17 November 2017

Royal Flashback of the Day: Queen Elizabeth II's Wedding Gown

Princess Elizabeth and Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten
November 20, 1947
Westminster Abbey
With their big 70th anniversary approaching, how could we not revisit this famous royal wedding gown? The dress Queen Elizabeth II wore to marry the Duke of Edinburgh is every bit as much of a dream today as it was back in post-war Britain. It was extravagant yet tailored to the austere times, and the perfect match for an event that, in a way, helped mark a new era. As Jock Colville wrote of the wedding, “The war, it seemed, really was over.”

The Botticelli inspiration and the wedding gown sketch
The bride selected leading couturier Norman Hartnell, already a royal favorite, to design her gown. The final design was approved in mid-August, leaving Hartnell’s team less than three months to make the dress. His inspiration for the gown was Botticelli's Primavera and the result was an intricate gown in ivory duchesse satin covered in embroidered garlands created with white seed pearls imported from the United States, silver thread, crystals for sparkle and transparent tulle appliqués.

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Princess Elizabeth wore a 15 foot court train attached at the shoulders. The train was made of silk tulle embroidered with pearls, crystals and appliqué duchesse satin. She also wore a silk tulle veil under her tiara. The veil was shorter than the train, leaving the embroidery to be the star of the show. The overall effect is quite diaphanous, like a halo of tulle surrounding the bride.

Royal Collection Trust
The heavy embellishment would remain a hallmark of Hartnell’s work for Elizabeth for decades to come, and is particularly reminiscent of the gown he created for her coronation. (It is distinctly not reminiscent of his other most famous royal wedding gown, Princess Margaret’s, which had a simpler line thanks to the strong requests of the bridal couple.)

The train
Just like everyone else in the country, Princess Elizabeth had to fund her gown with clothing ration coupons. Unlike everyone else, she was allowed 200 extra coupons by the government. Famously, people sent in their own coupons to help the Princess out (these were sent back with a note of thanks, since it was illegal for her to use them). In another sign of the times, the government had to be reassured that the silkworms used to create the gown came from China and the United Kingdom, rather than enemy countries such as Italy and Japan, and the fabric had been woven in England and Scotland.

The bride accessorized with high heel sandals by Edward Rayne in ivory duchesse satin fastened with a silver buckle ornamented with yet more pearls. Her bridal bouquet was made of white orchids and the traditional sprig of myrtle.

Royal Collection Trust
Her bouquet was temporarily lost until someone remembered it was in a refrigerator, just one of several hitches that must have truly tested Elizabeth’s famous sense of calm. The two strands of pearls she wanted to wear also went missing, until it was remembered that they had already been placed on display with the rest of the wedding gifts in St. James’ Palace. Jock Colville, Princess Elizabeth’s Private Secretary, was dispatched to retrieve the pearls, taking the King of Norway’s car – nearly not allowing the King to exit the vehicle before he raced off – and facing an ordeal to convince the officers guarding the presents to allow him to remove the pearls. (They agreed after finding his name in the official program.) And, of course, the tiara broke.

Royal Collection Trust
Everything was found and repaired and the bride made it down the aisle with all the appropriate accessories: Queen Mary’s Fringe Tiara on loan from her mother, the Queen Anne and Queen Caroline Pearl Necklaces that were among her wedding gifts from her parents, and the Duchess of Teck Earrings she received from Queen Mary earlier in the year.

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The Queen views her dress at Buckingham Palace, in an exhibition for the couple's 60th wedding anniversary.
The wedding gown has been displayed many times in the decades since the wedding. It was last on display for the Queen’s 90th birthday (as of this writing). Seventy years on, the fabric is beginning to show its age and I wouldn’t be surprised if it goes on display less often in the future. If you’ve had a chance to see it in person already, you’re lucky.

Unlike other milestone anniversaries the couple have celebrated, they'll be spending this one privately. Reportedly, a family dinner will be held.

16 November 2017

Tiara Thursday: Queen Mary's Fringe Tiara, Revisited

The diamond fringe tiara, based on the traditional Russian kokoshnik headdress, is an essential tiara design. Given how prevalent the design has been, it's no surprise the huge British royal collection includes multiple examples; there are at least three fringe necklaces and/or tiaras in the Queen's possession today. It's also no surprise that these examples are easy to get mixed up.

Queen Mary's Fringe Tiara
Queen Mary's Fringe Tiara is probably the most famous British fringe, thanks to its use as Queen Elizabeth II's wedding tiara in 1947 (although it didn’t exactly behave during its shining moment, managing to break on the young bride – but more on that in a second). Queen Mary had the tiara created after another diamond fringe in the collection apparently didn't suit her needs. The two fringes are still regularly confused.

