Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Royal Focus: Queen Elizabeth II's Royal Wedding Dress

When Queen Elizabeth II, at the time Princess Elizabeth, married in 1947, her wedding dress was a stunning creation despite the post war austerity and strict rationing laws. Princess Elizabeth herself was not exempt from the rationing and reportedly saved her clothing coupons for her wedding dress. She received an extra two hundred coupons from the government and many loyal subjects sent in their own coupons. However, it was illegal to give away clothing coupons and the princess returned them to their rightful owners with a note of thanks.

The wedding dress was made by Norman Hartnell and the design was inspired by an image of Primavera by the painter Botticelli. The figure, with its trailing garlands of jasmine, smilax, syringa and rose-like blossoms - was derived from the classical godess of flowers, Flora, and suggested to him the promise of growth and new beginnings.

Hartnell started work on the dress in August, a mere three months before the wedding in November. Although he was no stranger to designing dresses for royalty, this comission had its share of unique challenges and he had to white-wash the windows of his workroom to keep the dress under wraps. Requiring some materials from the United States, Hartnell sent his manager, Captain Mitchison in his place. Upon his return, when asked if he had anything to declare, Captain Mitchison replied that he had 10,000 pearls for Princess Elizabeth's wedding dress. When the chosen fabric for the dress was publicized, some demanded to know the nationality of the silkworms; whether they were from 'enemy' territories such as Japan or Italy. A crisis was averted when it was confirmed that the larvae had been supplied by China.

Despite these obstacles the dress was a triumph. Decorated with 10,000 pearls, the ivory dress of duchess satin was in the Princess style with a fitted bodice and the neckline had a deep-scalloped edge. The front bodice was cut in three panels and the back cut in four, fastening down the centre back with buttons and loops. The wrist-length, tight-fitting  sleeves ended in embroidered cuffs. From the low-pointed waist, the skirt, cut on the cross, extended to a deep circular train.

The 15-foot star patterned silk tulle train, fastened at the shoulders was embroidered with crystal and appliqué duchesse satin  Working with his head embroideress, Hartnell laid tracing paper out on his workroom floor and carefully marked out the pattern in pencil. The white York roses were padded satin, and the ears of corn and orange blossom in diamante and pearl embroidery, inspired by Primavera. The long veil was held in place by a diamond fringe tiara, lent to the Princess, as something borrowed, by her mother, the Queen. She wore two pearl necklaces (the Queen Anne and the Queen Caroline pearls) given as a wedding gift by her parents, and pearl and diamond earrings, a twentieth birthday present from Queen Mary.

She wore ivory duchesse satin high-heeled sandals, trimmed with silver and seed pearl buckles, made by Edward Rayne. Her floral bouquet was supplied by the Worshipful Company of Gardeners and made by Martin Longman, consisted of white orchids with a sprig of myrtle, taken, as per royal wedding tradition, from a bush at Osbourne.

© Marilyn Braun 2010

Primavera by Botticelli image via Wikipedia.

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