January 21, 2018

{Coronation Gowns / Excerpt No. 2}

With the beginning of Season Two of Victoria on PBS, I'll continue sharing excerpts from one of my guest-speaker presentations, “SOMETHING MOST ROYAL: Recreating Crowns & Gowns for Victoria & Elizabeth, featuring costume design stories from both Victoria and The Crown on Netflix. Below is the second in the series (first one posted on November 18, 2017) about Queen Victoria's ornate coronation garments.

Queen Victoria kept a detailed Journal during her lifetime and wrote a long description of her coronation day, a unique record of the event. When she arrived at Westminster Abbey, the heavy red velvet and ermine mantle of her Parliament robe, with its eight-foot-long train, was added for the procession down the nave to the prepared ‘theatre’ in the Abbey.  (The robe is made up of a kirtle and mantle: the kirtle fits over the gown or uniform like a tunic/weskit; the mantle is an over-garment with a train, worn over the kirtle.)
According to historian Kay Staniland in In Royal Fashion, “following the formal rituals of the recognition and oath,” the Queen, in the privacy of St Edward’s Chapel (which is hidden behind a stone wall behind the high altar) “was divested of the Parliament robe…. Normally a king was disrobed in full view of the congregation; however, from motives of delicacy, anointing on the breast was omitted at Victoria’s coronation and she therefore re-entered the ‘theatre’ already wearing the cloth of gold supertunica over her colobium sindonis.” 
The linen colobium sindonis is a plain linen garment, with sacred ritual associations—“a simple, humble gown which contrasts with the regal splendour of the robes.“ This is tied or sashed over the queen’s satin gown…kind of like a full-size bib to cover and protect the formal gown. Then this richly woven gold supertunica is worn over it all and “is the second robe used in the ceremony”; there will be others! 

“Seated on St Edward’s chair, beneath a cloth of gold canopy held by four knights of the Garter, Victoria was anointed, on her forehead only, by the Archbishop of Canterbury. This is the most solemn part of the coronation ceremony.” Moving from the sacred chair, “the Queen was then robed in her dalmatica and returned to St Edward’s Chair for the crowning and investiture with regalia.” 
(The dalmatica for Victoria—another “cloth of gold” but this one has a train—was "crafted in a resplendent gold tissue cloth embellished with British emblems in an ornate print: purple thistles, pink roses with green leaves, golden eagles and green shamrocks"…. ) 
“When the homage and remainder of the service were completed, the Queen retired to the privacy of St Edward’s Chapel to be divested of her cloth of gold robes” (there were two by now!), “which by tradition were left at Westminster.” 
Now arrayed in a purple velvet robe (ie, kirtle and mantle)—not the red velvet Parliamentary robe she wore in—and “wearing the Imperial State Crown…” (and, indeed, a special crown had to be made to fit Victoria’s petite head!) “…and carrying her scepter and orb, she processed back down the nave and out the Abbey to the state coach, which took her back, in a long impressive procession along a crowded route [of cheering subjects], to Buckingham Palace.” Back home at last!!

The marvelous costume designer for the first season of “Victoria” on PBS, Rosalind Ebbutt, had to either faithfully recreate all of this coronation finery—gowns and robes and tunics and more—or “hire” pieces from the various well-stocked-up-on regalia costume houses in London! ~

[Images above are slides from my "Something Most Royal" presentation.]

December 13, 2017

{Titanic Glamour}

My article, "Titanic Glamour," is featured in the winter issue of SEASON magazine (scroll to page 48.) I've reprinted it below, adding images shared by fashion historian Randy Bryan Bigham, author of Lucile - Her Life By Design.


Bridal sketch by Lucile
Courtesy: Randy Bryan Bigham
Whenever you read about the RMS Titanic—the fabled “floating palace” that sank on its maiden voyage in April of 1912—gilded glamour and high fashion are always part of the intrigue. During its “dressing hour,” when first-class passengers dressed for dinner following white-tie protocol, many ‘Lucile’ gowns—gingerly unpacked by ladies’ maids from grand steamer trunks—were worn by patrons unaware the celebrated designer, sailing incognito, was aboard. British couturiere Lucile, Lady Duff Gordon, traveling to expand her business in America, was on the Titanic with her husband, Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon, and her assistant, “Franks.” (All three were saved when disaster struck, but there was a whiff of scandal surrounding the circumstances!)  