Two different fringe tiaras: Queen Mary wears Queen Adelaide's Fringe Necklace as a tiara on the left and she wears Queen Mary's Fringe Tiara on the right
Queen Mary originally used a piece called Queen Adelaide's Fringe Necklace. Adelaide's Fringe was made in 1831 for the wife of William IV from diamonds previously used by George III. That necklace was inherited by Queen Victoria, who used it as a tiara and a dress ornament. Queen Victoria designated Queen Adelaide's Fringe as an heirloom of the Crown and it has been worn by queens ever since: Queen Alexandra used it as a dress ornament, Queen Mary wore it as a tiara right after George V took the throne, Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother) used it as a necklace. It is now with the Queen, who is not known to have worn it publicly. Because of the confusion with Adelaide's necklace/tiara, Queen Mary's Fringe Tiara has often been referred to as the King George III Fringe Tiara or the Hanoverian Fringe Tiara. (The difference between the two was not really clarified until the publication of The Queen's Diamonds by Hugh Roberts in 2012.)

A sketch of the necklace dismantled to make Queen Mary's Fringe Tiara, a wedding gift from Queen Victoria; Mary wore it in her hair on her wedding day (right), and it is strikingly similar to another wedding gift, the Surrey Fringe Tiara.
Despite having Queen Adelaide's Fringe at her disposal, Queen Mary decided to commission a new piece that was a little tidier in the graduation of its bars and had fewer diamond bars overall, likely making it easier to wear. Queen Mary's Fringe Tiara was made by E. Wolff & Co. for Garrard & Co. in 1919 and includes 47 diamond bars separated by smaller diamond spikes. As was her usual practice, Mary had an existing jewel dismantled to make the new piece: a Collingwood & Co. stylized diamond fringe necklace she received as a wedding gift from Queen Victoria in 1893. Mary's Fringe Tiara can be removed from its frame for use as a necklace.

Queen Elizabeth
In 1936, Queen Mary gave her fringe tiara to Queen Elizabeth, who wore it regularly during George VI's reign. Queen Elizabeth loaned the tiara to her daughter, Princess Elizabeth (now, of course, Queen Elizabeth II), to wear when she married Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten on November 20, 1947.

Princess Elizabeth
It turned out to be a bit of a problematic wedding tiara selection. On the big day, the tiara suddenly broke while the bride was getting ready. The Queen herself can be overheard telling the story in the video below, while touring the Buckingham Palace exhibition of the Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding gown in 2011, with the Duchess and officials from the Royal Collection.

After the Duchess of Cambridge explains that her wedding team had to experiment with ways to attach her tiara and veil, ultimately sewing the veil to the Cartier Halo Tiara (to which the Queen responds, “Oh yes, one has to do that, in case it comes off,”) the Queen tells the story of how she suddenly learned Queen Mary’s Fringe Tiara was also a necklace, at the most inopportune time: “The catch, which I didn’t know existed, it suddenly went [gestures with her hands]. And I didn’t know it was a necklace, you see…I thought I’d broken it…we stuck it all together again, but I was rather alarmed…” According to the book Garrard: The Crown Jewelers for 150 Years, the mother of the bride kept the calm by remarking, “We have two hours and there are other tiaras.”

Luckily, being a VIP royal bride affords you all the help you need in just such a pickle, and Garrard was able to solve the problem. “I think he taped up the spring,” the Queen recalled. The Garrard book reports that the frame snapped and was taken by police escort to their workroom for a quick fix. You can tell that the tiara had problems in the wedding pictures, because its strict symmetrical design is a little bit off at the center.

Princess Anne
That little mishap didn't put the royal family off of using Queen Mary's Fringe Tiara as a wedding tiara, although it did ensure that the Crown Jeweler was on hand next time, just in case. Princess Anne borrowed the tiara from Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother for her wedding to Captain Mark Phillips in 1973.

Double fringes: Queen Elizabeth II wears Queen Mary's Fringe Tiara and the City of London Fringe Necklace. (A complete rundown of the jewels in this portrait can be found here at the Vault.)
The tiara then disappeared into the Queen Mother's vault for several decades as she spent her later years switching between the Greville Tiara and the Oriental Circlet. Queen Mary's Fringe Tiara was inherited by Queen Elizabeth II on her mother's death in 2002. She has worn it a couple of times since, but it hasn't unseated any of her regulars as a favorite.

It’s such a versatile piece and I always think fringes have a modern edge, despite the fact that this one's a century old. My diamond fringe-loving heart would love to see it used more often, and I continue to cross my fingers that it will become one of her increasingly frequent loans to family members.

Who would you like to see give this one a spin?

15 November 2017

Royal Outfits of the Day: Queen Letizia in Mexico

Here's Queen Letizia, on a solo trip this week to Mexico for the World Cancer Leaders Summit:

Visiting the headquarters of Red Cross Mexico
House of HM the King
I saw this from the waist up at first and thought, waaaaay too conventional, there must be a Letizia twist somewhere in here.

Hugo Boss Gingham Cotton Jacket
House of HM the King/Hugo Boss
And indeed there was, in the form of a cropped pant! Not exactly a mind-blowing plot twist or anything, just a hint of a Letizia spin.

