Is there a state election more chock-full of symbolism than a royal coronation? Nearly every detail, from the crown itself to the “bracelets of uprightness and wisdom” presented to the new monarch, oozes meaning.
So it should come as no surprise that the attire of the stars of the ceremony, as well as many of the guests, was equally considered down to the smallest detail. Indeed, a scan through the looks on Saturday was, in a way, like a super fancy Easter egg hunt.
It started with the coronation dress worn by Queen Camilla: a white silk dress by Bruce Oldfield, a British designer who was not only a favorite seamstress of the new Queen, but also often worn by Princess Diana (he made her silver lame dress for the premiere in 1985 of the James Bond film “A View to a Kill”) and thus a kind of diplomatic family bridge.
Camilla’s coronation look was embroidered with silver and gold wildflowers – daisy chains, forget-me-nots and scarlet pimpernels – in reference to the affinity for the British countryside that she and Charles share. The dress also featured roses, thistles, daffodils and shamrocks, intended to represent the four nations of the United Kingdom, on the cuffs of each sleeve.
Coincidentally, those flowers were also embroidered on the white crepe Alexander McQueen dress worn by Catherine, Princess of Wales, now the Queen-in-waiting. Catherine also wore McQueen, designed by Sarah Burton, the rare woman to head a fashion house, for her wedding in 2011, and has since worn the designer’s work at many major public events. Along with the gown (worn under her royal robes), she chose not to wear a fancy tiara, but rather a crystal and silver floral headpiece and earrings that had belonged to Princess Diana.
(Royal jewelery almost always has a genealogy: Camilla’s diamond necklace, which contains a 22.48 carat pendant, was made by Garrard for Queen Victoria in 1858 and, along with matching earrings, is part of the ‘coronation suite’. It became also worn by Queen Elizabeth II at her coronation in 1953.)
Before the actual coronation, it was rumored that Catherine would break from tradition and wear a ‘crown of flowers’, a nod to the king’s desire for a more modern, less gaudy coronation. She did, though her version, by Jess Collett x Alexander McQueen, probably wasn’t the Glastonbury Festival-esque floral crown most imagined.
At least it matched the crystal and silver headband worn by Catherine’s daughter, Princess Charlotte. Also fitting: Princess Charlotte’s white McQueen cape and gown and silver trim. Catherine has long pursued a strategy of color-coordinated her family’s outfits for their public appearances, in part to telegraph an implicit suggestion of unity in a clan that could use some of those messages. (It also looks good, and she’s a master of visual communication). Think of it as Pantone politics.
And so it went.
Jill Biden, the US first lady, arrived in a sky blue suit with matching gloves and a bow in her hair (a sort of fictional hat), all by Ralph Lauren, a designer who has built his own empire on Americana and a fantasy of the old England, and thus a choice that seemed particularly appropriate (President Biden also wore a Ralph Lauren suit at his presidential swearing-in). In fact, dr. Biden arrived with her granddaughter, Finnegan Biden, wearing a daffodil yellow Markarian dress so that when the two women walked in together, they looked like… the Ukrainian flag!
That’s an impressively tactical approach to first – and social media – impressions.
Logical too, since the Bidens sat next to Olena Zelenska, the first lady of Ukraine, who herself wore a simple light blue dress and jacket. Finnegan Biden certainly wasn’t the only guest in yellow: Queen Rania of Jordan was also in the color, dressed in a look by British designer Tamara Ralph, as was Catherine’s sister, Pippa Middleton.
Still, they were relatively subtle in their semiology, unlike Katy Perry, who was in attendance because she will be performing at the coronation concert on Sunday night. For her part, Mrs. Perry opted to wear a lilac Vivienne Westwood skirt suit, matching elbow-length gloves and a large lilac hat/flying saucer sprouting a “merry widow” veil — plus a three-strand pearl choker with a Westwood logo crown in the middle.
Ms. Westwood, of course, had a rather, well, brutal relationship with the monarchy (remember the infamous no-pants spin she did after receiving her inquest?), though by the time she died in December she was her own kind become of British treasures. By choosing to honor her memory and carry her brand, Ms. Perry supported both the local fashion industry and the complicated national relationship with the royal family that King Charles inherited. Hats off to that one.