Lily Elsie in Lucile, Ltd. wedding gown, circa 1911
Courtesy: Randy Bryan Bigham
Lucile was internationally famous for her femme-femme evening clothes and bridalwear made of gossamer layers of silk with delicate beadwork (some say she was the first to design a “corsetless” gown); she was also known for her elegant ‘naughty but nice’ lingerie—a bridal trousseau darling of the rich and royal. Indeed, the innovative designer was favored by fashionable brides around the world: stars of stage and screen, fiancées of business tycoons, daughters of the nobility (too many to name here!) One of Lucile’s beautiful young brides was a fellow Titanic passenger—recently married to the older and very wealthy John Jacob Astor IV; Madeleine and her unborn child made it to safety, he did not.

Lucile’s élan even spilled over into the popular Downton Abbey television series 100 years later! There’s a scene in season three—soon before Lady Edith Crawley’s ill-fated wedding—when Cora, Lady Grantham (quite the fashionista), informs Violet, the Dowager Countess, that the bride would, of course, be wearing ‘Lucile.’

Mary Marvin in Farquharson & Wheelock design
Courtesy: Randy Bryan Bigham
Mary Farquharson Marvin—the daughter of another high-society couturiere—and her husband were also first-class passengers on the Titanic, returning to New York from their European honeymoon. Mary’s mother was half of the Farquharson & Wheelock design team—two Scottish sisters with fashion ateliers in Washington, DC and New York City. Naturally, they designed Mary’s stylish wedding gown and, because of their fame, she appeared in Vogue wearing the bridal confection. (A decade later, Farquharson & Wheelock created the lace and silk tabard-style gown for Biltmore heiress Cornelia Vanderbilt’s wedding in Asheville, NC.)

The family of Mary’s husband, Daniel Warner Marvin, were pioneers in the motion picture production business and, although their wedding in early 1912 was not filmed, the ceremony was restaged for the camera a few months later, making international news. The London Daily Mirror reported it as the very first wedding to be “cinematographed.” Sadly, like many men on the sinking Titanic, Mary’s husband saw his young wife safely aboard a lifeboat, then stayed behind and went down with the magnificent ship. ~

December 8, 2017

{Meghan Markle: An Activist Since Age 11}

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle love many things about each other I'm sure...and one of those attractions is compassionate activism! Meghan learned, with support from her father, that even at age eleven you can make a big difference in the world!

I love her speech at the United Nations Women's Conference in 2015 (in her role as UN WOMEN ambassador) where she shares the childhood story! Enjoy....
...and remember, you don't have to be a princess to make a positive change in the world!

November 18, 2017

{Coronation Gowns / excerpt No. 1}

Here's an excerpt from one of my presentations, “SOMETHING MOST ROYAL: Recreating Crowns & Gowns for Victoria & Elizabeth, featuring costume design stories from PBS’ Victoria and Netflix’ The Crown about recreating the royal wedding gowns and ornate coronation garments. (Since you can read about Victoria and Elizabeth's wedding gowns in my latest book, I thought I'd share information about their coronations here!)
Sometime between Victoria’s accession to the throne and her coronation in 1838, just over a year in time—“the Mistress of the Robes received an enquiry from the Treasury about the cost of the robes the Queen would require…this would need to be included in the overall coronation expenses to be presented to Parliament for official approval.”

For the garments alone, there were hundreds of busy fingers! Not just dressmakers, robe-makers, shoe and stocking makers, as well as crown-makers to engage and instruct, but decisions, like:

Was there time to custom-weave silk satins, silk velvets and cloths of gold…or would these precious fabrics have to be bought—Heaven Forbid!!—“off the shelf”? And what about the regal wear for the Queen’s Maids of Honor?