Meeting with the President and First Lady of Mexico
House of HM the King
What sort of trip would it be without a jumpsuit along for the ride, huh? Not a Letizia trip, that's for sure. This one's Felipe Varela, a repeat. And that's how you do a ponytail for a formal event.

House of HM the King
Her hosts changed into something a little more formal for their dinner, which was good because La Reina was looking a little overdressed for a second. (Although if you can't wear as many diamonds as you want, whenever you want when you're the queen...) The bracelets and earrings from the joyas de pasar also made the trip!

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Attending the conference
Here's a handbag surprise. I'm firmly in the Red Is A Neutral camp and all, but this seems a sharp stylistic turn from the more formal Nina Ricci outfit, what with the people on there and the chains. No?

Zara bag

14 November 2017

Tuesday Tidbits for November 14: Splendid Jewels, Sumptuous Fabrics

Opulence ahead:

--The Japanese imperial family held their autumn garden party, for which they bring out the kimonos and which subsequently is a delightful feast for the eyes. Those fabrics. [Imperial Family of Japan Blog]

--Fictionally royal: I love this oral history of 1997's Cinderella, starring Brandy Norwood and Whitney Houston, for every possible reason, but most of all for the knowledge that Whoopi Goldberg rejected all costume jewelry and insisted on wearing the real stuff. So she had the filmmakers contact her guy at Harry Winston. SPLENDID. [Shondaland]

--I am very interested in Princess Haya's dress here, speaking of fabulous fabrics.
سعدت اليوم بلقاء سيدة كولومبيا الأولى ماريا كليمنسيا رودريغيز دي سانتوس خلال زيارتها الرسمية لدولة الإمارات العربية المتحدة. تربطنا بكولومبيا علاقات متينة على جميع الأصعدة. نتشارك مع السيدة الأولى أهمية العمل الإنساني ونشيد بدورها في إعادة إعمار موكوا بعد الفيضانات التي ضربتها في شهر أبريل الماضي I was pleased today to meet with First Lady Maria Clemencia Rodríguez de Santos during her official visit to the United Arab Emirates. We enjoy strong bilateral relations with Colombia and share with the First Lady the importance of humanitarian work. We commend her efforts for the reconstruction of Mocoa after the floods that hit the city in April.
A post shared by Haya Bint Al Hussein (@hrhprincesshaya) on

--The hunt for a missing ruby, fascinating: Who stole Burma’s royal ruby? [BBC, h/t Emi]

--Australians, mark this one on your calendar: Cartier is bringing a big exhibit to the National Gallery of Australia from March 30 to July 22, 2018. This will include gems like Daisy Fellowes' Tutti Frutti necklace, Elizabeth Taylor's rubies, Princess Grace's engagement ring, and the Cartier Halo Tiara on loan from Queen Elizabeth II. Never miss a chance to see a tiara in the flesh (in the diamonds?), that's my motto. [NGA]
HM Queen Elizabeth II/NGA

--The rest of us can be content to view rare gems via photo, and QEII herself gave us a glimpse of rare brooch from her collection last week: a wee swan! [Jewel Vault]


Tidbits is your spot for royal topics we haven't covered separately on the blog, all week long. Please mind the comment policy, and enjoy!

13 November 2017

Royal Events of the Day: The Windsors at Remembrance Ceremonies

As they do every year, the British royal family spent their weekend in solemn and stately mode, attending the Festival of Remembrance on Saturday and Remembrance Sunday at the Cenotaph in London.

MOD Crown Copyright 2017
The Queen chose to join the newly retired Duke of Edinburgh and the Duchess of Cornwall on a balcony above the scene at the Cenotaph, a first for this year and what felt like a major passing of the baton moment. (The Queen and the Duchess of Cornwall were also covered at the Jewel Vault; the Queen's brooch is a regular for poppy-holding and Camilla's has some extra special significance for the event.)

BBC screencap
MOD Crown Copyright 2017
MOD Crown Copyright 2017
The Prince of Wales led the service and laid a wreath for the Queen in addition to his own wreath. The rest of the wreath-laying regulars joined Charles: the Duke of Cambridge, Prince Harry, the Duke of York, the Earl of Wessex, the Princess Royal, and the Duke of Kent.

BBC screencap
On another balcony, the Duchess of Cambridge watched the service with Princess Alexandra of Kent and the Countess of Wessex. Both Alexandra and Sophie wore badges from The Rifles; each lady is a Royal Colonel of a different battalion.

MOD Crown Copyright 2017
Frivolous as it is to talk about the looks on display here (and, well, this happens to be a blog that specializes in the frivolous, says so right on the sidebar), I think it's worth noting what a sharp look this was for Kate. Very dignified. And just right, I thought.

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Her orderly buttoning was a continuation of the theme from the previous evening at the Festival of Remembrance, where she debuted a cozy velvet option.

Royal British Legion
Royal British Legion
The Queen was in a velvet mood as well, just the top part of her dress for a little textural contrast. (She, as well as the Duchess of Cornwall, were also covered at the Vault for this event.) Solemn and stately all around, as always.