral design that included 10,000 seed pearls and crystals. Since the wedding occurred during the post-war period, clothing was rationed. So, the materials for Elizabeth’s dress were purchased with rations coupons, some given by the government, and some donated by brides-to-be from all over the country.
“We were keen to create a small number of costumes as exact copies or to make them as close as possible, particularly the pieces that were well known and well documented. I felt by doing so we could gain the respect and confidence of the viewers, which would then allow us to make creative decisions to aid in the storytelling of the private, undocumented side of the family.”Michelle Clapton, Costume Designer
Left: Claire Foy as Princess Elizabeth Netflix: The Crown, Season 1 Episode 1. Photo: Netflix
Michele Clapton (Costume Designers Guild Award Winner), knew the importance of the gown for Princess Elizabeth, and hence the importance it was going to have for the series, so every single detail had to be right. For the same reason, Clapton was given an unusually large budget, which allowed her to maintain all aspects that involved recreating the gown. From choosing the right fabric and materials to embroider the entire gown by hand with a team of very talented people. “It took approximately six to eight weeks for us to re-create the dress, with a team of six embroiderers working on the train throughout this time. Another team worked on the dress skirts, and my key embroiderer worked on the neckline. We had a cutter and two makers, and it required a number of fittings”, shared the designer in an interview. The result was stunning, and not only the dress and production design but the marvelous performance of Claire Foy in this episode contributed as the appetizer to begin telling the fascinating life of Queen Elizabeth II on the series.
In 1960, Princess Margaret married Anthony Armstrong-Jones, which we witness in season 2 of The Crown. Although the episode doesn’t show a lot of what the actual wedding was like, her gown captures the audience’s eyes and it undoubtedly becomes the protagonist of the moment. Just as her sister, Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Margaret’s wedding gown was designed by Norman Hartnell. In this case, the Princess asked for a rather simple gown, without any kind of embroidery or appliqués. The dress consisted of plain silk organza with a fitted, tailored bodice, long sleeves, and a full-length, voluminous skirt with a small train. Its cut followed the 1950s New Look silhouette by Christian Dior. A long veil of matching silk organza and the magnificent Poltimore Tiara were the ultimate details for the wedding outfit.
In season 2 of The Crown, Jane Petrie (Costume Designers Guild Award Winner), had the challenge of recreating this iconic gown which still continues to inspire thousands of brides from around the world. Even though it was a simple gown, that made it more challenging since every single detail had to be absolutely accurate. The dress was made in a week, and due to lack of time, Vanessa Kirby didn’t have a fitting. The key to achieving a successful gown is always the fabric and the pattern, and in this case, it was a complete triumph.
“It’s iconic, so there was no point in changing it, we just needed to try and capture the details accurately. We used the same quality material to capture the weight and the feel”Jane Petrie, Costume Designer
Right: Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margaret. Netflix: The Crown, Season 2, Episode 7. Photo: Alex Bailey/Netflix
Finally, in season 4, we have the privilege of reviving Lady Diana and Prince Charles’s love story. Diana became not only an important icon for the Royal family and British society but also a fashion icon in the ’80s, hence all of her outfits and designers were always carefully chosen. For her wedding day, Diana wore an ivory silk taffeta and antique lace gown designed by David and Elizabeth Emanuel. The dress had bouffant sleeves, a V-neck front with a taffeta bow, and a full skirt which expressed the bride’s taste for romantic styles. The train was 25 feet long (8 metres), making it the longest train in a royal wedding and one of the most important features of the dress. And, on top of its size, it was hand-embroidered with sequins and pearls.
As mentioned above, during this season we see how fashion plays an important role in her personality and transformation in becoming a Princess, both for Lady Diana and for actress Emma Corrin. The wedding dress, designed by the brilliant Emmy-Award Winner Amy Roberts, is one of the most precious pieces from the season as it captures the magic and spirit of the original dress, without being a replica. For Amy, it became absolutely important to portray the essence of the actress and to revive the audience’s feelings on the young couple’s wedding day.
“It’s the colour, the big sleeves, the big skirt and that massive long train. It’s almost like a kind of Walt Disney Princess… I think we just had to be true to the spirit of the dress. It was just to give you a big impression of it… That amazing moment when she came out, and that’s what I think we tried to do”.Amy Roberts, Costume Designer
Left: Emma Corrin as Princess Diana. Netflix: The Crown, Season 4 Episode 3. Photo: Des Willie/Netflix
Since the beginning of the design process, David Emanuel was absolutely collaborative with Amy Roberts and provided her with essential elements she incorporated from the original design. “He (David) was not precious about it, he sort of gave it to us”, shared Amy Roberts in an interview with Netflix. The lace from the original dress was made in Nottingham and the costume department for The Crown used the same company for the production. The dress was made in four weeks and 600 hours, and 95 metres of fabric and 100 metres of lace were used. The train was actually 30 feet long, and there were 5 fittings needed to tailor it to perfection.
The process of recreating history is always an arduous path which includes a lot of research on every single aspect of the period. When recreating fashion for the Royal family, the details matter even more because every piece has meaning through symbolism. Being accurate to the period goes beyond copying the silhouette. It has to do with fabric, embroidery, lace, trim, and when talking about a wedding dress, the feeling to it. For every bride, royal or not, the feeling can be a mixture of excitement, pressure, anxiety, joy, and nervousness. These same feelings are those that the designers of each one of these iconic gowns had, and that it is passed over to the production team in charge of recreating the life of the Royal family. So, for the actress to embody the character of each one of these Princesses, the costumes, in a team with hair/makeup, contribute and make it possible.
Whether it consisted of replicating every pearl and stitch, in capturing the details accurately, or in interpreting the spirit of it, the three designers that have been working with The Crown had created a spotless work by recreating magical pieces. The bridal gowns are just a pivot point to enhance the beauty of the production, but every single piece designed for this show is awe-inspiring and deserves its own crown for stunning hard work.
To dive in more into The Crown’s Costume Department:
- The Queen and The Crown: A virtual exhibition of the Costumes from “The Queen’s Gambit” and “The Crown” by The Brooklyn’s Museum
- Dressing Vanessa Kirby and Claire Foy: Inside The Crown’s Costumes | Vanity Fair
- Behind the scenes of The Crown’s Wedding Dress Fitting with Emma Corrin
- The 51 best costumes from The Crown
- The Crown’s Costume Designer Breaks Down the Fashion of Season 2 | Vanity Fair
- Making of The Crown – Costume Design