Would a new crown have to be made for the monarch’s tiny head? Would her tiny feet reach the floor once seated in the sacred 500-year-old St Edward’s Chair?
So many dilemmas, so little time!!

Nonetheless, at 10 on the morning of 28 June 1838, the Queen sets off from Buckingham Palace “wearing the kirtle of her Parliament robe over her dress of gold-brocaded white satin,” according to official records. 

“In paintings of Victoria’s coronation her dress is consistently obscured by her robes and only recently has it become possible to gain an idea of this rich silk dress, when a page was deciphered from the ledgers of the Office of Robes as relating to the coronation.” (So this is how Rosalind Ebbutt, the costume designer, knew how to recreate Victoria’s gown in a more authentic design.) The original fabric, probably of Spitalfields manufacture, is “a design of cartouches and flowers worked in sliver-gilt strip on a white satin ground”—probably “off the shelf” instead of custom woven, and probably made by QV’s “long-serving dressmaker, Mary Bettans.”

Jenna Coleman from "Victoria" on PBS
Victoria was also wearing the silver, gold and “diamond circlet of George IV, one of the most familiar pieces of royal jewelry. (We’ll see it later with Queen Elizabeth.) Victoria had it reset with diamonds and pearls from the royal collection” (in fact, it is “set with 1,333 diamonds, including a 4 carat pale yellow brilliant in the centre of the front cross”)… “and Victoria wore it constantly until the death of her husband Prince Albert.”

Although made for George IV’s extravagant coronation in 1821, “the diadem has been regularly worn (and slightly modified) by queens regnant and consort from Queen Adelaide onwards. This feminine association belies its origin….”

[to be continued....]

October 16, 2017

{Designing Glow}

My article, "Designing Glow," features some of our favorite television dramas with brides and their wedding gowns designed to glow! Just published in the fall issue of SEASON magazine (page 54 online), I share it below with images added from Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones and Outlander. Enjoy!

Designing Glow

As a fashion historian, I enjoy reading about the creative process used by costume designers for period films and television dramas. And as a wedding folklorist, writing about the bride’s rite-of-passage, I’ve come to see how a woman’s deep desire to be beautiful on her wedding day reflects a universal expression of the feminine spirit, tapping into her true goddess nature, her radiance.

In the last few years, brides have found fashion inspiration from the work of those costume designers in touch with such an aspiration—a woman’s wish to glow! Remember the first family wedding on Downton Abbey? Set in 1920, costume designer Caroline McCall had more than designing something with a romantic vintage vibe in mind. For Lady Mary’s marriage to Matthew Crawley, she etched the slender gown’s lace overlay with a delicate silver thread, adding tiny Swarovski crystals and rice pearls so Mary would “twinkle in the morning light.”  

Then there’s the shimmery sensuality of Game of Thrones! In the exotic imagination of Michele Clapton, its award-winning costume designer, the ornately intricate Westeros wedding gowns—with their golden palettes; metallic embroidered dragons, lion heads and Diawolfs; primitive lacework and flowing trains—turned the show’s brides into gleaming, other-worldly creatures. 
Modern brides adapted this Medieval-like fantasy with crystal diadems and mystical glamour, ancient armor-inspired motifs (seeking their inner Wonder Woman?), even replicating Margaery’s elaborate “hair sausages” and her queenly wedding crown crafted from Baratheon antlers wrapped in thorny briar roses. (Everything candlelit for epic “glow effect”!)

For the long-awaited reenacting of Outlander’s 18th century wedding set in the Scottish Highlands, the costume designer wanted Claire—the bride and time-traveling heroine—to literally glow. “I wanted a dress that would be incredible in candlelight,” Terry Dresbach shared. This wedding—and forthcoming marriage and relationship of Claire Beauchamp Randall and Jamie Fraser—were the foundation of the immensely popular Outlander books and subsequent television series, therefore the direction from the show’s creator: “This moment needed to be a fairy tale.”

