11/05/2012

Queen's wardrobe secrets revealed, from Bond to zippers

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Angela Kelly has been working with the Queen since 1994 and was the principal designer for her Diamond Jubilee wardrobe. (The Royal Collection)

If you get the impression that nothing is left to chance when it involves the Queen ... you're right.

This is clearly the case when it comes to her clothes. No detail is too small, no what-if overlooked.

ParachuteAngela Kelly, the Queen's No. 1 designer, sheds some light on the behind-the-scenes stuff that goes into the Queen's closet in her new book "Dressing The Queen: The Jubilee Wardrobe."

And nothing was more shrouded in secrecy than Queen's James Bond video at the opening ceremony of the Olympics.

Kelly says the task of creating two dresses that were exactly alike -- one for the Queen, the other for the stunt double parachuting from a plane (right) -- required months of careful planning. And no one, not even the immediate family, was to know.

Queen olympics“The Buckingham Palace dressmakers worked quietly for months, never having both dresses out of storage at the same time,” says Kelly, who has worked for the Queen since 1994 and been designing for her since 2002. "Even they did not know why two dresses were required for the same event.”

Colour was especially important in his assignment, with the final peach tone fulfilling the dual purpose of standing out in the night sky as well as being neutral enough that its wasn't clashing with any the national colours on display in the Olympic Stadium.

For big events during the Jubilee year, Kelly operated with a staff of up to 12 people: herself, an assistant, three dressmakers, four dressers and a milliner.

That might seem a tad over the top for most of us, but the 86-year-old Queen has been carrying out 350 or more engagements a year for some time.

Needless to say, she knows what she likes. And Kelly has made it her business to understand every nuance of the Queen's wardrobe. Here's a sampling of the gleaned knowledge:

● Yes, there are weights sewn into the hems of dresses when sudden winds threaten to expose more regal leg than appropriate. "The queen undertakes a wide range of engagements, many of which take place in the open air, where a sudden breeze could cause embarrassment," admitted Kelly. (Just ask Duchess Kate about her windy airport appearances.)

● Creases are a no-no, so Kelly says she applies a test that the Queen herself taught her: “I will squeeze and test the sample in my hands before smoothing it out once more,” she says. “If the material remains creased and crumpled, then it will be of no use and will be discarded from the selection."

● Handbags (handmade usually) should have sufficiently long handles so they don't snag on a cuff. Shoes? Two-inch heels preferred. Sleeves are mostly three-quarter length (saves on embarrassing collisions with food at dinner).

Queen barge● The Queen's umbrellas are always transparent (better for crowds to see her) and ringed with a fabric the same colour as her outfit.

● The white outfit she wore for the Diamond Jubilee pageant on the river Thames (right) was designed to make her stand out from the royal barge's red and was inspired by gowns worn by Elizabeth I. Almost all the Queen's dresses are designed will bright colours in mind -- all the better for the crowds to spot the monarch. In all, more than two years of preparations went into designing the outfits for the Diamond Jubilee celebrations in June.

● The Queen is, says Kelly, "frugal" and cost-conscious. Often the fabrics for outfits are hauled out of storage in the stock room. "Some of it dates way back," Kelly says. The gold dress the Queen wore for the Jubilee concert in June was constructed of fabric first bought in 1961.

QUEEN IRELAND● The Queen is "very specific" when it comes to outfits for state visits. For her historic state banquet in Dublin last year, she wore a gown that had 2,000 silk shamrocks sewn by hand (right). Ever conscious of her hosts, during her 2010 tour to Canada her visit to a Mi'kmaq indigenous community was marked by an outfit that included with beads by women from the First Nations people. “The Queen has a fantastic understanding of clothes and fashion and is very aware of what suits her and what would be appropriate for any occasion,” writes Kelly.

● Four different designs are sketched for a particular piece of fabric. To put it all together, there is a mannequin matching the Queen's size and body shape, though you won't find her measurements in this book.

● Zippers help a lot, since there can be plenty of quick changes necessary in a single day.

● A diary is kept with all the Queen's wardrobe changes so they can keep a good rotation of styles and colours. Outfits are recylced, but don't expect to see it again for at least several months.

● Fittings can last up to half a day and involve four or five outfits at a time. The Queen will see them again a few days before the appropriate engagement to try them on.

Can the Queen then change her mind? Sure, but that happens almost as many times as she misses an engagement. Which is to say, almost never.

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The Queen's wardrobe staff spend a lot of time matching hats and outfits for the right occasion. (The Royal Collection)

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Up to 12 people can be working on the Queen's wardrobe for big events. (The Royal Collection)

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