‘There’s one image of the Queen that I particularly love. It must have been taken in the 70s, and she’s about to go down a dark old mine shaft. She’s wearing a black cloak and white hard hat, and she’s turning towards the camera looking over her shoulder. What’s striking is that, even in this setting, she manages to look so incredibly glamorous, like a film star.
Years ago the designer Hardy Amies told me that when he would take dresses to the palace that the Queen be intensely interested. It was never a case of just delivering a box, she would be waiting and she’d say things like, ‘That belt must go a little higher, let’s put that colour with that.’ She was intensely on-the-ball with regards to what she was going to wear. It was much, much more than just a gown being sent, it was an organised sitting; it was a technical, important process that she paid attention to.
The Queen Mother had this extraordinary, Beaton-esque, flamboyant style, almost Victorian in all those crinolines and plush fur collars and cuffs, and Princess Margaret was very much the one with the film star looks, with the low-cut dresses, the spangles, the great skirts, the Princess-line coats. But in the case of the Queen, she has always had to dress sedately but also visibly. Her clothes have always had a role to play. She’s had to dress to be seen. For example, whenever she’s at a state ball she has always had some emblem of her country out of duty. It’s a sensibility of ‘this is what I am, this is what I do, this is how I dress for it,’ and that’s real style.
Her Majesty knows what she has to look like and gets it perfect every time. She has become bolder recently, and started to experiment with bright colour and interesting texture. Recently I saw pictures of her at Sandringham wearing a hat and coat that looked like she was almost wearing nougat! – a very nubbly tweed that seemed as if it could be made of nuts, such a smart, tactile piece that made you want to feel it. Yellow’s a hard colour to wear, and as she proved at the Royal wedding last year, she has the bravery to pull it off. It was such a joyous symbol on that day. Her make-up is perfect, too, because it manages to be natural and colourful at the same time.
The Queen’s great sartorial forte is that she is not too fashionable. She dresses in a timely enough way, but she is not trend led and nor should she be. She is not Jackie Kennedy, she’s not Princess Diana, she’s not a fashion plate. When royal women go that way they risk people looking at the clothes and not the person, looking at the clothes and not listening to what she’s saying or watching what she’s doing. The Queen avoids that because she’s timeless and appropriate. The Queen manages to pull off a world-class image that’s never embarrassing. She looks wonderful in uniforms and riding clothes, too. It’s not ‘off duty’, but it’s ‘off piste’, and she’s become known for her elegance wearing a simple headscarf and wellington boots.
I suppose, if her Majesty has felt any sort of pressure with regards to how she dresses, it’s for those state events where she has to wear a heavy beaded dress and floor-length ermine cape at 9am in the morning. It’s probably protocol but it’s such a formal, cumbersome look and she probably thinks, ‘Do I really have to don all this kit?’ The great disadvantage for all the royal women is, of course, that they aren’t allowed to wear black. No royal woman can wear black unless she’s in mourning, which is a pity because everyone looks good in black. Instead, the Queen has embraced colour.
I think the Queen’s style has evolved because of the passing of the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret. She is no longer in anyone’s shadow, fashion wise. She has, perhaps sadly for her now, no royal ‘rival’, for want of a better word. She’s always had confidence, because she could never not have, but I think there’s more of a sense that she’s in the spotlight now. Regarding our future queen, I think that Catherine Middleton has such elegance of limb. She somehow moves and flows beautifully. I’ve only met her once, but she can look wonderful. Well, in the Queen she has an inspiring model to learn from.’