“In the 18th century, metallic textiles were made with actual metal woven into the fabrics,” explained Terry. “When you put them in a room filled with candles, they just glow. They’re quite remarkable.” By incorporating delicate shavings of iridescent mica rock—plus an old, time-consuming embroidery technique using metal strands—Terry could be true to the spirit of the era while also creating something stunning and shimmering for Claire’s wedding gown.

With all this focus on “glowing,” I thought of Regena Thomashauer, best-selling author and founder of the School of Womanly Arts in New York City. The heart of Regena’s work encourages women to find and express their true desires, their self-love, their inner and outer goddess, their glow. “Glow creates beauty in women of all ages, all body types, all backgrounds,” Regena observes. And when you glow, you not only want to dress to show it off, but you just naturally attract and inspire what’s beautiful in others. ~

October 7, 2017

{A White Wedding Gown?}

People are always curious about the “white wedding dress”—it’s history and traditions...and most people have misconceptions about both! Perhaps it's the reason that I hear from lots of readers who enjoyed my book, The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride: For Better or Worse, How Princess Diana Rescued the Great White Wedding, and its stories about the legacy of this fabled gown!

That's why the headline in the New York Times' Twitter feed, “A White Wedding Gown? It’s a Tradition That’s Not For Everyone,” caught my attention. And I thought you’d appreciate the accompanying article by Marianne Rohrlich, "The Dress: Honoring Tradition." She explains how a bride's culture or religion may influence her wedding gown. Click on the link and enjoy!

September 27, 2017

{Something Blue & More}

I recently saw in Bride magazine online a new article: “51 Something Blue Accessory Ideas for Your Wedding Day”—lots of sexy blue shoes, neat little clutch-bags, drop earrings that looked more “honeymoon” than “wedding gown,” lacy lingerie, even blue-trimmed sunglasses! Calling the Something Old, Something New bridal ritual “an age-old tradition” (it’s not!), the article, like so many about modern weddings, was full of fashion fluff and low on womanly depth. Fashion ideas for your wedding can be fun, but sometimes it overshadows the real focus—your relationship!

In that spirit, I want to share an excerpt from my first book, The Bride’s Ritual Guide: Look Inside to Find Yourself, that focuses on the Something Old, Something New bridal rhyme, with a modern yet folkloric—and very femininetwist!  In the book, I call the something blue part of the bridal ritual: "Something intimate and magical. A sweet and tender connection to something divine; a reminder of the depth and eloquence of love without conditions." See below for more something history....

Wedding traditions, to borrow a phrase from Carol McD. Wallace in her book All Dressed in White, have “complicated roots.”

Take the rhyme, “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a sixpence for your shoe”—the familiar little verse that became a beloved personal ritual for generations of brides. The rhyme itself may not be that old, but the customs it describes have been around for centuries. In cultures worldwide and for as long as we know, there was some sort of superstitious custom for brides to tuck a little token of abundance (pieces of bread, a lump of sugar, coins, a bit of ribbon, a silver charm) into their purse, glove, or shoe or sew the items into the hem of their dress. This was all done in the desire to call forth good luck, great fortune—including lots of healthy children—or some magical promise of love forever!

Shoe historian Cameron Kippen reminds us that “a long standing bridal superstition stated no harm could befall a bride wearing blue.” Through the ages, wide-ranging references to the color blue surround it with compelling and even divine properties. The color is often associated with the Virgin Mary and is cited in Geoffrey Chaucer’s fourteenth century “The Squire’s Tale” from The Canterbury Tales as a symbol of truth and faithfulness.

With such rich folkloric history, it stands to reason that somewhere along the way, some sentimental poet put it all together in a romantic rhyme. A rhyme composed, perchance, as a gift to an adored bride, her name unknown to us now, but like brides before and since, their images became an icon of womanhood.

This is only a bit of the mystery and superstition around the Something Old, Something New rhyme—the most feminine of all wedding rituals. Enjoy more stories with your own copy of The Bride’s Ritual Guide: Look Inside to Find Yourself. ~