What the Queen means to designers

When the Queen died, I, like many, turned to social media. Instagram was flooded with tributes to her enduring sense of duty and grace. But the steady stream of images also showed something else: her remarkable sense of style.

There she was in coronation garb and state prom dresses with blue sashes. Scroll down and they were all pastel suits, complete with matchy-matchy millinery. Scroll again and she was a vision of country life in tartan skirts and boots, surrounded by her beloved corgis, or atop a horse in a tweed jacket and silk headscarf.

In the coming days, her dress sense will definitely be assessed and reassessed. But for some of the best fashion designers, the Queen has long been a stylistic touchstone.

“The Queen is one of the most idiosyncratic people in the world,” Gucci designer Alessandro Michele told The New Yorker in 2016, on the eve of a show at London’s Westminster Abbey. Michele was one of the first major designers to pay tribute to the Queen yesterday, posting photos of her, with her dogs and horses, in tweed coats, no-nonsense sweaters and signature headscarves, a styling device that has repeatedly cropped up in Michele-era Gucci. shows. Indeed, it’s easy to see parallels between the Queen’s casual style and Michele’s quirky revival of Gucci.

Headscarves like those worn by the Queen have repeatedly appeared in Alessandro Michele's Gucci shows.

Fellow Italian Riccardo Tisci is also a fan of the Queen, citing her elegance as a key ingredient to the sense of Britishness he’s been trying to channel at Burberry. “She is one of the most elegant, appropriate and polite figures in the world and is part of what makes the UK such a fascinating place for me to be because it is the antithesis of that rebellion that is here too,” she said. Tisci to the Telegraph last year.

Indeed, admiration for the queen’s dress sense is widespread among top designers. “She is one of the most elegant women in the world,” said Miuccia Prada in 2000 during a royal visit to Rome. “She is never ridiculous; she’s flawless,” Karl Lagerfeld reiterated in 2014, commenting on her steadfast style.

Of course, sustainable elegance is not always the most exciting input for designers. And the steadfastness of the queen’s image has pushed some in a more subversive direction. Check out Christopher Kane’s “Princess Margaret on Acid” Spring 2011 collection, where the silhouettes of Norman Hartnell (designer of the Queen’s coronation dress) collided with Cyberdog neon. See also Erdem Moralıoğlu’s 2018 Spring Show, inspired by the 1958 meeting of Duke Ellington and a young Queen Elizabeth, whom he re-imagined as a celebratory Lilibet dancing at the Cotton Club.

Vivienne Westwood, the original destroyer of the Queen’s image, has turned the monarch 180 degrees. Yesterday, the designer paid a heartfelt tribute to the deceased monarch. But in 1977, she and her then-partner Malcolm McLaren smeared her major for their groundbreaking ‘God Save the Queen’ t-shirt.

In 1977, Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren undermined Queen Elizabeht's image for their groundbreaking

Or was it a 360? Over the years, Westwood’s view of the Queen has fluctuated between reverence and rebellion. In 1987, she showed Harris Tweed crowns on the catwalk. Four years later, she appeared unscathed to receive her OBE.

Perhaps the contradiction in Westwood’s position is not so surprising. The Queen was both an endearing person and a figurehead of the British establishment, a side of her that other designers have explored.

In 2008, Westwood and McLaren’s “God Save the Queen” t-shirt had another life as a distorted print that appeared in Alexander McQueen’s “The Girl Who Lived in the Tree” collection, which dealt with British colonization from India.

In 2018, Richard Quinn showed his signature maximum florals on ensembles inspired by Queen Elizabeth.

A generation later, the queen remains influential with some young designers. In 2018, when she made her first (and only) appearance at a fashion show to present Richard Quinn the inaugural Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design, Quinn showcased his trademark maximum florals on Balmoral-inspired ensembles of headscarves and quilted jackets. He later called the queen’s style “daring and subversive.”

But not all young London designers are equally moved. They certainly haven’t been as eager as their predecessors with social media tributes. Many will no doubt be preoccupied with the impact of the UK’s official mourning period on London Fashion Week. But it’s worth remembering that many of today’s talents, from Grace Wales Bonner to Supriya Lele, have post-colonial identities. Some of their work openly grapples with the legacy of imperialism. They are of course less likely to see a British monarch as a style icon.

The world has changed. So is the United Kingdom. And it’s unlikely that a British royal will ever have the same influence on fashion again.

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