The fashion legacy of Queen Elizabeth II

Caryn Franklin

Editor’s note: Caryn Franklin is a fashion and identity commentator, and professor of diversity at the Kingston School of Art in London.

(CNN) — One of Queen Elizabeth II’s many legacies is an illustration of how clothes can unite a nation. Captured in motion by an army of lentil men and women throughout her 70-year reign, Britain’s longest-serving monarch has displayed an innate and finely tuned understanding of branding visual.

The value of fashion and image-making had already been explored with positive results by Elizabeth’s father, King George VI: in a mission to regain the public’s trust after his brother Edward VIII abdicated for To marry twice-divorced American Wallis Simpson, he invited fashion designer Norman Hartnell to browse Buckingham Palace’s art collection for inspiration. While the sophisticated Simpson wore the latest fashions, the King commissioned dresses for his wife and daughters that underlined the traditions – and, therefore, stability – of the Victorian era.

Following the death of her father in 1952, Queen Elizabeth II’s accession to the throne came with the immediate need to calm her people down again. The spectacle of Elizabeth, a glamorous and charismatic royal, would now be bolstered with gravitas and authority to assure politicians, international heads of state and subjects of her planned long game.

Notes from the Royal Collection Trust reveal that Hartnell submitted nine different designs for the coronation dress, and the young queen chose her eighth, adorned with scalloped tiers of embroidery bordered with pearls, rhinestones and gold bugle beads.

In a masterstroke of political savvy, and with the global press all over her, Elizabeth staged the biggest red carpet moment of them all. “Glorious” was supposedly her own word for the dress that captivated and delighted her subjects.

Such is the power of a garment or outfit that this monarch learned quickly to eschew the novelty of fashion, trading the gimmick of fleeting trends and strong silhouettes for deliberate announcement with every appearance. Thus, Elizabeth never missed an opportunity to deliver a message of reliability, stability and firmness to her audience.

Sure, there were fashion top notes for daywear, but brought in as frills. Looking at archival photos from her reign, we see an effortless deployment of trends from the decades, such as the ’50s pinched waist; the shorter skirt lengths, sleeveless dresses and 60s pillbox hats; and the bold turbans and prints of the 70s. And who could forget the power-dressing Queen in high-octane colors for the 80s?

Later in life, Elizabeth established herself as the master of the frock coat, dress and matching hat in colors as bold as purple, orange, red and fuchsia. The warmth and accessibility – as well as the need to be easily spotted in a crowd at its small size – meant the beige color was rarely up to snuff.

In his memoir, Hardy Amies, another royal designer, summed up the timeless quality needed for royal appearances when he wrote“Style is so much more satisfying than chic. Style has heart and respects the past; chic, on the other hand, is unforgiving and lives entirely for the present.”

Styling also takes a lot of management and, working with Angela Kelly, her trusted personal assistant and wardrobe curator, Elizabeth has created a manifesto for career success. Fabrics have been tested for limited appeal against crinkles and creases, and weighted at the hem to prevent gusts of wind from messing around. Subtle prints were used to prevent marks from appearing, and there were even detachable underarm pads to conceal sweat. For trips abroad, the outfits have been designed to subtly complement the customs and culture of the host country.

White gloves, again by Cornelia James, sometimes changed several times a day, and anchored hats with matching hatpins were coordinated with a much-loved Rayne or Anello & Davide mid-heeled shoe (broken by staff and regularly repaired) . It would all be finished with a modestly sized and often carried leather bag from Launer.

Speaking to The Times in 2012, Stewart Parvin, who has been designing for the Queen since 2000, revealed that outfits were categorized by name and cataloged according to where she had worn them and who she had met. “That’s why people will think she wears things once, because there’s such a system,” Parvin said. “If she was going to meet President Obama, she wouldn’t be wearing the same dress.”

There would also be frivolity. At the Royal Variety Performance in November 1999, for example, Elizabeth wore a multicolored sequined harlequin bodice and sleeves with a bold yellow skirt, which delighted the paparazzi. And then there was the shrill lime green ensemble worn for a balcony appearance at the Trooping the Color fashion show in celebration of its 90th anniversary.

In private, Elizabeth, a rider and race horse owner, favorite neutral shades. Tweeds, boots and raincoats would be accessorized with the signature silk triangle scarf. At Balmoral Castle in Scotland for family holidays and formal events, the Queen proudly wore the Balmoral Tartan designed by Prince Albert, his great-great-grandfather.

To know that denim was not a fabric to be entertained by the Queen is to know that it was about a woman who apparently never took a day off from continuous non-verbal conversation with her subjects. : a conversation for those who needed reassurance, a statement for those who sought her authority, and a statement for anyone who wished to connect on a human level with the woman who wore the crown.

This deliberate dissemination of the benefits of a reign born of subtle progress, not dramatic change to shock or destabilize, can be seen as a virtuoso performance in public appearance – and one that this monarch no doubt took care to pass on to the younger members of it. clan.

Top image: Queen Elizabeth and Anna Wintour on the front row at Richard Quinn’s fashion show during London Fashion Week 2018.

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