By Olivia Lidbury
The new Fashion Rules: Restyled exhibition at Kensington Palace explores the special relationship between royal women and their chosen dress designers
When dressing the Queen, Princess Margaret and Diana, Princess of Wales, designers had to work with them to create photogenic outfits that captured attention while simultaneously adhering to the complex rules that the ever-changing occasions and locations called for.
The talents who succeeded in balancing royal protocol with show-stopping designs were rewarded not only with long-lasting relationships with the women they dressed, but had their own public profiles boosted by their royal connections. Some were even granted the cachet of a royal warrant.
Here we explore the background of three of the most trusted designers called on by the royal family’s most glamorous women.
The Queen’s dressmaker: Hardy Amies
Sir Edwin Hardy Amies began dressing the Queen in 1950 when she was 24 years old and still a princess. Their working union lasted for four decades until Amies retired in 1989.
He worked at Mayfair couture house Lachasse, where he was appointed managing director aged just 25, and for the House of Worth, before setting up on his own in 1945.
His association with the young Princess Elizabeth started when she embarked on a tour of Canada in 1950. Amies made several outfits and became one of her favourite designers when she ascended to the throne in 1952.
He would visit the Queen at Buckingham Palace with ideas sketched out – or most often, when the monarch was short for time, she would annotate the drawings with her feedback. In 1955 he was given the ultimate seal of approval: a royal warrant.
Amies strongly believed that royalty should be dressed like royalty, and took extra-special care in creating magnificent pieces for the monarch. He was key in curating the Queen’s crisp, understated look and it was one of his intricately beaded designs that she chose to pose in for her Silver Jubilee portrait in 1977.
This image appeared on thousands of pieces of commemorative memorabilia across the world. Amies was knighted in 1989 and gave up his royal warrant the following year to allow younger designers the opportunity to dress the Queen.
The Hardy Amies brand still lives on today, as a men’s tailor in Savile Row.
Princess Margaret’s French fancy: Christian Dior
In her late teens, Princess Margaret, unlike her older sister the Queen, could satisfy her interest in fashion more freely. This meant indulging in the hottest looks from designers across the Channel, and one Parisian newcomer in particular, a Mr Christian Dior, caught her eye.
Dior’s brand became world-famous in 1947 when his collection of full skirts and nipped-in waists was dubbed the New Look and signalled the end of post-war austerity.
In 1949, the 19-year-old Princess attended a salon show in Paris and placed her first order with Dior – a brand that she would continue to court for the rest of her life.
Dior, ever the Anglophile, was delighted to count one of the most photographed women in Britain as one of his clients. As Picture Post, one of the publications of the era, declared of Princess Margaret: “What she wears is news.”
The trendsetting Princess wore Dior for her 21st birthday and declared the dress to be her all-time favourite. In 1954, she was the glamorous guest of honour at the only Dior fashion show to be staged in England – at Blenheim Palace, no less.
Princess Margaret’s special bond with the maison outlasted the tenure of its founder, who died of a heart attack in 1957. His successor, a prodigal young talent by the name of Yves Saint Laurent, sent her personalised accessories, such as hand-signed silk scarves complete with dedications.
Princess Diana’s sartorial confidante: Catherine Walker
Catherine Walker quickly became Princess Diana’s secret weapon for public appearances after she was thrust into the spotlight aged 20, when she married the Prince of Wales.
Walker was from Provence in France but married an Englishman and set up her business in Chelsea in the mid-1970s. She was introduced to Diana via a fashion editor at Vogue, who requested a selection of maternity dresses for the royal.
The Walker polka-dot print smocked green dress made the front of newspapers around the world when Diana proudly posed outside hospital with her husband and their newborn son, Prince William.
The two became close collaborators, with Walker frequently visiting the Princess at her Kensington Palace home to work on sketches and designs. Together, they created a sleek wardrobe that ensured the Diana looked glamorous yet effortless at the many events she attended. Walker respected how the princess did not want to merely follow fashion, but wear what was right for her.
In many of the most enduring pictures of Diana, she is wearing Catherine Walker. The Princess, at the time of her death in 1997, had worn more than 500 custom-made creations by Walker.